Almost all the coffee consumed in the world belongs to two species: Arabica (Coffea arabica) and Robusta (Coffea canephora). Both originate from Africa. On the hills of Sierra Leone, in addition to Robusta plants, the trees of an extremely rare species – different from both Arabica and Robusta – grow spontaneously: Coffea stenophylla. This species has almost disappeared because it is not considered very profitable: it takes nine years to reach maturity and yield fruit, two years more than Arabica and five more than Robusta.Coffea stenophylla grows on hilltops in the rainforest at 200-700 metres of altitude. Its production cycle is mainly linked to rain patterns. The plant is very resistant to drought, and during the dry season plants grow very slowly and flower buds enter a dormant state. With rains begin, plants re-hydrate and blossom, and the vegetative growth resumes. C. stenophylla naturally repels the coffee leaf miner (Perileucoptera coffeella) which, in contrast, is very dangerous for other, more widespread coffee varieties. However, it does not survive at temperatures lower than 1-2 ° Celsius, so its presence outside its native tropical area is very limited.The plant is a densely branched, evergreen tree that can grow to 6 metres tall. The cluster of flowers contains small, five petal and star-shaped, white, fragrant flowers. The fruit is a drupe which, when ripe, turns violet and contains two seeds: the coffee beans. Sometimes, one of the two seeds dies. In this case, the remaining one develops and takes on a rounded shape, and is called ‘peaberry’.After pollination (by wind or insects, mainly wild bees) and once the fruits have started to develop, the fruits grow very slowly for 6-8 weeks. After this dormancy period, they grow rapidly in volume and weight, and their water content increases up to 85%. About 30-35 weeks after blooming, fruits complete their growth and the ripening stage – which has a variable duration – begins.Immediately after harvest, the ripe berries are dried in the sun for 2-3 weeks. Then, the dried casing is mechanically removed. Alternatively, they can be immersed in water and mechanically processed to remove the outside casing. The next stage is fermentation, which lasts several days and is followed by drying.The cultivation of C. stenophylla is limited to a few tropical areas in western Africa, especially in Sierra Leone, where it originally comes from. The berries of C. stenophilla are not separated from those of other species, so there are no specific processing techniques, uses and ways of consumption linked to this particular species. In Western Africa, coffee, along with tea, is the most widespread drink. Historically, it is also used in religious ceremonies, and nomadic tribes often use it to appease hunger and for its healing properties.C. stenophylla is not known outside its native areas and, even in Sierra Leone, it is not processed and sold separately from other species and varieties.
The traditional products, local breeds, and know-how collected by the Ark of Taste belong to the communities that have preserved them over time. They have been shared and described here thanks to the efforts of the network that that Slow Food has developed around the world, with the objective of preserving them and raising awareness. The text from these descriptions may be used, without modifications and citing the source, for non-commercial purposes in line with the Slow Food philosophy.