Coffee’s California Coming

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Jay Ruskey is one of the first farmers to be growing coffee commercially in California. His coffee plants share the farm with avocado and cherimoya trees and passion fruit vines. Credit Morgan Maassen for The New York Times

It always seemed that California could grow just about anything, so why did it take so long for this to happen? Thanks to Stephanie Strom for this story in the New York Times:

GOLETA, Calif. — There is a new crop growing in Southern California’s famous avocado groves — coffee.

About two dozen farms between San Diego and here, just outside Santa Barbara, are nurturing coffee bushes under the canopies of old avocado trees, in what may be the first serious effort in the United States to commercialize coffee grown outside Hawaii, home of Kona coffees.

“When people hear I’m growing coffee, they typically make a face and say something like, ‘Well, how good can coffee grown in California be?’” said Jay Ruskey, the owner of Good Land Organics, who is widely regarded as the father of the state’s nascent coffee business.

The farmers are hoping to capitalize on a variety of changing factors abroad and here, including the aging of California’s avocado trees, which are producing less fruit.

The avocado growers face major disruptions in their business, including increased competition from Mexican imports, less access to water and rising real estate prices, all of which are forcing them to rethink that crop. But thanks to Mr. Ruskey, they have realized that their sprawling avocado trees provide perfect shade for high-quality coffee bushes.

One variety of Mr. Ruskey’s beans, Pacamara, emits an earthy scent like the smell of California dirt and new plants in spring. His Geisha beans have a light and fruity flavor with low acidity. Bourbon finishes with a chocolate taste.

As growers like him consider the move into growing coffee beans, they are eyeing machinery that can harvest the beans, which would reduce labor costs, as well as a contraption called a demucilager that mechanically strips coffee berry skin and pulp off the beans, rather than using water to clean them.

And they see more and more American consumers willing to spend $8 or $12 for a cup of joe, which would offset their high costs of production…

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