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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog


I've spent the past week vacationing in Costa Rica. My son Derek is a senior at the University of Illinois and just completed his fall semester studying abroad there. My husband and I were fortunate enough to go spend a week with him before bringing him home.

Everywhere I go I not only enjoy learning about different cultures but I am also fascinated by different agricultural crops. Costa Rica has many tropical crops, including coffee, sugar cane, pineapples, bananas, and much more. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll discuss some of these plants with you.

Many people enjoy coffee, especially during the holidays. Costa Rica is actually quite famous for its coffee. Coffee plantations are scattered throughout the country, but the highland areas surrounding San Jose and the Tilaran Mountain range are ideal climates for coffee plantations.

Coffee beans grow on the Coffea arabica plant, which is an evergreen shrubby tree. Its leaves are broad, shiny, and shaped like an arrowhead. In the wild, it grows to a height of 14 to 20 feet, but when cultivated it is usually kept pruned to about 6 to 10 feet to facilitate picking the beans and to encourage heavy bearing.

The plant flowers in Costa Rica in April and its fragrant flowers are pollinated by native honeybees. The flowers are small, white blossoms that cluster at the base of the leaves.

When mature the coffee tree's small oval berries are about the color and size of a small cherry. Inside the skin and pulp are nestled two coffee beans with their flat sides together. About four thousand beans make a single pound of coffee.

Coffee bean harvest is done by hand and only when the cherries are ripe. A worker can pick 7-12 baskets a day. Once picked, the cherries are transported to coffee mills where the cherry skin is immediately removed from the coffee cherry.

Processing involved many steps including washing, pulping, fermenting, drying, storing, and finally roasting and packaging. Beans are a pale tan color until they are roasted, which changes the beans to a beautiful shiny brown color. Roasting is done according to customer preference such as medium roast, full bodied dark roast, or espresso roast.

Coffee plants are grown widely in tropical places round the world. In the mainland U.S., coffee is grown only occasionally as an ornamental for its attractive flowers and colorful fruits. It actually makes a nice houseplant.

As you enjoy your coffee this holiday season, think about the coffee plant and how it was grown. I think I'll appreciate my cup even more now.

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