Though the cultivation of coffee in Sierra Leone has taken ages, yet how and when it was introduced into the country is not known. However, it seems likely that it was introduced to Sierra Leone much earlier than other West African countries.
Coffee belongs to the family Rubiaceae and the genus coffea. There are two main species of the coffee plant, the older one being coffea Arabica while the second species is coffea canephoral (Robusta).
Coffea Arabica is more susceptible to disease, and is considered by most to taste better than the second species, coffee canephoral (Robusta).
Robusta, probably originated in Uganda, contains about 40-50% more caffeine, and can be cultivated in environments where Arabica will not thrive.
Robusta tends to be bitter and has little flavor, with a tell-tale “burnt rubber or wet card board” aroma and flabour.
Other species include coffea liberica and coffea esliaca believed to be indigenous to Liberia and Southern Sudan respectively. Liberica and Robusta have higher yield than Arabica variety.
Coffee has varied ways of utilization, which may not be limited to:
In Sierra Leone, coffee beans are processed locally on a small scale into beverage (stimulant) and the rest is exported overseas. Robusta species grown in Sierra Leone is the major ingredient for instant coffee because of its high caffeine content.
In Sierra Leone coffee is grown in many different parts, but the areas of highest density are in the Kailahun and Kenema District in the Eastern Province.
Sizeable plantings are found in Bod, Moyamba, Bonthe and Tonkolili Districts.
Robusta coffee (coffea canephoral) and a recently introduced done variety G98.
All coffee species are of tropical or semi-tropical climate and produce best when they received 70% (1700mm) or more of rain annually. Elevations of 1067m-1829m (3500ft – 6000ft) produce the best or premium coffees.
Mature trees (coffea Arabica) can be expected to withstand short periods of 0oC, although new shoots may not be produced readily afterwards.
Coffee likes moist conditions and does not tolerate hot dry winds. For these reasons much of the world’s coffee is grown under shade trees which also protect against the overhead tropical sun.
Suitable soils are of loam to clay texture, depths greater than 100cm, good to moderately good drainage and acid to slightly acid reaction.
Coffee tolerate short periods of water logging, but not salinity. A period of 2 – 3 months (Dec – Feb) is necessary for flowing to occur. Coffee can withstand long dry season.
Depending on the region where coffee is being grown, the coffee beans can be harvested as little as once per year to as much as year round, depending on the variety and climate, when the plant flowers and fruits is dependent on the cycle of rainy seasons.
The coffee berries are ready 8 – 9 months after plant flowers. The desired berries is shiny, orange red or orange yellow in colour and firm to the touch.
The first harvest is 2 – 3 years after planting, with full production of 4.5 years. There are both mechanical and manual ways to harvest the berries.
In Sierra Leone, coffee is harvested in November/January by hand, only the ripe berries are chosen leaving the unripe fruit to be picked later. The berries are collected in containers such as baskets, bags, etc
If selective picking of cherries was done, that is, picking ripe cherries only and leaving the unriped ones, there would be no need for sorting. But stripping and mechanical harvesting were used, where ripe, unripe and matured beans are harvested. Then there would be need for sorting of beans.
After picking and sorting, the berries must be processed quickly to prevent spoilage. Two methods are employed.
i. Dry and ii Wet method
In the dry approach berries are also sun-dried and then hulled are cylinders to free the seeds.
The remaining thin parchment over the bean is then removed my a sieving action that requires bean size to be effective.
In Sierra Leone berries are mostly sun-dried by spreading them on bamboo mats, or tarpaulin on dry floors or on raised platform to avoid contamination.
Good beans are put into jute bags and the use of Nylon bags should be discouraged as it lead to deterioration of produce.
A standardized bag of coffee for export weighs 62.1 kg (137 lb) gross wright (net beans wright 60.3, empty jut bag 1.2 kg).
Before inspection and grading is done, sorting is done first by removing defective beans such as black beans, abnormally, pale beans, badly broken beans (c ½ a bean) or beans damaged by insects.
Coffee which is thoroughly dry, clean and free from extraneous matter from all trace of mustiness and which contains not more than 30% by count of defective beans shall be fit for export.
Coffee which is Robusta/Liberica type and which is free from any mixtures of other varieties of coffee and which contains not more than 10% by count of defective beans.
Coffee that has more than 15% defective beans, but less than 20% and does not have more than 2% black beans.
All other coffee which does not qualify for grad A and B.
Examine each part as a separate parcel.
The following criteria are considered favoured for the storage of coffee:
Standardized bagged coffee shall be so stacked on raised wooden pallets and a space of about three (3) metres provided between stacks to allow easy movement of examiner(s) and other workers. Sixty (60) cm must be left between the bags and each wall for the building.
After grading, each bag should be sealed with the individual examiner’s seal.
Stuffing requires the following materials:
Twenty feet (20’) and forty feet (40’)
For the purpose of quality assurance, the Quality Officer at the time of sealing the container shall take/keep record of the container Number and Seal Number. This should be done in the presence of the officer (Examiner/Inspector)