The decoys were placed perfectly in the cypress brake. Green heads and blue speculums glistened when the wind gently turned the spread and rays from the big eye in the sky touched them at just the right angle. The water in front of us, purposely left open, offered the perfect landing zone for what was to come. A final check on calls and gear completed the set up. Anticipation heightened with each passing moment. Almost simultaneously, and with an unspoken word, I reached for the bag of crisp cookies as Haley opened the weathered Stanley which has been a part of this so many times before. The steam and aroma that emerged from the thermos drifted with the wind through the timber. I nodded in appreciation as we exchanged pleasantries and I took a sip of the dark elixir. We both chuckled when Haley asked me what I thought the rich folks in the world were doing at this time.
Coffee, for many of us, is considered a necessary staple in our lives. Of course, we could make it without it, but I shudder to think of a morning without the brewed potion. Made from roasted beans from the shrub Coffea, it is one of the most popular drinks in the world. The earliest evidence of “coffee-drinking” date back to the mid-fifteenth century in southern Arabia. By the 16th century the drink had reached the rest of the Middle East and North Africa, later spreading to Europe.
The word “coffee” was derived from the Dutch, koffie, borrowed from the Turkish, kahve, which in turn was borrowed from the Arabic, qahwah, meaning “lack of hunger.” In other words, it was associated as an appetite suppressant. I now understand why many of us consider coffee to be our “breakfast.” In 2016, Oregon State University entomologist George Poinar Jr. revealed the discovery of a plant species fossil which is a forty-five-million-year-old relative of this plant. In fact, from this first-ever fossil “asterid,” not only did this later give us coffee, but also mint, peppers, sunflowers, and deadly poisons.
Two main species, Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora, make up the majority of beans for commercial production. Coffee plants grow within a defined tropical area between Cancer and Capricorn termed the bean belt or coffee belt. Production is plagued by numerous pests, including over 900 species of insects. Additionally, nematodes, foliar diseases, mites, snails, birds, and rodents can also damage the berries produced by this shrub. The most damaging insect pest of coffee is the coffee borer beetle. Capable of destroying up to 50 percent or more of the berries (beans) in most coffee producing countries, this insect reminds me of the destructive boll weevil we fought for over a century here at home.
Harvesting of coffee beans has changed significantly over the years. Traditionally, beans were selectively picked by hand harvesting only those that were at the peak of ripeness. Perhaps you remember Mrs. Olson’s commercial representing “mountain grown, the richest kind.” More commonly, beans are now stripped from the trees mechanically and then sorted by ripeness and color. Beans are then dried and roasted for the end-product before grinding.
There is a notable coffee worth mentioning known as the Asian coffee, kopi luwak. This coffee undergoes a peculiar process by which the berries are fed to the Asian palm civet. The berries pass through the cat’s digestive tract and are collected from the feces. Though I have never tried it, this coffee is said to have a rich, smoky aroma and flavor with a hint of chocolate. Prices for this brew range from $30-$50 per cup. There is another coffee from Thailand known as black ivory coffee. Similar in the process of the “civet” coffee, the beans are fed to elephants and the seeds are harvested from the dung. This coffee is the most expensive in the world selling for around $500 per pound. Strangely, I have this desire to try one of these “rich” brews. I will investigate more to try and find a cup. I’ll let you know.
Coffee drinking plays a large role in our outdoor world. The aroma from the pot that slowly awakens us in camp encourages sleepy souls to emerge from the sleeping bags. By just holding the warm mug and absorbing the smell of the rich brew, the experience of the hunt is complimented. Many mornings my dad and I would share a cup after a spring gobbler hunt. Sometimes we celebrated a successful hunt, but most of the time we talked about what went wrong and what we would try the next morning when the bird sounded off from his roost. Iconic deer camps back in the day always had a big pot of coffee in the mess hall. Frozen hunters would gather around the hearth and sip their brew discussing where to place standers for the next drive.
Reflecting to the blue skies and stiff north wind in the brake, Haley reached for his call as the sounds of wings cut through our conversation. Forever etched in my brain will be the brilliant colors of those drakes as they circled looking for anything out of place. Subtle quacks and light feed calls finished them and with red legs dangling, our shotguns found the crease of our shoulders and our cheeks embraced the stock. As smoke rings from the barrels subsided, I just handed my cup back to Haley. No use in crying over spilled coffee for the thermos still held plenty and we had ducks to pick up.
If you’re not a coffee drinker, you may not fully grasp what a cup of the java will do for the soul. Somehow, a diet coke just doesn’t carry the romance and fulfill the experience as what the mug will bring. Pour yourself a cup of a hearty blend this fall and savor the steam of the cup and the brisk air. It’s all part of the package. I’m quite sure you understand what I mean. Until next time enjoy our woods and waters and remember, let’s leave it better than we found it.