fea liberica tree is much larger and sturdier than the Coffea arabica, and in its native haunts it reaches a height of 30 feet. It will grow in a much more torrid climate and can stand exposure to strong sunlight. The leaves are about twice as long as those of arabica, being six to twelve inches in length, and are very thick, tough, and leathery. The apex of the leaf is acute. The flowers are larger than those of arabica, and are borne in dense clusters. At any time during the season, the same tree may bear flowers, white or pinkish, and fragrant, or even green, together with fruits, some green, some ripe and of a brilliant red. The corolla has been known to have seven segments, though as a rule it has five. The fruits are large, round, and dull red; the pulps are not juicy, and are somewhat bitter. Unlike Coffea arabica, the ripened drupes do not fall from the trees, and so the picking can be delayed at the planter’s convenience.
[Illustration: DIFFERENTIATING CHARACTERISTICS OF COFFEE BEANS, IN CROSS-SECTION
Col. I. Mature bean. Col. II. Embryo.
A. Coffea arabica, R. Coffea robusta, L. Coffea liberica]
Among the allied Liberian species Dr. Cramer recognizes:
Abeokutæ, having small leaves of a bright green, flower buds often pink just before opening (in Liberian coffee never), fruit smaller with sharply striped red and yellow shiny skin, and producing somewhat smaller beans than Liberian coffee, but beans whose flavor and taste are praised by brokers;
NEAR VIEW OF COFFEE BERRIES OF COFFEA ARABICA]
The bean of Coffea arabica, although the principal bean used in commerce, is not the only one; and it may not be out of place here to describe briefly some of the other varieties that are produced commercially. Coffea liberica is one of these plants. The quality of the beverage made from its berries is inferior to that of Coffea arabica, but the plant itself offers distinct advantages in its hardy growing qualities. This makes it attractive for hybridization.
[Illustration: WILD "CAFFEIN-FREE" COFFEE TREE
Mantsaka or Café Sauvage--Madagascar]
ipe, a well-defined variety with light green leaves having colored edges: berries large, broad, sometimes narrower in the middle; a light bearer, the whole crop sometimes being reduced to a couple of berries per tree.
[Illustration: C. STENOPHYLLA, FROM WHICH IS OBTAINED THE HIGHLAND COFFEE OF SIERRA LEONE]
Columnaris, a vigorous variety, sometimes reaching a height of 25 feet, having leaves rounded at the base and rather broad, but a shy bearer, recommended for dry climates.
Coffea arabica has a formidable rival in the species stenophylla. The flavor of this variety is pronounced by some as surpassing that of arabica. The great disadvantage of this plant is the fact that it requires so long a time before a yield of any value can be secured. Although the time required for the maturing of the crop is so long, when once the plantation begins to yield, the crop is as large as that of Coffea arabica, and occasionally somewhat larger. The leaves are smaller than any of the species described, and the flowers bear their parts in numbers varying from six to nine. The tree is a native of Sierra Leone, where it grows wild.
[Illustration: Copyright, 1909, by The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal
Variegata, having variegated leaves striped and spotted with white.
Amarella, having yellow berries, comparable with the white-fruited variety of the strawberry, raspberry, etc.
Bullata, having broad, curled leaves; stiff, thick, fragile branches, and round, fleshy berries containing a high percentage of empty beans.
Angustifolia, a narrow-leaved variety, with berries somewhat more oblong and, like the foregoing, a poor producer.
Erecta, a variety that is sturdier than the typical arabica, better suited to windy places, and having a production as in the common arabica.
rma, a distinct type, with narrow leaves and bent-down branches resembling a willow, the berries seldom containing more than one seed.
[Illustration: A HEAVY FLOWERING OF FIVE-YEAR-OLD COFFEA EXCELSA
This is a comparatively new species, discovered in the Tchad Lake district of West Africa in 1905. It is a small-beaned variety of Coffea liberica]
[Illustration: BRANCHES OF COFFEA EXCELSA GROWN AT THE LAMAO EXPERIMENT STATION, P.I.]
Mokka (Coffea Mokkæ), having small leaves, dense foliage, small round berries, small round beans resembling split peas, and possessed of a stronger flavor than Coffea arabica.
Purpurescens, a red-leaved variety, comparable with the red-leaved hazel and copper beech, a little less productive than the Coffea arabica.
The propagation of the coffee plant by cutting has two distinct advantages over propagation by seed, in that it spares the expense of seed production, which is enormous, and it gives also a method of hybridization, which, if used, might lead not only to very interesting but also to very profitable results.
[Illustration: TWO-AND-ONE-HALF-YEAR-OLD C. CONGENSIS]
The hybridization of the coffee plant was taken up in a thoroughly scientific manner by the Dutch government at the experimental garden established at Bangelan, Java, in 1900. In his studies, twelve varieties of Coffea arabica are recognized by Dr. P.J.S. Cramer, namely:
Laurina, a hybrid of Coffea arabica with C. mauritiana, having small narrow leaves, stiff, dense branches, young leaves almost white, berry long and narrow, and beans narrow and oblong.
Murta, having small leaves, dense branches, beans as in the typical Coffea arabica, and the plant able to stand bitter cold.
photograph made at Dramaga, Preanger, Java, in 1907]
[Illustration: LIBERIAN COFFEE TREE AT LAMOA, P.I.]
We have said that the coffee tree yields from one to twelve pounds a year, but of course this varies with the individual tree and also with the region. In some countries the whole year’s yield is less than 200 pounds per acre, while there is on record a patch in Brazil which yields about seventeen pounds to the tree, bringing the yield per acre much higher.
The beans do not retain their vitality for planting for any considerable length of time; and, if they are thoroughly dried, or are kept for longer than three or four months, they are useless for that purpose. It takes the seed about six weeks to germinate and to appear above ground. Trees raised from seed begin to blossom in about three years; but a good crop can not be expected of them for the first five or six years. Their usefulness, save in exceptional cases, is ended in about thirty years.
The coffee tree can be propagated in a way other than by seeds. The upright branches can be used as slips, which, after taking root, will produce seed-bearing laterals. The laterals themselves can not be used as slips. In Central America the natives sometimes use coffee uprights for fences and it is no uncommon sight to see the fence posts “growing.”
The wood of the coffee tree is used also for cabinet work, as it is much stronger than many of the native woods, weighing about forty-three pounds to the cubic foot, having a crushing strength of 5,800 pounds per square inch, and a breaking strength of 10,900 pounds per square inch.
ration: YOUNG COFFEA ARABICA TREE AT KONA, HAWAII]
In countries like India and Africa, the birds and monkeys eat the ripe coffee berries. The so-called “monkey coffee” of India, according to Arnold, is the undigested coffee beans passed through the alimentary canal of the animal.
[Illustration: SURVIVORS OF THE FIRST LIBERIAN COFFEE TREES INTRODUCED INTO JAVA IN 1876]
The pulp surrounding the coffee beans is at present of no commercial importance. Although efforts have been made at various times by natives to use it as a food, its flavor has not gained any great popularity, and the birds are permitted a monopoly of the pulp as a food. From the human standpoint the pulp, or sarcocarp, as it is scientifically called, is rather an annoyance, as it must be removed in order to procure the beans. This is done in one of two ways. The first is known as the dry method, in which the entire fruit is allowed to dry, and is then cracked open. The second way is called the wet method; the sarcocarp is removed by machine, and two wet, slimy seed packets are obtained. These packets, which look for all the world like seeds, are allowed to dry in such a way that fermentation takes place. This rids them of all the slime; and, after they are thoroughly dry, the endocarp, the so-called parchment covering, is easily cracked open and removed. At the same time that the parchment is removed, a thin silvery membrane, the silver skin, beneath the parchment, comes off, too. There are always small fragments of this silver skin to be found in the groove of the coffee bean contained within the parchment packet.
[Illustration: COFFEA ARABICA IN FLOWER ON A JAVA ESTATE
e and condition of the flowers are entirely dependent on the weather. The flowers are sometimes very small, very fragrant, and very numerous; while at other times, when the weather is not hot and dry, they are very large, but not so numerous. Both sets of flowers mentioned above “set fruit,” as it is called; but at times, especially in a very dry season, they bear flowers that are few in number, small, and imperfectly formed, the petals frequently being green instead of white. These flowers do not set fruit. The flowers that open on a dry sunny day show a greater yield of fruit than those that open on a wet day, as the first mentioned have a better chance of being pollinated by the insects and the wind. The beauty of a coffee estate in flower is of a very fleeting character. One day it is a snowy expanse of fragrant white blossoms for miles and miles, as far as the eye can see, and two days later it reminds one of the lines from Villon’s Des Dames du Temps Jadis.
Where are the snows of yesterday? The winter winds have blown them all away.
[Illustration: COFFEA ARABICA, FLOWER AND FRUIT--COSTA RICA]
But here, the winter winds are not to blame: the soft, gentle breezes of the perpetual summer have wrought the havoc, leaving, however, a not unpleasing picture of dark, cool, mossy green foliage.
The flowers are beautiful, but the eye of the planter sees in them not alone beauty and fragrance. He looks far beyond, and in his mind’s eye he sees bags and bags of green coffee, representing to him the goal and reward of all his toil. After the flowers droop, there appear what are commercially known as the coffee berries. Botanically speaking, “berry” is a misnomer. These little fruits are not berries, such as are well represented by the grape; but are drupes, which are better exemplified by the cherry and the peach. In the course of six or seven months, these coffee drupes develop into little red balls about the size of an ordinary cherry; but, instead of being round, they are somewhat ellipsoidal, having at the outer end a small umbilicus. The drupe of the coffee usually has two locules, each containing a little “stone” (the seed and its parchment covering) from which the coffee bean (seed) is obtained. Some few drupes contain three, while others, at the outer ends of the branches, contain only one round bean, known as the peaberry. The number of pickings corresponds to the different blossomings in the same season; and one tree of the species arabica may yield from one to twelve pounds a year.