When business leaders were treated to a coffee in South Devon they probably expected the beans to be from a far-flung plantation – but the coffee fruit was grown much closer to home.
A small number of beans harvested at Paignton Zoo Environmental Park were added to a blend served to delegates at the English Riviera Tourism Company’s industry update.
Catherine Mortimer, Paignton Zoo’s head gardener and a keen coffee drinker, said: “It’s fairly unusual for a coffee plant to produce fruit in the UK. I collected the coffee cherries and dried them on the windowsill in my office. Then I decided to find someone to make them into a cup of coffee for me.”
Peter Blake, of the Costa Rica Plantation Company – a coffee wholesaler based in Torquay – offered to roast and grind the beans.
Ms Mortimer was able to try a cup of coffee made from a blend using her own beans and the rest went into Mr Blake’s special English Riviera Roast blend created specially for the event. Once the origin of the zoo coffee beans was revealed, delegates each received a free bag of coffee to take home.
Ms Mortimer said: “This cup of coffee has taken a year to make — the flowers opened in December last year, the fruits formed in February. I picked the cherries in June and dried them for five months. It was well worth the wait.”
Mr Blake added: “We would normally import, roast and blend coffee beans from around the world, so to have a green coffee bean grown just a couple of miles away is indeed unique.”
Carolyn Custerson, chief executive of the English Riviera Tourism Company, said: “I am very excited about the launch of any new quality product bearing the English Riviera brand name as it will allow us to compete more effectively on the world stage.”
Ms Mortimer said: “Gardener Lorna Nicoll-Griffith, who looks after the nursery, cherishes the coffee just like all our plants.
“It has been used for propagation material and for education, occasionally being carried down to the education centre so children can see what a coffee plant looks like — the rest of the time it lives in the nursery greenhouses. In the summer it gets fed once a week with a multipurpose liquid feed. In the winter this is reduced to once a fortnight.
“The greenhouse is kept at a high humidity, approximately 70 per cent, to replicate the tropical environment.”