Think of coffee and countries like Brazil, Columbia, and Indonesia come to mind. If you’re a coffee connoisseur you may even know that parts of Africa such as Ethiopia and Kenya also produce some decent beans. But, coffee in Spain’s Canary Islands? Located a mere 150 miles off the coast of Morocco, the Canaries boast the world’s most northerly coffee plantation---and the only one in Europe.
I arrived a few days ago to the Gran Canaria island with a group of Wine-Knows. Today we visited a coffee plantation. Coffee has been cultivated on this island since the 18th century. Originally used as ornamental plants due to their pretty red berries, the plant’s beans are now roasted and sold commercially.
The coffee plantation is located in a lush green valley in the northwest corner of the island. The valley’s hot and humid year-around micro-climate is instrumental in producing quality beans. Only Arabica beans, indigenous to Ethiopia, are grown. The coffee plants grow among tropical fruits such as guava, mangoes, and avocados---all of which provide the much needed shade to the somewhat delicate coffee. This area is only 300 feet above sea level, hence, Canary’s coffee beans don’t have the high acid levels that its South American counterparts have (they are normally grown at heights of 3,500 feet).
The Canary Islands were birthed from ancient underwater volcanoes, thus their soil is volcanic. (It’s no surprise that some of the most famous coffee-growing spots are in areas of current or historic volcanic activity, e.g. Indonesia and Central America). Coffee plants require a large amount of nutrients and volcanic soils offer an abundant supply of minerals which help the trees to grow. The mineral-rich volcanic soil also contributes to the coffee’s unique flavor profile.
An island with year-around sunshine, a cornucopia of tropical fruits, plentiful fresh-fish, wine, and coffee? I think I’ve found paradise.