Since its introduction to Europe in the Colombian Exchange, coffee has been an intrinsic part of European and Western culture. It is drank in the morning, afternoon, and night. It can be part of your breakfast or necessary for your dessert. An absolute staple of workplaces, caffeine is one of, if not the most widely used drug on earth. However, many people’s knowledge of coffee stops at knowing where to get it and how many cups a day they can stomach. Today you’ll be walked through the incredible process of how coffee is planted, grown, and cultivated, until it is finally poured into your mug in the morning.
The Planting Process
Whether you buy them whole or already ground up, most people know what a coffee bean looks like. If you’re an adventurous type, you might even know what they taste like. What many people don’t know, however, is that a coffee bean is a seed. If a coffee bean avoids the roasting process, it will likely be planted in shaded ground somewhere. They are difficult to nurture, requiring much water and shade before a seedling is strong enough to be replanted outside. There, they will be planted in wet ground, as the seedlings much moisture in order to root correctly.
Coffee trees can take years to produce fruit. These bright red fruits, called coffee cherries, can take anywhere up to four years to be produced, depending on the variety of tree it is growing from. Picking these cherries can be a tedious process. They can be harvested in one of two ways – strip harvesting or selective harvesting. Strip harvesting involves tearing all the cherries off of a tree’s branches. This can be done either by hand or by machine. Finer beans require only ripe cherries, and therefore require selective harvesting. This is done only by hand, and is responsible for the best coffee beans in existence.
Like when harvesting the cherries, there are two ways to process them as well. The older process is known as the dry method. Essentially, cherries are spread out to dry in the sun, and raked periodically in order to turn them over. They are covered in order to block out the rain and moisture, and are kept this way until reaching a moisture content of 11%. The wet method is more mechanical, and involved running the cherries through a pulping machine to separate the pulp and skin from the bean. The beans are then weighed in a liquid process, in which lighter, unready beans float to the top, while the ripe ones sink to the bottom of a tank, where they are kept until a thick layer called the parenchyma is removed. If processed with the wet method, the beans must enter a drying process in which they might dry through sun exposure or machine-dried in tumblers.
Once dried, beans will have their outermost layers removed, leaving only the bean behind. These beans can then either be polished or remain unpolished. While there is little difference between the two, polished beans are generally considered higher-grade. Beans are then either separated by hand or by machine to remove defective ones. Defective could mean too big, too small, damaged by insects, having gross discolorations, or still retaining their husks.
Now considered “green coffee,” the beans are shipped out to foreign countries and business. Usually travelling by ship, these beans are encased in plastic in order to protect against insect infiltration and weather exposure, in order to ensure the finest beans are sent out. They are considered green because they have not yet gone through the roasting process.
Once the beans have reached their destination, they are inspected by nose, eyes and mouth. The taster will evaluate the shape and look of the beans before roasting them. The aroma is crucial to assessing the overall quality of the bean. Crushed beans are tasted and spat out, to assess their potential for being blended with other like beans to create unique roasts. Experienced tasters will test hundreds of beans a day, and still be able to distinguish one subtle flavor from another.
The Roasting Process
Once the beans have had their flavor profiles assessed, they go under the roasting process. This crucial step is the main difference between green coffee and the coffee that we buy and brew coffee with. The beans are placed in roasting machines and continuously rotated to prevent burning. Once they internally reach the temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to release an aromatic oil called caffeol. This oil is the bean’s defining flavor and smell, and displays the true unique taste of each batch of beans. Freshly roasted beans are usually produced in importing countries, as the fresher they are, the better they taste.
This is the point of the list where readers may actually have experience. Coffee can be bought either whole bean or ground. Typically, roasted whole bean coffee can last over a year before losing freshness, but ground coffee will begin to lose its flavor after only a few weeks. If one likes to truly experience their coffee, it is recommended that they purchase a coffee grinder themselves. The fresher one’s ground coffee is, the better it will taste. Different grinds mean different types of coffee. Finer grinds are used to produce espresso, a dense, rich form of coffee that much stronger and more bitter than traditional coffee. Looser grounds are used for the type of coffee one puts in coffee machines.
One can brew their coffee using a variety of methods. Auto-drip coffee machines will make a typical cup of coffee, but depending on how much ground coffee one uses can be either strong or weak, meaning watery. French presses use a finer filter, meaning more force is necessary to press coffee through. This can result in a stronger, richer cup of coffee. An espresso maker uses an extremely fine mechanical filter and forces steaming water through to produce the concentrated coffee that is espresso.
The fascinating video here is recommended viewing: