A Coffee Tree Produces Surprise Harvest in Sicily

The Morettino family was shocked yet inspired when their ancient coffee plants produced their first-ever cherries last year.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Morettino

The relationship between the Morettino family and coffee is more than a century long. It was in 1920 when the Morettino roastery was born out of a spice shop; Arturo Morettino was the third generation of coffee roasters in the family, and dreamed of creating a coffee farm in his homeland of Sicily in Italy.

The Morettino family experienced their first coffee harvest at home in 2021.

Planting the Seeds of Coffee

Fascinated by the coffee farms he visited worldwide, Arturo’s dream became a reality with seeds donated by the local botanical garden back in the ‘90s. Planted in the roastery’s garden at around 350 meters above sea level, these seeds of Coffea arabica (heirloom varieties at the beginning, followed by other varieties such as Bourbon and Catuai from Guatemala, and Caturra and Pacamara from Peru) have grown freely without any pesticides or protection in a greenhouse. 

They have slowly adapted to the Sicilian climate, at latitudes significantly higher than those of the coffee belt, the area between the two tropics where coffee is usually grown. 

Among vineyards, citrus, and olive trees, the coffee plants continued to grow without producing any notable harvest for over 30 years until 2021, when for the first time, around 30 kg of coffee cherries were harvested. 

Alberto Morettino, roasting coffee.

An Unexpected Coffee Harvest Leads to High-Quality Processing

After the harvest, which lasts between July and September, the cherries were processed with a gold-honey fermentation, a manual depulping, 48-hour fermentation, and a final drying phase in the sun. The beans were then roasted and cupped multiple times until the final profile was achieved: a medium-light roast to enhance the natural sweetness and the delicate acidity of the beans.

The final resulting coffee presented surprising notes and aromas. The Morettinos tasted Sicilian Zibibbo grape and carob notes, together with aromas of plumeria flowers and panela sugar. It was the first harvest that produced a very refined coffee, with special and unique fragrances that ended up embodying the essence of popular products within the region.

A Sign of the Changing Climate

The unprecedented harvest is a pleasant surprise, but is also a strong sign of climate change. Global warming has made Sicily drier, with a high risk of extinction for the traditional farming of citrus fruits and grapes, but at the same time it has also shown unexpected potential in tropical fruit cultivation. Mango, avocado, papaya, and banana were unlikely crops there until a few years ago, but they can now possibly grow, alongside coffee.

“This year the climate has shown signs of great intolerance, and we have abruptly gone from tropical storms in late summer to the harsh winter temperatures that have put some areas in great difficulty,” says Andrea Morettino, Arturo’s son. “With some outdoor experiments we have perhaps dared to challenge a nature that is showing all its strength, and some plants have not withstood the extreme climatic conditions, which have given us no respite for over three months.

“In this delicate phase, in western Sicily we are awaiting the arrival of spring temperatures that we hope will give us a splendid flowering and a significant new harvest,“ Andrea continues. “We are in the hands of Mother Nature, her (timing) and her ‘perfect’ rules. The secret dream of looking at Sicily as a land of coffee and of cultivating a Sicilian native specialty coffee must continue to be a reason for hope, and must continue to fuel our authentic passion.”

Andrea (left) and Arturo (right) Morettino.

The Research Will Continue

And the dream of the Morettinos does not end with this first harvest. They have continued their research and coffee-growing quest by partnering with the University of Palermo and the local botanical garden, who have been studying the adaptation of tropical plants in Sicily for a long time. “We are only at the beginning of a journey which has given us the opportunity to know unique stories of courage of men and women farmers, who deserve the great merit of having always believed in their land and following their own dreams,” says Andrea. “It is with them that we want to share a vision and a sustainable future, with the hope of continuing to raise awareness among young people and coffee lovers from all over the world.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.

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