A morning cup of piping hot coffee is a prerequisite for many to kickstart a day. The journey of the coffee since the time they are planted to the time they are brewed involves several steps to bring out the best in them. It involves many stakeholders including farmers, pickers, cuppers, and shippers.
Let us take a few moments to understand and embrace the journey of the coffee bean.
A coffee beans when dried roasted and ground is used to brew coffee. An unprocessed coffee bean is planted and grown into a coffee tree. Coffee seeds are planted in large beds in shaded nurseries. The best condition for growth is ample water supply with good drainage facilities, high humidity, cooler temperatures, and rich slightly acidic soil.
Planting is often done during the wet season so that the soil is most while the roots are firmly established.
Depending on the variety, it will take around 3-4 years for a coffee tree to mature and bear fruit. The fruit, often called the coffee cherry, when fully ripe gives a bright, deep red tone. Coffee cherries are harvested every year, but in countries like Columbia where there are two flowerings annually, there are two harvestings.
The crop is plucked by hand in a laborious and often difficult process in two ways. One, coffee cherries are strip picked i.e. all the cherries are stripped of the branch one at a time. Two, selectively picked, i.e. only ripe cherries are picked individually. Pickers rotate the tree with an interval of eight to ten days. This method is labor-intensive and thus expensive; hence it is chiefly used to harvest finer Arabica beans.
The cherries are then transported to the processing plants.
The cherries should be processed soon after plucking to avoid spoilage. There are two methods of coffee processing such as the dry method and the wet method.
The dry method is the traditional method of coffee processing and it is still widely used. The freshly picked cherries are spread out on huge flatbeds to dry in the sun. They are often stirred and raked throughout the day to prevent spoiling and then covered at night to protect them from rain and mist. Each batch of coffee is dried for several weeks until the moisture content is reduced to 11 percent.
In the wet method the pulp and the seed are separated from the cherry after harvesting and the bean is dried. For this, the freshly picked cherries are passed through the pulping machine to separate the skin and the pulp from the bean.
Then the beans are sorted by weight as they pass through various water channels. The heavier beans sink to the bottom while the lighter beans float atop. They are passed through a series of rotating drums which segregate them according to size.
The segregated beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks. The beans remain in these tanks for 12-48 hours to peel off the thick layer of mucilage attached to the parchment. While soaked in these tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause these layers to disintegrate.
Post-fermentation, the beans are bit rough and rugged. It is then rinsed many times through additional water channels and is ready for drying.
Drying the Beans
The wet-processed beans should be dried with moisture restricted only to 11 percent to properly prepare them for storage. These beans still enveloped by the parchment skin are spread out on tables or floors to dry. These are raked regularly, or machine dried in large tumblers. The dried beans are called parchment coffee and are stored in warehouses in jute or sisal bags until they are ready to be exported.
Processing, Drying and Milling the Coffee Bean
Parchment coffee is processed in the following manner, before being exported.
The parchment layer from the wet-processed coffee is removed by the hulling machine whereas hulling dry processed coffee refers to the removal of the entire dried husk including the exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp-of the dried cherries.
At times polishing is also used as an additional process, where any silver skin that is left on the beans after hulling is separated by machine.
Finally, beans are graded and sorted as per size and weight and are also reviewed for color flaws and other imperfections. The defective beans (as per size or color, over-fermented beans, insect-damaged, unhulled) are removed either by hand or by machinery. This is to ensure that only the finest quality coffee is being exported.
Exporting the Beans
The green coffee, as the milled coffee beans are referred to, are loaded on to shipments in jute or sisal bags. They are also bulk shipped inside plastic-lined containers.
Tasting the Coffee
Coffee is frequently tested for quality and taste. This testing process is referred to as cupping and usually takes place in a room specifically designed to support the process.
Initially the beans are evaluated for their overall look and feel by the taster (generally referred to as cupper). The beans are then roasted ground and infused immediately in boiling water under carefully monitored temperature conditions.
The cupper inhales the brew to experience the aroma, a key step in assessing the coffee’s quality. After letting the coffee cool for several minutes, the cupper cracks the crust by pushing aside the coffee on the top of the cup. Again, the coffee is sniffed before the tasting begins.
The coffee is tasted with a quick slurp of a spoonful with a quick sniff. The intent is to spread the coffee evenly over the taste buds and then savor the taste before spitting it out.
Samples from a set of batches and different beans are tasted daily. Coffee is tested and tasted not only for their characteristics and flaws but also to discover new blends or creating the perfect roast.
An expert cupper tastes hundreds of samples a day and can still find the subtle differences between them.
Roasting the Coffee
The green coffee is roasted into an aromatic brown shade that we get from stores and cafes. Most roasting machines are maintained at an even temperature and the beans are raked often throughout the process to prevent them from burning.
At an internal temperature of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans begin to turn brown and a fragrant oil often called caffeoyl, begins to emerge. This process is referred to as pyrolysis, is the core of roasting- it generates the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink.
After roasting, the beans are cooled immediately by air or water. Roasting is usually done in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the hands of the consumer as soon as possible.
The purpose of a proper grind is to best of flavors in a cup of coffee. The coarseness of the ground coffee depends on the brewing method. The time for which grounds meet the water decides the perfect grade of grind. Generally, it is ideal to prepare the coffee as soon as the coffee is ground. Hence the coffee ground for an espresso is much finer than coffee brewed in a drip system.
Brewing coffee is a personal experience. There are many techniques of doing this. A simple and common method of brewing coffee is by pouring hot water on to the ground beans, allowing the liquid to brew. Common tools include a filter, a percolator, and a French Press.
The final brewed liquid often echoes the underlying method used, such as drip brewed coffee, filtered coffee, pour-over coffee, immersion brewed coffee, or simply coffee.
Coffee is the most sought-after commodity after crude oil. What could be more fun to know how the coffee bean in a far-off country ended up in your coffee mug. Log on to hear more coffee stories.