Agaete, a town in the north of the island of Gran Canaria, boasts a speciality coffee, unique not only in Spain but probably in Europe. Connoisseurs of the best coffee know that it is a speciality coffee, cultivated on the island for more than two centuries. It is an exotic coffee, difficult to obtain due to its low yield (to obtain a single kilo of coffee you need seven kilos of cherries, as the coffee fruits are called) and its high cost. It is undoubtedly a highly sought-after gourmet product, which is a success in markets all over the world. You only have to look at the current price per kilo of coffee from Agaete, which, although it can be found at 125 euros per kilo in department stores, in any case does not go below 50-60 euros per kilo.
Europe's only café?
It has been said of Agaete coffee that it is the only coffee grown in Europe, which is not really true. Although they do not physically belong to the European territory, outermost regions such as Martinique, Guadeloupe and Reunion (France) and the Azores (Portugal) have also been growing coffee for centuries. This, of course, does not detract one iota of merit from the coffee of Agaete, coveted for its flavour and aroma. Coffee is also currently being grown on the Canary Island of La Palma.
The variety of Agaete coffee
The coffee from Agaete is of the variety Arabica typica. The origin of all Arabica coffees is in the southwest of Ethiopia, passing to Yemen in the 15th or 16th century, and in the 18th century it was already being cultivated in India, from where some seeds were taken to the island of Java, seeds that gave name to the variety known today as typica, one of the most culturally important coffees in the history of mankind.
A long journey
How does coffee reach the Canary Islands from the island of Java? The journey is not over yet: a single coffee plant cultivated in Java will travel to Amsterdam in 1706, and after having survived the journey, it is planted in the botanical garden of the city, from where other plants left for America thirteen years later: in this order Arabica Typica coffee arrives in Dutch Guiana (Surinam), French Guiana (Cayenne), Brazil, Martinique (from where the English took it to Jamaica), Santo Domingo, Cuba, Costa Rica and El Salvador. It then reached Mexico, Colombia... Arabica typica became the coffee of America, definitively.
Coffee arrives in the Canary Islands
Coffee arrived in the Canary Islands in 1788 from Spanish America, as King Charles III (three months before his death) entrusted the Marquis of Villanueva del Prado with the task of locating soils in which to plant species from Asia and America. The Marquis was an enlightened member of the Royal Economic Society of Friends of the Country of Tenerife, where he created the Acclimatisation Garden of La Orotava. Spanish scientists in America set to work collecting different species of plants and seeds, which they sent on ships bound for the Garden. In one of them, the mail ship San Bernardo, coffee would arrive in the Canary Islands. It was assumed that the plants, after acclimatisation for a specific period, would be taken to the various royal palaces on the Peninsula for ornamentation. However, they would not thrive in such a different climate.
Agaete, the ideal place for coffee
It is believed that some monks brought coffee from the Botanical Garden of La Orotava to Agaete, where in the last third of the 19th century its cultivation and exploitation was already well established. The mild and regular temperatures throughout the year, the availability of water and the fertile volcanic soil offer the best conditions for growing coffee. If at first it was grown by the sea, it was discovered over time that the best coffee was undoubtedly produced in the highest part of the area, the so-called Valle de Agaete, at 200 metres, where the plants always grew in the shade of guava trees, banana trees, orange trees, mango trees... until harvest time.
Traditional coffee-making in Agaete
After harvesting, the hulls had to be removed from the coffee beans. There were twoprocedures, wet or dry, the latter being the one used in the valley due to the scarcity of water. The beans were spread out in the sun in a clean area, where they were dried and dehulled. Using mallets and wooden rollers, the dry wrapping was broken, and after winnowing and sieving, the clean coffee seed was left. It was then roasted in a clay roaster , which all the houses had, together with a grinder, which was used to grind it before it was tasted. Nowadays, coffee processing is logically carried out with more efficient and convenient mechanical procedures, but it is basically a handmade production and its collection and selection is completely manual.
A unique speciality coffee in Europe
And what is the Arabica Typica coffee grown in Agaete like? Well, as we said, it is a low yielding variety, very susceptible to coffee diseases, which is why it was gradually replaced in almost all countries. It survives in Peru, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, where it is called Jamaica Blue Mountain. The fruits of Agaete coffee are large, the plants are tall and the leaf buds have a typical bronze colour. And its taste and aroma? Agaete coffee is a smooth and elegant coffee, full-bodied with aromas ofliquorice, fruit and chocolate, and a sweeter taste than other coffees because it is not washed. Only about 5.000 kg are produced per year in the Agaete Valley.
The coffee from Agaete is definitely one of the best coffees in the world, a select coffee that has nothing to envy to the best ones, such as those from Jamaica, Ethiopia or Colombia.
Photos: cafeagaete.com (2 and 6).