From the Plant to a Brewing Cup of Coffee
A ripe coffee cherry plucked today may take several months to reach your cup. It goes through a series of steps in processing, and the result is the fine, rich and aromatic coffee.
From the plantation to the brewing, the coffee has a long and arduous journey.
1. Planting the coffee seeds
Large beds are used to plant coffee seeds. The seeds are generally grown in shaded nurseries. When sprouts appear, the seedlings are removed and planted in individual pots. The soil used in these pots is carefully formulated and balanced. These plants are watered regularly and protected from bright sunlight, until they are strong enough to sustain themselves. Thereafter, they are permanently planted. Usually the permanent planting is done during the rainy season so that the soil remains moist while the roots of the young plants become strongly anchored in the soil.
2. Collecting the harvest
The newly planted coffee trees start bearing fruits in about 3 or 4 years. The ready-to-be-harvested cherries can be identified by their bright, deep red color. The ripe cherries are either strip picked or selectively picked by hand. In most countries there is only one coffee crop a year, but in some there can be two crops a year. Approximately 100-200 pounds of cherries can be collected by a good picker in a day which amounts to about 20-40 pounds of coffee beans.
Strip pick method- This method is suitable for flat plantations on large scale fields. It can be either done by hand or machines. All the cherries of the branch are stripped at one go, and the entire crop is harvested at one time.
Selective pick method- This method is labor intensive and costly, as the pickers rotate through the plantations and pick by hand, the cherries which are the most ripe. The method is used to collect finer arabica beans.
3. Processing through dry and wet method
Processing of the beans starts as soon as possible after the beans are picked. There are two methods of processing the beans, and any one of the methods can be used depending upon the locations and availability of local resources.
The dry method- The dry method is used in countries where there is scarcity of water. The picked cherries are spread on huge surfaces are dried under the sun. They are raked and turned several times to prevent spoilage. The cherries spread for drying are covered during night time and during rains to prevent them from getting wet. The process may take several weeks before the moisture content becomes as low as 11%. The dried cherries are then stored in warehouses, and later sent for milling.
The wet method- During this method, the skin and pulp of the coffee cherries are removed by passing them through a pulping machine. The washed away pulp is dried and used as mulch. The beans are conveyed through water channels where the light beans separate from the heavy ripe beans that sink to the bottom. These ripe beans are passed through rotating drums that separate them according to their size. The separated beans are then fermented in water-filled tanks for 12 to 48 hours. This process separates the thick mucilage layer attached to the parchment. These beans are rinsed in water and then dried till moisture content drops to 11%.
4. The milling process
5. Export of coffee beans
The coffee beans, after going through milling process, are referred to as 'green coffee'. These are packed in jute or sisal bags and exported. The worldwide production of green coffee is approximately seven million tons.
6. The coffee taster
Tasting a coffee is an important process and is done to ensure the quality and taste of the coffee. The process is called cupping and is done in special rooms. The coffee taster is called the cupper and is capable of tasting hundreds of samples of coffee a day. The first step is to evaluate the beans for its overall visual quality. The beans are then roasted, grounded and brewed in temperature-controlled boiling water. The cupper ‘noses’ the brew to assess the aroma that indicates the quality. The coffee is left to rest for several minutes before ‘breaking the crust’ by pushing aside the grounds at the top of the cup. Thereafter, the coffee is nosed again and then slurped with quick inhalation. In this manner, coffee is evaluated for quality, and determining different blends and roasts.
7. Roasting and grinding
Coffee is roasted roasting machines that maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving to avoid burning. When their internal temperature reaches 400 degrees, the otherwise green beans start turning brown. The process of roasting also helps to remove the oil called caffeol, from the beans. The roasted beans are immediately cooled either by air or water.
Grinding is the next step after roasting and is responsible for the flavor. The extent of grinding depends upon the method of brewing is to be followed. The finer ground coffees should be brewed more quickly than the course ground.
8. Brewing the coffee
The ground coffee can now be brewed as per your preference about the aroma and taste.
Coffee In The Times Gone By
Coffee has travelled and gone places, in literal terms. Although coffee is grown in many countries, the origin is said to be in Ethiopian highlands.
The legend of Kaldi
Coffee is believed to be discovered by Kaldi, a goatherd, in Ethiopian highlands. He found that his goats would not sleep at night if they had berries of a particular tree. Kaldi reported this finding to the head of a local monastery. The head of the monastery prepared a drink from the berries and found that the drink made him stay alert during the long hours of evening prayers. Slowly the word spread to other people and other pats of the land, about the berries and the energizing effects of drink made out of the berries.
Coffee and the Arabs
The Arabs are believed to be the first ones to cultivate coffee and start its trade. In Muslim tradition, alcohol is a forbidden drink, therefore, coffee became an acceptable substitute.
This term refers to public coffee houses which began appearing in cities across the Near East. These coffee houses were the hub for all social activities like music, live performances, chess and general conversations. The coffee houses were also called as the 'Schools of the Wise' as they were the center for exchange of information.
Wine of Araby- The holy city of Mecca was visited by thousands of pilgrims, who spread the word about ‘wine of Araby’ beyond Arabia.
Coffee travels to Europe
Coffee came to Russia in 17th century, and because widely popular. Some people called it 'bitter invention of Satan.' It came to Venice in 1615, and was considered a controversial drink. Pope Clement VIII intervened in the controversy. In order to give a fair trial, he tasted it himself and found it very satisfying. Ehence, coffee was given Papal approval.
The term was used for coffee houses that sprang up in major cities of England, Austria, France, Germany and Holland, and became hub for social activity and communication. They were called penny universities because for the price of a penny one could purchase a cup of coffee and engage in thought-provoking conversation. By the mid-17th century, there were over 300 coffee houses in London.
Lloyd's of London
Coffee houses became the center for business interactions. Lloyd's of London, was formed at the Edward Lloyd's Coffee House.
Coffee in The New World
Coffee was brought to New Amsterdam, a location later called New York by the British in the mid-1600's. Tea was the favoured drink of the Americans until heavy tax was imposed on tea by King George. Following the revolt, known as the Boston Tea Party, coffee became the most sought after drink among Americans.
Arabs lose monopoly in coffee plantations
Arabs used to closely guard the coffee trade and its plantation. However, in the latter half of the 17th century, the Dutch succeeded in obtaining some coffee seedlings. The seedlings failed to grow in India, but were successfully cultivated in Batavia, on the island of Java, later expanding to the islands of Sumatra and Celebes.
Coffee in France and Americas- In 1714, the Mayor of Amsterdam presented a gift of a young coffee plant to King Louis XIV of France. This plant was planted in the Royal Botanical Garden in Paris. In 1723, Gabriel de Clieu, a young naval officer, got a seedling from the King's plant and transported it to Martinique. The seedling thrived and later spread to over 18 million coffee trees on the island of Martinique in the next 50 years. The coffee trees throughout the Caribbean, South and Central America are believed to be originated from the same stock.
Coffee in Brazil
The emperor of Brazil sent Francisco de Mello Palheta to French Guiana to obtain coffee seedlings. It is believed that he impressed the French Governor's wife who presented him with the seedling hidden away in a boutique of flowers as a farewell gift.
Having travelled all across the world, coffee today, is the most important item for trade. It is the backbone of economy for many countries.
Coffee Plantations in Different Countries
Coffee trees are planted all around the world where the climatic conditions favor its growth. In addition to the location, there are many other factors that decide the coffee plantation. The combination of factors required for optimal growth becomes varied resulting in the variation in quality and taste.
The factors that affect or favor the growth of coffee plantations include:
These factors combined with the method with which the coffee cherries are processed add to the distinctions between coffees from countries, growing regions and plantations worldwide. Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries, mostly in the Equatorial zone, between latitudes 25 degrees North and 30 degrees South.
Hawaii- Hawaii islands are famous for Kona coffee which produces a deliciously rich, fragrant cup of medium body. The tropical environment favors optima growth of coffee plantations. Coffee plants are planted on the slope of the active Mauna Loa volcano in the black soil. The plants are protected from intense sun in the afternoon by the tropical clouds. The islands receive just the right rain enough to nourish the young plants.
Mexico- Mexico is one of the largest coffee producers in the world with more than 100,000 coffee farmers. Coffee farms are relatively smaller and are located in the states of Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas. The beans are appropriate for dark roasts and blends. Mexican coffee has rich aroma and deep flavor. Altura refers to a Mexican coffee, and means one that is grown in high altitude.
Puerto Rico- Puerto Rico had once been the 6th leading exporter of coffee in the world, however, it could maintain its standing. With the economy being revived, the coffee industry has again started looking up. Coffees plants are carefully cultivated from quality arabica varieties in two major growing regions Grand Lares in the south central and Yauco Selecto in the southwest. The coffee grown in Puero Rico is excellent in terms of its balanced body, acidity and fruity fragrance.
Guatemala- In Guatemala, coffee is grown in Antigua, Coban and Heuhuetanango where the favorable climatic conditions include rugged landscape and rich volcanic soil. Microclimates strongly affect the quality and taste of the coffee beans grown at altitudes 4500' or higher. Guatmala coffee has a distinctive taste with medium to full body, and a spicy or chocolaty flavor.
Costa Rica- Costa Rica produces only wet processed arabicas that are grown mostly in small farms called fincas. Beneficios is the term used for the modern processing facilities, where the cherries are brought post harvest and the wet processing begins immediately. The Costa Rica coffee has perfect balance with medium body and sharp acidity.
Colombia- Colombia is the second largest yearly producer of coffee and works hard towards maintain its position of quality coffee producer. The country has thousands of small coffee farms growing on extremely rugged landscape. Although the landscape provides favorable environment for growth of coffee plants, it becomes a hurdle in transportation to production units and shipment centers. The Colombian coffee is mild and has well-balanced acidity. Colombian Supremo, the highest grade, has a subtle, aromatic sweetness while Excelso Grade might be softer and slightly more acidic.
Brazil- Brazil is the biggest coffee producing country in the world, with coffee plantations spread over vast areas of land. The huge farms produce huge quantities of coffee, and are managed and operated by hundreds of people. Arabica and robusta, both varieties of coffee are grown in different regions depending upon the climate, soil quality and the altitude. The Brazilian coffee is clear, sweet, medium-bodied, and has less acidity.
Ethiopia- Ethiopia is considered to be the origin of coffee. The coffee here, is harvested from the wild coffee trees growing in three main regions- Sidamo, Harer or Kaffa. Ethiopia produces wet processed coffee. The coffee is full bodied and has strong flavor.
Kenya- Coffee grown in Kenya is well known in United States and Europe for its sharp, fruity acidity, combined with full body and rich fragrance. The coffee plantations are located in the foothills of Mount Kenya. Kenyan producers are very careful about the processing and drying procedures followed which are carefully controlled and monitored. Kenya follows a unique grading system for the coffee beans. According to the system, Kenyan AA is the largest bean in a 10-size grading system and AA+ means that it was estate grown.
Ivory Coast- Ivory Coast is one of the largest produces of robusta coffee. The coffee has a strong smell, with light body and mild acidity. These coffees are suitable for dark roasts and used for espresso blends.
The Arabian Peninsula
Yemen- Yemen was the place where the coffee was commercially cultivated for the first time. Due to scarcity of water, coffee beans tend to be smaller, and irregular in size and shape. The coffee is processed through dry method. The Yemini coffee is rich and deep in color and flavor. The Mocha coffee was named after famous Yemini port of Mocha, from where coffee used to be shipped all over the world. The Dutch combined this Arabian coffee Arabian coffee with coffee grown on the island of Java, making a popular blend, Mocha Java.
Indonesia- Indonesia has several large islands like Sumatra, Java and Sulawesi, known for the excellent coffee grown there. The coffee farms are small and spread over 1-2 acres. The coffee is mostly dry processed. The coffee grown here is rich, full bodies and has mild acidity. Another rare type, the fine aged coffees, can also be found in Indonesia. The coffee stored in warehouses gently ages in the warm, damp climate, giving the coffee a deeper body and less acidity.
Vietnam- Vietnam has a large coffee production. Robusta coffee is grown in small plantations in the southern half of the country. The coffee is known for its light acidity, mild body and good balance.
Coffee: The Bean and More
Coffee is the most consumed beverage and widely cultivated around the world. Having seen the coffee plant as short and pruned shrub, it is surprising to know that the coffee plant can grow as high as 30 feets! The leaves are dark-green in color, are waxy in texture and grow in pairs opposite each other. The coffee cherries develop from white blossoms and grow alongside the branches of the tree. It takes about one year for the cherries to get matured. These cherries can be seen in different cycles of growth like flowers, green fruit and ripe cherries, in the same tree. The coffee tree has a life span of about 20-30 years. The climatic conditions optimal for growth of coffee tree include rich soil and mild temperature. These trees cannot withstand extreme fluctuations in temperature and prefer frequent rains and shaded sun.
The coffee plant
The coffee plant belongs to the genus Coffea, which includes about 500 genera and 6,000 species of tropical trees and shrubs. Since its description in 18th century by the Swedish botanist, Carolus Linneaus, the exact classification of coffee is still debatable. The reasons include:
The coffee fruit/cherry
Fruit has an outer skin called exocarp, and a middle mesocarp consisting of a thin pulp layer and a slimy layer called parenchyma. The endocarp that covers the beans is a parchment like envelope, inside which lie two beans side by side. Each bean is covered by their individual layer of thin membrane called spermoderm. This spermoderm is alos referred to as silver skin in the coffee trade.
There are two important varieties of coffees- arabica and canephora, more commonly called robusta.
Coffea arabica claims about 70% of the total in the world. The coffee is fine, mild and aromatic. Coffee arabica descended from the original coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia, and is grown between 2,000 to 6,000 feet above sea level. The species need mild temperature and between 59 - 75 degrees, with about 60 inches of rainfall a year. Presence of heavy frost can be detrimental to their growth. These plants grow on terrains that are steep and difficult to access, therefore, cultivation becomes costly. The trees require extra care as they are prone to infestations. As compared to the robusta variety, the beans of Coffee arabica tend to be flatter, and more elongated, and have less caffeine content.
Robusta coffee accounts for about 30% of the coffee production of the world, and is grown in Central and Western Africa, parts of Southeast Asia, including Indonesia and Vietnam, and in Brazil. The robusta tree is easier and cheaper to cultivate as they are resistant to infestations, and can grow in warmer climates. As compared to arabica, It can grow at lower altitudes between temperatures of 75 and 85 degrees, with a rainfall of about 60 inches a year. However, like arabica, it cannot withstand frost. Robusta beans are round and small, and have a distinctive taste. It has 50-60% more caffeine, and is used in blends and instant coffees.
Roasting: A Process That Turns Coffee into COFFEE
The aroma that coffee is associated with, is not only inherent, but also is a result of the heating process called roasting. The green coffee beans when roasted, turns dark brown and fragrant. This is the brown beans that we know as coffee beans.
Green beans Vs the roasted beans
The green beans are entirely different form the roasted brown beans. The green bean is soft and spongy, and smells like grass. Roasted beans and crunchy and smell like coffee. The roasted beans weigh less than the green beans because there is no moisture in it. The roasted coffee can be ground and brewed. The green coffee beans can be stored for a long time, however, the roasted brown beans have to be consumed as quickly as possible, otherwise, the flavor and freshness may diminish.
Roasting- The technique
Roasting is a skill and takes many years to be perfected to bring out the aroma locked inside the green beans. An expert roaster needs to be able to read the beans and take decisions in a fraction of seconds. A decision delayed for a few seconds can ruin the whole batch of the beans. The perfectly roasted beans can get burnt in a matter of seconds if not removed. Roasting involves bringing the bean rapidly to high temperature which causes numerous chemical changes in the coffee beans. When the beans are perfectly roasted, it should be quickly cooled to prevent it from getting burnt.
Types of Roasts
There are four types of roasts:
The type of roast you choose for your coffee depends upon your personal preferences, individual needs, geographical location and export/important convenience in the country.
Storing Your Coffee Right!
Storing coffee in the right way is very essential to keep its freshness, flavor and aroma intact. It should be kept away from direct sunlight, heat, moisture and air. Coffee beans may look decorative if store in ornamental glass jars, but their flavor and aroma may get compromised, therefore, it should be stored in air-tight containers in a dry, dark and cool place.
Coffee should not be bought in large quantities. The supply should be bought only for 1-2 weeks, as long time stored coffee loses its freshness and taste. Every time you open the coffee container to brew coffee, you tend to expose it to air and moisture. Therefore, to avoid this, the whole coffee supply purchased can be divided in several small portions and stored in air-tight containers.
Storing the daily supply
Small amount of coffee meant for daily use should be stored in air-tight containers and kept in cool and dark place. It should not be kept in freezer as exposure to moisture may spoil it. A cabinet near the oven is too warm to store the coffee. The same goes for any cabinet in the outside wall of the kitchen which receives direct sunlight. The packaged coffee that we buy comes in their container; these containers are not suitable for storing the coffee. Once you open the pack, it is advisable to transfer all the coffee to an air tight container.
Storing the surplus coffee
In case you have bought surplus coffee that you may not use immediately, it should be stored carefully to keep it fresh and aromatic. The coffee can be divided in small portion, put in airtight bags and stored in freezer up to a month. Once a pack is taken out from the freezer, it should not be put back, instead should be stored in air tight containers, in a cool, dry place.
The secret to a fresh, aromatic, and tasty cup of coffee lies not only in the way it is processed, but also in the way it is stored. So if you like your coffee right, storing it right is important!
Brewing the Coffee Right is No Easy Task!
Brewing a coffee right involves careful consideration of individual needs and preferences, the method of brewing, and the types of coffee ground available. The quality of a cup of coffee largely depends upon the type of coffee used and the method brewing followed. In addition to selecting the right coffee based upon your taste and the brewing method to be used, it is important to follow the following guidelines to ensure that you get a cup of Good quality coffee.
Purchasing the coffee
As far as possible, purchase freshly roasted coffee in small amounts. The coffee tastes best if it is brewed as soon as possible after roasting. Buy fresh coffee supply every 1-2 weeks.
The brewing equipment
Proper care of the brewing equipment is important for getting the fresh taste. The equipment should be cleaned after each use, with hot water and dried with absorbent towel. No coffee ground should get collected on the equipment as it can result in buildup of coffee oil. Presence of coffee oil can make the coffee taste bitter and stale.
The coffee grind
Some people may purchase whole coffee beans. It should be ground as close to the brewing time as possible. The coffee beans should be ground with a burr or mill grinder; coffee ground with blade grinder may not be of consistent size, and may cause variation in the taste. The taste of the coffee depends upon how coarse or how fine the ground is. A coffee that is over extracted or is too fine, may taste bitter, whereas, a coffee that tastes flat may be coarse or under extracted. The coffee should not be reused as it can taste bitter and of low quality.
The water used in coffee
The water used in brewing coffee should be filtered or bottled water. Tap water may not be preferred due to its chlorine content that imparts a bitter taste. Distilled or softened water should not be used. The ratio of water to coffee is an important factor in deciding the taste of the coffee. Ideally, 1 to 2 tablespoons of ground coffee is used for every six ounces of water, however, it can be adjusted to suit individual preferences. When brewing coffee, the temperature of the water should be maintained between 195 - 205 degrees Fahrenheit for optimal extraction. Water at lower temperature than this can result in under extraction, water at higher temperature can cause a loss of quality. The boiling water should be turned off and left for a minute before pouring it over the coffee ground.
The optimal brewing time
An optimal brewing time is essential for the right extraction. In a drip system, the contact time should be approximately 5 minutes. If you are making your coffee using a plunger pot, the contact time should be 2-4 minutes. Coffee in Espresso, has a short brewing time of about only 20-30 seconds. The coffee taste may vary depending upon whether the contact period of coffee with water is short or long.
Enjoying a freshly brewed Coffee
Brewed coffee should be enjoyed immediately. The amount of coffee brewed should be only as much that can be consumed immediately. If it would take time before the coffee is served, then it should be transferred in insulated thermos and consumed within 45 minutes. A brewed coffee should never be reheated, as it loses its taste and aroma. A Coffee tastes best when brewed in the right way, with the right ground and had immediately.