The Soul of Trees


“Trees are necessary friends of men”

Trees are important parts of nature because they help prevent soil erosion and protect ecosystem in and under their foliage. They also hold a big part in producing oxygen and reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, as well as lowering the air temperature. It is an essential factor in landscape designing and the essence of agriculture. Wood, which is taken from trees, can be used in construction and is a basic energy source in developing countries.

Vietnamese people have been worshiping trees for thousands of years. Under big trees often have a shrine, an incense bowl, and a lime bowl to worship the God of Trees. Big trees have big Gods; small trees have small Gods.

Coffee brings wealth and prosperity!

Legends have it that, in 850, a shepherd named Kaldi one day found his goats jumping up and down in joy. After observation, he found out they had been eating coffee berries which made them so cheerful

The Books of Enoch (an ancient Jewish religious work, ascribed by tradition to Enoch, the great-grandfather of Noah. The older sections of the text are estimated to date from about 300 BC) had mentioned Eden and the trees in it which could be interpreted as a coffee garden in blooming season. Could it be that the crime of Adam and Eve eating the apple was legendized by Hôm Erectus eating coffee berries and became Homo Sapiens?

The origin of coffee and the types of coffee

Coffee is a tropical plant that grew in Kefa (or Kaffa) in Southwest Ethiopia, Africa. It was named after the place where it came from. Another legend says that it was named coffee because its name in Arabic was qahwah.

Coffee belongs to the Rubiaceae family. Coffee genus consists of different perennial plants. But not all of them contain caffein. Some are very different from common coffee plants that we see. There are only two types of coffee plants that have commercial values. The first one is coffea arabica (accountable for 61% of coffee products in the world). The other is coffea canephonra or coffea robusta (accountable for 39% of coffee products). There are also coffea liberia and coffea excelsa but they are in a small number

Coffea arabica plants can grow up to 6 meters, canephonra (or Robusta) plants can grow up to 10 meters. However, at coffee farms, they have to prune it down to around 2-4 meters for easier harvesting. The leaves are dark green and glossy in oval shapes. Their top sides are darker than bottom sides. Each leaf is 8-15 centimeters long, and 4-6 centimeters wide. Coffee trees have tap roots that go straight down into the soil from 1 to 2.5 meters with other roots sprout laterally to absorb nutrients.

The flowers are axillary, and clusters of fragrant white flowers bloom simultaneously. Each has five petals. Their color and fragrant remind us of jasmine flowers. They only bloom in 3-4 days and pollination only lasts for a few hours. The strong fragrance attracts bees from all around to collect nectar, producing delicious honey. Swarm of butterflies in various colors are also attracted by coffee flowers, creating a stunning scenery to win over even the most unromantic of us all. These flowers, these fragrance and colors are the signatures of Central Highlands – the land of red soil

The flowers often bloom 2-3 times until the end of March. Each time they last for about a week. Many people misunderstand that coffee has its signature scent when in fact it only has that small after being roasted. Thus, while processing, each family has their own way of roasting to create different smell

New coffee berries will grow after blooming season, all small and green. Thus, people of Central Highlands consider this to be their spring, a season of gathering, of family and friends, of hoping for a bumper year, of new plans for coffee festival, which will be held in March every other year. Festivals are important traditional community activities in Vietnam. They preserve and pass on cultural heritages between generations, create diversity. Through festivals, cultural and spiritual needs of the community are satisfied, customs and traditions are preserved.

A grown coffee tree has 30,000 to 40,000 flowers. Right when a tree starts to bloom, they can predict how the season will turn out to be. In big coffee exporting countries, this is a critical factor to predict the price and the market. However, extreme cold weather or droughts can still affect the results and change the prediction.

When the weather is good, bees and butterflies and other insects will help with pollination. Berries will develop in 7 to 9 months and have oval shapes that look like cherries. When immature they are green, and they ripen to yellow, then crimson, before turning black on drying. Because this process takes quite a long time, there can be flowers and berries on one tree at the same time. Each berry usually contains two seeds (beans) lying next to each other in the flesh. One of its surface is flat, the other is curved. Each seed is also covered by two thin layers: one layer is white, wrapping tightly around the seed; the other is yellow and wraps more lightly outside. The seed can either be round or long. When immature they are greyish yellow, or greyish green, or green. Sometimes there is only one seed in each berry.

A coffee bean, with its crack in the middle, was mentioned in Oromon myths as God’s ear. It was “the third ear” – a term which was first used by the psychoanalyst – Theodor Reik – to refer to the ability to listen and understand hidden things behind language and tones. This term was also used in The New Kingdom (also referred to as the Egyptian Empire, from 1570 BC to 1070 BC). According to their legends, Amon-Re was the God with a third ear who could hear Heaven, the Earth, and Hell, who came from the past, the present, and the future.

In Ethiopian myths, a coffee bean with its crack in the middle also symbolized a vagina – one of the first things that people worshiped 32,000 years ago. Ethnologists call it Yoni in referring to the gate that opens us to a newer and better world. Through a woman’s vagina, can geniuses that make the world a better place be born. It is a passage between the heavenly world and our mortal world. A coffee bean, one that resembles a vagina, had become a symbol of Yoni – the gate to heaven.

Coffee season is from October to the end of September (solar calendar). Harvesting
time in Central Highlands (where produces 80% total output of coffee of Vietnam) lasts
for 4 months, from the end of October to the end of January.

Ethiopia is the homeland of coffee. Brazil is the biggest coffee exporter. But Buon Ma Thuot – a part of Central Highlands of Vietnam – is the best Robusta coffee producer, making Vietnam the second biggest coffee exporter in the world with special spiritual values that make our coffee best of the best.

Nowadays, when we talk about coffee, we talk about fragrant cups of drink, either hot or cold. However, in the past, they did not make drinks from the beans but the leaves. This is still in practice up to now in Ethiopia. 

Botanists at the the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, and researchers at Montpelier, France have confirmed that teas which are made from coffee leaves are very good for our health. They are less bitter and have less caffeine than tea leaves, yet stronger at giving us energy. They have antioxidants and anti-ferments. There are 7 types of coffee trees that have high levels of mangiferin (a chemical in mango) can help prevent fermentation, reduce cholesterol, support and protect neurons in the brain, decrease diabetes risk. And antioxidants in coffee leaves can prevent heart diseases and cancer.

We can use most parts of coffee trees. When the tree is too old (after 15 to 20 years), the wood taken from its trunk can make calligraphy pens, shelves, containers, frames, lamps, watches, makeup tables etc. Even used coffee grounds can be used to fertilize soil because they have high amounts of nitrogen, magnesium and potassium. Used coffee grounds are especially suitable for acidic soil plants such as roses, sweet potatoes, potatoes, carrots, onions, aloes, evergreens and rhododendrons etc

Besides removing dirt and dead cells from the skin, the vitamins and other substances in used coffee grounds can help nurture the skin, stimulate new cells to grow, improve pigment, give the skin a brighter and healthier look. They also can be used as deodorant.

To societies that depend largely on coffee, coffee trees have become an inseparable part in their cultural and spiritual life. According to Oromon legends – the first society that knew how to extract coffee 3,000 years ago – the first coffee tree grew on God’s teardrops which fell from the sky because he was weeping for mankind for being talented but powerless. Thus, even though their roots were deep in the ground, coffee trees were from the sky. The Sky and The Earth/The High and The Deep of coffee trees were long explained in legends. The High and The Deep weren’t just a contrast of the Sky and the Earth but was also a metaphor of a man’s life. Today, Oromon people still plant a coffee tree next to a grave to honor the death.