Saturday, October 15, 2011

Gesha Coffee & Myrtilles Sauvage

Years ago we spent a late autumn holiday in the French Alps. It was a wonderful time to be going on hikes in the higher altitudes. The small Alpine flowers were just in full blossom, catching the last bit of sunlight before the snow came. For those keen on photography, late autumn is one of the best times to be in the Alps.

We were at around 1500 to 1800 meters and with the help of clearly marked trails we were soon exploring walks on our own. 

On one of these walks, we noticed a family ahead of us, and now and again the children would bend down to pick something to put in their mouths.  Then we saw them: tiny blue coloured berries hiding under leaves, small leaves that varied in colour from green to reddish brown. We caught up with the family in front and asked them what these berries were.  “Myrtilles Sauvage,” they replied.  These were of course wild blueberries. They were delicious.  Soon the late afternoon mist came in and we headed back to our hotel.

Myrtilles Sauvage jam remained the family’s favourite breakfast ritual: for toast or for yoghurt.

Now, I am sitting at my holiday home and watch the same mist come in most afternoons. No, there are no wild blueberries here.  Instead there is excellent coffee.

© 2010 Am Ang Zhang

Plants have to struggle with nature in order to survive. Mist and humid conditions favour fungal growth, and so plants produce chemicals to combat them, most of the time successfully.  Myrtilles Sauvage needs to do this especially in the Alps. So do coffee plants, especially if the conditions so require. It is perhaps not that well known that cultivated blueberries often produce about one tenth of the antioxidants of the wild ones. Why waste the effort if there is no need to do so?

In fact, the coffee at the higher altitudes of around 1350-1800 meters develop the best flavour.  By comparison, some higher yield varieties do not produce as much antioxidants nor as much flavour.  The growers use fungicides to increase the yield.

© 2010 Am Ang Zhang

A few years ago, extremely wet conditions caused a serious reduction in coffee production in Central America. One variety of coffee called Gesha can cope with the moist conditions of the descending mist from the volcano in the Baru region of Panama. The average yield is lower, but the coffee this produces has been winning national and international competitions and fetching high prices in international auctions.

Recent research showed that for coffee drinkers, coffee itself supplies the highest level of antioxidants. Antioxidants disappear fairly quickly depending on exposure of the beans and ground coffee to oxygen.
American Chemical Society

We should be very thankful that these Ngobe Indian children will continue to carry on the long tradition of picking coffee in Panama.

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