Heralds of Fortune

As with any plant, the flowers which bloom on a coffee tree are at the heart of its life cycle.  But a coffee-tree farmer must be patient in waiting for the first blooms.  From the time the coffee seed is planted, a farmer must wait three to four years ~ yes, years! ~ before the white blooms first begin to grow in small clusters on the axils of the deep green leaves.  Then the farmer has only a few days to enjoy the scent.  The coffee flowers quickly wither and fall, blanketing the ground in white and leaving behind the green cherries which will ripen into a full, rich red.

The scent of the coffee flowers has been described by some as smelling of oranges or jasmine.  When an entire coffee plantation is in full bloom after the rains, the fragrance hangs gently in the tropical air.  Karen Blixen, a coffee farmer who lived in Kenya from 1913 to 1931, wrote about her coffee farm under the pen name Isak Denisen.  (She was most famously portrayed by Meryl Streep in the 1985 movie Out of Africa, co-starring Robert Redford.)  Of the coffee trees blooming, Blixen wrote:  “There are times of great beauty on a coffee farm.  When the plantation flowered in the beginning of the rains, it was a radiant sight, like a cloud of chalk, in the mist of the drizzling rain.”

Coffee flowers are special.  The coffee tree is special in that its blossoming and maturing cycles are not dependent on the seasons.  Instead, mature coffee trees bloom after each rainfall.  (This means that a single shrub can contain flowers, green cherries, and ripe, red cherries ~ all at one time.)  And while the blossoms are not nearly as important a commodity as the beans they leave behind, the essence of the flowers can be used in lotions and teas to soothe or flavor.  Most importantly, if the rains have been abundant and a tree is loaded with buds, the coffee farmer can rejoice that his or her tree will be loaded with cherries as well.  The number of flowers directly correlates to the number of beans, making the blossoms the pure white heralds of good fortune to come.