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Do you know the distinct journey a coffee plant takes, right from the crop down to the cup? Coffee is an interesting subject, and not all of us understand where it comes from, how it is grown, and how it ends up in our cups. Essentially, the cup of coffee we enjoy every day has taken a relatively lengthy expedition to get to our cups.
Between when they are planted, then picked, and even bought, the coffee beans undergo several steps to bring the best out of them. For a better understanding of how it all works, here is a detailed guide of how coffee is generally made, as well as the journey it takes to form the ideal brew.
Coffee trees, similar to wine trees, have distinct latitudes where they can effectively thrive and generate high-quality beans. Typically, the ideal conditions are found in an area along the equator that is referred to as ‘the bean belt’.
There are two types of coffee beans, mainly Arabica and Robusta. Arabica usually thrives in high altitudes boasting mineral-rich soil. Compared to the Robusta, it mandates milder temperatures and more care. As for Robusta, it is a more robust and heartier plant that thrives in relatively hotter climates and needs not as much altitude as with Arabica.
Ideally, the coffee we consume is derived from a fruit known as ‘Coffee cherry.’ Within it, there is an exclusive seed that goes through several processes to ultimately transform into the beloved coffee we so delight in. This seed is called ‘Coffee Bean.’ In its natural form, it boasts a light-green color although, at times, it is yellowish but depending on which type it is (Robusta or Arabica).
There are several differences between Robusta and Arabica, including the shape with Arabica being oval-shaped and relatively longer and Robusta being rounder and smaller.
As aforementioned, coffee beans are seeds. Once it is processed (including pulping, roasting, and grinding), it is utilized in brewing coffee. In essence, just like any other seed, it may also be used in growing coffee trees.
Usually, coffee plants start as seedlings in distinct shaded nurseries, with precise conditions to assist them in growing strong and healthy. These seeds will be kept safe and watered from the elements until they get strong enough for planting. Coffee seedlings remain up to 15 months within the nursery before they are set to be transferred to their permanent setting.
Coffee planting usually occurs during the rainy seasons, and therefore, the ground where they are planted remains soft and wet while the roots of the plant become firmly set. The seeds take up to 4 years before the tree starts to bear (coffee cherry) fruit.
The coffee cherry is a rather complex fruit comprising different parts, finally arriving at the green coffee bean, which is used for coffee brewing. Flowers usually come and fall from the coffee tree before the cherries begin developing. It usually takes around nine months for the coffee cherries to mature fully and ready to harvest.
The coffee cherries begin as green and then turn to bright red, followed by yellow or orange when they mature fully, which is dependent on the variety.
Typically, coffee trees produce an average of between 2 and 4 kgs of seeds. Good pickers may harvest between 45 and 90 kgs of coffee beans on a daily basis; which will generate approximately 18 kgs of coffee beans.
There are usually two types of harvesting mainly: Stripping and selective picking
• Selective picking: this is the most conventional method used in high-quality coffees. This type of picking is done by hand. Typically, experienced farmers only pick the ideal mature cherries leaving the others to further mature.
• Stripping: this harvesting can either be done manually using mechanical strippers or by using large-scale harvesting machinery. In contrast to selective picking, stripping does not afford significance to the cherries’ maturation state. It focuses on low-cost/speed as opposed to quality. The outcome is cherries in every maturation stage, which must be categorized to avoid mix up.
After the coffee is picked, the processing process should start as promptly as possible to prevent spoilage fruit. Coffee is processed in two distinct ways depending on local resources and location, and they include:
• Dry Processing Method: Freshly picked coffee cherries are usually spread across massive surfaces for sun drying. To avoid the spoiling of cherries, they are usually turned and also gathered through the day and then covered during the night or rain season. This is done to prevent them from wetting. This procedure may continue for a few weeks depending on the weather conditions for every coffee batch until the cherries’ content of moisture reduces to about 11%.
• Wet Processing Method: this method extracts the pulp from the bean seed after the harvest, and the bean is therefore dried, although the parchment skin is left behind. To start with, the cherries now freshly harvested are passed through various pulping machines that detach the pulp and skin from the cherries. The separation of the beans is through the weight. While passing through the various water channels, the relatively lighter beans usually float up to the top while the relatively heavier ones go on to sink down. The beans are then passed across several distinct rotating drums that then separate them courtesy of size.
After separation process, the coffee beans are then transferred to some water-filled, large fermentation tanks. Typically, depending on various factors like bean conditions, altitude, and climate, the beans can remain within the containers for between 12 and 48 hours. This is to extract parenchyma (slick mucilage layer) which is often still attached to the coffee beans. As they rest within the tanks, enzymes will result in the dissolving of the layer.
After fermentation, the beans usually feel coarse. The coffee beans are then rinsed by passing them through some extra water channels. Later, they are set for drying.
Thanks to the roasting process, we acquire the unique dark color natural with our adored drink. During this process, all coffee tasting aroma elements are created, along with coffee beans browning. Over 1000 varied coffee aroma elements exist. Essentially, the process of roasting facilitates the achievement of the unique flavor profile of the ultimate coffee as per consumer preferences.
Green beans are usually heated between 180 and 240 degrees for around 20 minutes. Stronger roasting ideally generates darker colors as well as a more intense flavor and aroma.
Roasting of coffee is done in rotating drums that are heated from beneath. Burners are usually heated with oil or gas. After the process of roasting, the coffee beans are then cooled to standard room temperature. Afterward, they are subsequently packaged as distinct whole grains, all ready for selling.
After fermentation, the following step is finding a grinder that effectively works for you or which features an espresso machine. Basically, there are three primary coffee grind types: medium, coarse, and fine.
Coffee beans are put into the grinder when fresh and subsequently ground. Typically the outcome will usually depend on the coffee variety of the bean as well as how fine it has been ground. Essentially, consistency is fundamental, and it is vital to understand how coffee beans are ground. Your beans need to be coarse when you are using a distinct French Pass, while if you are utilizing drip coffee makers, you need to use medium, and fine for conical drip or espresso machine. Coffee pod machines tend to use fine ground coffee to how the water to quickly pass though. Great coffee ratio is 16:1 (water: coffee) for brewing the perfect coffee cup.
Congratulations! You now have it…a detailed guide into the unique and exciting journey coffee takes from the seeds all the way into your cup. The next time you delight in a hot cup of coffee, remember that this is an item that has come quite a long distance, way, and process-wise.