Farmers in Spain look to expand 'European coffee'

In a tropical valley in Spain's Canary Islands the month of April is the time to harvest coffee, which is marketed as gourmet product and one which farmers hope to expand rapidly.

Since the late 19th century, the residents of the Valley of Agaete on the northeast coast of Gran Canaria island in the Atlantic have cultivated this coffee which they consider the "only one in Europe," said Victor Lugo, head of the Agroagaete cooperative.

It is not quite the only one, as coffee plantations exist in the Caribbean countries that belong to European nations.

Production of coffee in the Canaries is just 3.0 to 4.0 tonnes per year, organically grown in an area of about 20 hectares (50 acres).

The aim is to bring production to 7,000 kilos (15,000 pounds) from around 2,000 to 3,000 plants while maintaining "quality as the priority," said Lugo.

The coffee, first brought from the neighbouring island of Tenerife in the 19th century, is grown in this rugged and green valley along with tropical fruits such as mangoes, papayas and avocados.

In the town of Orotava on Gran Canaria there is also a botanical gardens where plants brought from the Americas and Asia are grown that are being acclimatised before being introduced into Europe.

For the past eight years Agroagaete, which groups 30 farms that grow the coffee and around 1,000 employees, has led a project to raise awareness of it as "gourmet" product, which sells for 60 euros ($87) per kilo or 15 euros for a packet of 250 grammes.

Lugo said it is a high-quality Arabica coffee "which has the aroma of chocolate and fruit".

But distribution is restricted since it is sold only in the town of Agaete, in Spain's top department store chain Corte Ingles or on the Internet.

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