Coffee cherries? Did it ever occur that not only does the humble green coffee bean grow inside a bright, red cherry, but that cherry is also sweet? Well, maybe not quite as sweet as a Bing Cherry, or some of those great varieties we all know. But yeah, a coffee cherry is sweet.
If you were to put that cherry in your mouth it would not taste like coffee at all! In fact, the outer husk is sorta tough compared to the skin of a real cherry. But getting past the husk to the pulp of the cherry surrounding the green coffee beans…yup. It’s sweet!
The coffee cherries are a beautiful bright red when they have matured and are ready to be harvested. Even though the cherries grow and mature all year round, in Ecuador, the harvest is traditionally just once a year.
Some countries actually have a small, second harvest called a “fly crop!” It is never as great or as big as the primary harvest. Depending on the rains and moisture in a given region, a second crop is always possible. Where rainfall is constant all year round in some regions, it’s normal to have a second short harvest, and coffee cherries seem to never end.
The path of least resistance is always the easiest way to go, and rarely the best. That works for water but not for harvesting coffee. Many coffee farmers in Ecuador harvest the cherries all at once, stripping the branch. Taking the green and yellow cherries along with the ripe red ones all at the same time. The coffee produced from the green coffee cherries in mixed. With the yellow and some red this type of harvest is of a common variety. Known as “corriente” or just ordinary, that you would traditionally find in a grocery store. Already ground in a can or bag.
Once these mixed cherries are gathered, the normal custom is to lay them on any flat surface in the open air, to let them dry in the husk. Once dry, they are then taken to a processor to be depulped, and made ready for roasting. Since this coffee is used sub par it is usually mixed. Coffee “blends” would be common for this type of coffee, where only a small amount of “premium” or select coffee is used if any, and the rest is made up of the more common variety.
This type of coffee is what has been offered in the U.S. for decades, and you never knew there was something better until Coffee Houses began to pop up all over the place specializing in the unblended, Arabica coffees, long considered gourmet or specialty coffee.
During the ‘70s, the U.S. nearly became a “tea drinking” country as the coffee consumption declined due to such poor quality being offered by major roasters. Today, major food chains, as well as roasters and wholesale food suppliers have been forced by consumer demand to improve their coffee offerings with great success. It is now possible to get a breakfast sandwich, a donut, or gas at the local convenience store, and get a decent cup of coffee too!
Saying that, the disclaimer has to be added that the preparation of the coffee at the local Convenience store, even the more popular Fast Food stops, is key to what goes in your cup. As good as ground coffee can be, the final step in brewing can make all the difference in what you end up sipping.
Vacuum pots have absolutely changed the longevity of how coffee can maintain it’s flavor. Whenever a pot of coffee is left on a warmer more than 20 minutes, the oils begin to break down which in turn gives the brew a bitter taste. There are many locations where this is still the practice, and the savvy customer will insist on a fresh pot.
The vacuum pot not only helps maintain the temperature of the coffee longer, the oils in the coffee are not submitted to a heat source, so the breakdown is eliminated compared to being left on a warmer.
You may not know that coffee in Ecuador is some of the best, qualifying in the last 10 years as “specialty coffee” based on International Coffee Judges from Coast Rica, the U.S. and Australia! But you won’t find it in the U.S. unless you bring it yourself.
Sadly, it is the “corriente” Ecuadorian coffee that has been used primarily as a filler or for blends. This is saying that what major roasters and importers have contracted Ecuadorian coffee for is…you guessed it. Anything but for specialty coffee. The common variety that offers nothing in terms of great. This is the coffee from Ecuador that makes it to the U.S., but you won’t hear anyone bragging about it as they would about “mountain grown” Colombian coffee.
So will there come a time when Specialty Coffee from Ecuador finally becomes an item commonly found in a roasters “green” inventory, as those from Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica or Honduras? Consumer demand is not likely to be the determining factor, compared to a consistent marketing effort.
Here is a fact. Red coffee cherries from Ecuador taste the best, when they have gone through that magical transition and become coffee in your cup.