Next time you plunk down $4 for a cup of gourmet coffee, consider thanking the anonymous laborers who harvested the beans that went into it. The best coffees use hand picked beans, "because the fruits of a coffee tree do not ripen uniformly and, thus, there are both mature and immature fruit on the same tree," according to a new US patent (6,727,406).

A dearth of cheap labor has forced many growers to adopt methods in which workers indiscriminately harvest beans from branches, ripe or not. Mechanical harvesting is another option, but mechanical harvesters also don't efficiently distinguish mature from immature beans. And poor quality beans make a poor pot of coffee.

Into this breach (fortified by a strong cup of Kona, no doubt) stepped a group of scientists at the University of Hawaii who determined that coffee beans are climacteric, that is, they boost respiration and ethylene synthesis just...

Interested in reading more?

Magaizne Cover

Become a Member of

Receive full access to digital editions of The Scientist, as well as TS Digest, feature stories, more than 35 years of archives, and much more!
Already a member?