Friday, February 12, 2010

Coffee-Growing in Brazil in the 1920s

Brazilian CoffeeIn Brazil, the Giant of South America, and the world's largest coffee producer, the methods of cultivation naturally have reached a high point of development, although the soil and the climate were not at first regarded as favorable. The year 1723 is generally accepted as the date of the introduction of the coffee plant into Brazil from French Guiana. Coffee planting was slow in developing, however, until 1732, when the governor of the states of Pará and Maranhao urged its cultivation. Sixteen years later, there were 17,000 trees in Pará. From that year on, slow but steady progress was made; and by 1770, an export trade had been begun from the port of Pará to countries in Europe.

The spread of the industry began about this time. The coffee tree was introduced into the state of Rio de Janeiro in 1770. From there its cultivation was gradually extended into the states of São Paulo, Minãs Geraes, Bahia, and Espirito Santo, which have become the great coffee-producing sections of Brazil. The cultivation of the plant did not become especially noteworthy until the third decade of the nineteenth century. Large crops were gathered in the season of 1842–43; and by the middle of the century, the plantations were producing annually more than 2,000,000 bags.

Brazil's commercial coffee-growing region has an estimated area of approximately 1,158,000 square miles, and extends from the river Amazon to the southern border of the state of São Paulo, and from the Atlantic coast to the western boundary of the state of Matto Grosso. This area is larger than that section of the United States lying east of the Mississippi River, with Texas added. In every state of the republic, from Ceará in the north to Santa Catharina in the south, the coffee tree can be cultivated profitably; and is, in fact, more or less grown in every state, if only for domestic use. However, little attention is given to coffee-growing in the north, except in the state of Pernambuco, which has only about 1,500,000 trees, as compared, with the 764,000,000 trees of São Paulo in 1922.

The chief coffee-growing plantations in Brazil are situated on plateaus seldom less than 1,800 feet above sea-level, and ranging up to 4,000 feet. The mean annual temperature is approximately 70° F., ranging from a mean of 60.8° in winter to a mean of 72° in summer. The temperature has been known, however, to register 32° in winter and 97.7° in summer.

While coffee trees will grow in almost any part of Brazil, experience indicates that the two most fertile soils, the terra roxa and the massape, lie in the "coffee belts." The terra roxa is a dark red earth, and is practically confined to São Paulo, and to it is due the predominant coffee productivity of that state. Massape is a yellow, dark red—or even black—soil, and occurs more or less contiguous to the terra roxa. With a covering of loose sand, it makes excellent coffee land.

Brazil planters follow the nursery-propagated method of planting, and cultivate, prune, and spray their trees liberally. Transplanting is done in the months from November to February.

Coffee-growing profits have shown a decided falling off in Brazil in recent years. In 1900 it was not uncommon for a coffee estate to yield an annual profit of from 100 to 250 percent. Ten years later the average returns did not exceed twelve percent.

In Brazil's coffee belt there are two seasons—the wet, running from September to March; and the dry, running from April to August. The coffee trees are in bloom from September to December. The blossoms last about four days, and are easily beaten off by light winds or rains. If the rains or winds are violent, the green berries may be similarly destroyed; so that great damage may be caused by unseasonable rains and storms.

The harvest usually begins in April or May, and extends well into the dry season. Even in the picking season, heavy rains and strong winds—especially the latter—may do considerable damage; for in Brazil shade trees and wind-breaks are the exception.

Approximately twenty-five percent of the São Paulo plantations are cultivated by machinery. A type of cultivator very common is similar to the small corn-plow used in the United States. The Planet Junior, manufactured by a well known United States agricultural-machinery firm, is the most popular cultivator. It is drawn by a small mule, with a boy to lead it, and a man to drive and to guide the plow.

The oldest coffee-growing district in São Paulo is Campinas. There are 136 others.

Bahia coffee is not so carefully cultivated and harvested as the Santos coffee. The introduction of capital and modern methods would do much for Bahia, which has the advantage of a shorter haul to the New York and the European markets.

On the average, something like seventy percent of the world's coffee crop is grown in Brazil, and two-thirds of this is produced in São Paulo. Coffee culture in many districts of São Paulo has been brought to the point of highest development; and yet its product is essentially a quantity, not a quality, one.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Caffeine-Free Coffee Trees

Certain trees growing wild in the Comoro Islands and Madagascar are known as caffeine-free coffee trees. Just whether they are entitled to this classification or not is a question. Some of the French and German investigators have reported coffee from these regions that was absolutely devoid of caffeine. It was thought at first that they must represent an entirely new genus; but upon investigation, it was found that they belonged to the genus Coffea, to which all our common coffees belong.

Professor Dubard, of the French National Museum and Colonial Garden, studied these trees botanically and classified them as C. Gallienii, C. Bonnieri, C. Mogeneti, and C. Augagneuri. The beans of berries from these trees were analyzed by Professor Bertrand and pronounced caffein-free; but Labroy, in writing of the same coffee, states that, while the bean is caffein-free, it contains a very bitter substance, cafamarine, which makes the infusion unfit for use. Dr. O.W. Willcox, in examining some specimens of wild coffee from Madagascar, found that the bean was not caffein-free; and though the caffein content was low, it was no lower than in some of the Porto Rican varieties.

Another source reports that Hanausek found no caffein in C. mauritiana, C. humboltiana, C. Gallienii, C. Bonnerii, and C. Mogeneti.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Physiological Action of Coffee

Drinking of coffee by mankind may be attributed to three causes: the demand for, and the pleasing effects of, a hot drink (a very small percentage of the coffee consumed is taken cold), the pleasing reaction which its flavors excite on the gustatory nerve, and the stimulating effect which it has upon the body. The flavor is due largely to the volatile aromatic constituents, "caffeol," which, when isolated, have a general depressant action on the system; and the stimulation is caused by the caffein. The general and specific actions of these individual components, together with that of the hypothetical "caffetannic acid," are considered under separate headings.

Coffee may be considered a member of the general class of adjuvant, or auxiliary, foods to which other beverages and condiments of negligible inherent food value belong. Its position on the average menu may be attributed largely to its palatability and comforting effects. However, the medicinal value of coffee in the dietary and per se must not be overlooked.

The ingestion of coffee infusion is always followed by evidences of stimulation. It acts upon the nervous system as a powerful cerebro-spinal stimulant, increasing mental activity and quickening the power of perception, thus making the thoughts more precise and clear, and intellectual work easier without any evident subsequent depression. The muscles are caused to contract more vigorously, increasing their working power without there being any secondary reaction leading to a diminished capacity for work. Its action upon the circulation is somewhat antagonistic; for while it tends to increase the rate of the heart by acting directly on the heart muscle, it tends to decrease it by stimulating the inhibitory center in the medulla.

The effect on the kidneys is more marked, the diuretic effect being shown by an increase in water, soluble solids, and of uric acid directly attributable to the caffein content of the coffee taken. In the alimentary tract coffee seems to stimulate the oxyntic cells and slightly to increase the secretion of hydrochloric acid, as well as to favor intestinal peristalsis. It is difficult to accept reports of coffee accomplishing both a decrease in metabolism and an increase in body heat; but if the production of heat by the demethylation of caffeine to form uric acid and a possible repression of perspiration by coffee be considered, the simultaneous occurrence of these two physiological reactions may be credited.

The disagreement of medical authorities over the physiological effects of coffee is quite pronounced. It will be noticed that the majority opinion is that coffee in moderation is not harmful. Just how much coffee a person may drink, and still remain within the limits of moderation and temperance, is dependent solely upon the individual constitution, and should be decided from personal experience rather than by accepting an arbitrary standard set by some one who professes to be an authority on the matter.