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The Seed that Fascinates Us

Coffee has deep connections with human history and society. The most fascinating aspect of this plant is the fact that we discard its pulp and consume its roasted, ground, and infused seed.

Taking the seed over the fruit is an uncommon fact for a food product. Most fruit trees, with rare exceptions, have their focus and studies focused on the pulp and how certain aspects such as climate and fertilization can favor the pulp’s maturation and sweetness, for example, apples avocados, oranges, watermelons, peaches, etc.

The fruit’s ripeness and sweetness are associated with its ability to serve as food for animals; in this way, its seeds will be dispersed, and its descendants will prosper. We, as good animals, usually look for these sweetest fruits to eat, looking for this sweetness and complexity of flavors.

When it reaches its maximum point of maturation, the fruit of the coffee tree has in its pulp sugars such as fructose, sucrose, and glucose with 18 ° to 21 ° Brix. This unit is widely used to measure sweetness in fruits, honey, juices, etc. For instance, peaches and pineapples, the average Brix is 15 ° to 18 °.

Despite this high sweetness, its small fruit and thin pulp never attracted much interest from people. But its seed is the passion of billions around the world.

Fruit vs. Seed

The coffee seed has a biological mechanism of complexity very different from its fruit. The skin and pulp have the essential function of attracting possible dispersers like animals. On the other hand, the seed results from a long genetic, chemical, and physiological process. All the genetic information of the adult plant or plants is present in a small piece of life’s puzzle. This little rounded/oval living being is composed of physiological triggers and thousands of chemical and biochemical compounds responsible for a chain reaction programmed by nature to germinate and develop a new coffee plant.

It is important to understand these processes:

  1. Each species and variety of coffee may have small variations in the amounts of these compounds
  2. Environmental, climatic conditions, pathogens alter the dynamics and transformations of the same compounds.
  3. Anthropomorphic processes such as fertilization, pruning, harvesting, post-harvesting, storage, roasting, and extraction modify the final cup.
  4. All these factors are responsible for acidity, fruity, floral, astringency, body, etc.

Control and Standardize Quality

As we have seen, thousands of aspects can influence our daily cup of coffee, making it very difficult to achieve uniformity and standard in single-origin coffees without blending. For many decades researchers have studied how these human and natural processes influence the quality of the coffee. Much has been discovered, but the complexity of the coffee drink and certain characteristics are still difficult to manage. Each year, the characteristics of coffee from the same place, even going through the same processes, deliver a different cup-of-Joe.

These remarkable differences are part of a complex process built before our first sip, so enjoy these complexities that nature and humans offer us. In my opinion, coffee is a state of art, always good and different.

by Jonas Leme Ferraresso

Jonas Leme Ferraresso is a coffee agronomist consultant and specialty-coffee professional working across coffee’s full value chain.

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