June 29, 2013

Photo Essay: A Hike Through California Coffee & Exotic Fruit

I'd been looking for an excuse to go back up north, later in the year, to explore more of Santa Barbara County. It's beautiful up there, but thus far I've only visited in the spring, when it's too cold, wet and drippy for my taste.

I'd heard that Good Land Organics hosted guided hikes through their coffee farm in the foothills of the mountains above Santa Barbara, just below Los Padres National Forest, and that turned out to be a good enough anchor for me to build an entire trip around. I mean, coffee? Grown in North America? Much less...California?

Of course, the day I went, it was cold and rainy, but it turns out that typical climate of California's Central Coast is actually good for coffee growers. What started out as an experiment - what can we grow here? - eventually ended up expanding the geographical boundaries of coffee agriculture.

Good Land Organics may be located at 650 feet elevation, but it's also only two miles from the beach, creating foggy mornings and generally frost-free winters.

They have very little flat land on their property, requiring constant grading of their gentle (and not so gentle) slopes, providing for adequate drainage.

Although the coffee was the main draw for me...'s not actually the farm's main crop.

Coffee has been interplanted amongst several varieties of tropical and subtropical, exotic fruits... finger limes (also called "caviar lime"), a microcitrus native to Australia that's in season now...

...and avocados...

...which happily share the land with coffee plants and other exotic fruit plants.

We visited the farm in the middle of harvest... we got to see (and pick) some of the ripened coffee cherries right off their stalks.

The cherries ripen from bright green... bright red.

They're ready to pick when no trace of green coloring remains where the stem meets the cherry.

Some of the coffee plants were even flowering.

Good Land is experimenting with all kinds of different coffee plants, whose varietal designations are reminiscent of wine grapes...

...and whose flavors are distinct from one another, not only in their raw, just-picked cherry phase...

...but also after the seeds (the "beans") have been roasted.

One of their more sought-after varietals is the Geisha, which has recently risen in popularity (and price),  despite the fact that its predominant flavor profile is petroleum. Seriously, those cherries taste like motor fuel.

Good Land is even trying to grow (and roast) the rare yellow coffee cherry...

...which, like the red cherries, also carry two beans inside. (Occasionally, you might find only one...)

Once the cherries are harvested, Good Land embarks on a wet process to remove the skins from the beans...

...hand-cranking to separate them...

...the de-skinned beans dropping into one bucket of water...

...and the cast-off skins (yellow & red together) into another.

For years, the coffee cherry meat was considered biowaste, but now that it's been designated a superfood (like, say, acai berry), coffee growers are trying to figure out how to use them.

Good Land dries and bags some of theirs, and sells it as tea.

The wet coffee beans are spread out onto a screen, where any stray skins are removed...

...and the beans are left out to dry...

...ready for roasting. It's a long process, but, of course, it's a labor of love.

Amongst Good Land's other exotic fruit offerings (in addition to the finger limes) are goji berries (another superfood)...


...and cherimoyas, which commonly grows in Central and South America. Its white, fleshy, sweet fruit can easily be eaten off the skin with a spoon, giving it the nicknames "custard apple" and "ice cream fruit."

Certified organic, Good Land sells its fruits and coffee beans at local farmer's markets and a few local natural grocery stores, but the best way to experience them is to go visit yourself, drink a freshly-brewed cup of coffee, snack on some freshly-cut fruit, and start walking.

Isn't it always best to go directly to the source?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Brooklyn Grange Rooftop Farm
Everything Comes from Somewhere

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