How Coffee Works! Ten Steps from Shrub to Mug!
Each particle of pick-me-up in your morning coffee has travelled a great distance, not to mention been transformed and refined, to be there for your daily grind. Here's the lifecycle of a typical bean:
- #1 Growing. There are two species of tropical plants, both bushy evergreens, that provide most of the world's coffee. The coffee berry.
Coffee Arabica (two-thirds of all beans in trade, more complex & balanced flavor, less caffeine).
Coffea Canephora / "Robusta" (disease resistant, less acidic, smoky, tarry aroma, not prominent until late 1800's).
Bot gow here (map).
- #2 Picking. Five years after planting, and as berries ripen from green to red, the bush is harvested (selective, strip). Most berries are hand picked, but in some places (like Brazil) it's done by machine. Often only ripe berries are selectively picked, but usually entire crops are strip-picked.
- #3 Processing. In this important step, the outer covering and pulpy fruit are removed from the beery, leaving the seeds (aka the "beans"). There are two primary ways to do it:
Dry processing: In this older method, beans are sorted, then dried naturally on the sun. It's slower, more laborious (and expensive), but the beans have more body and less acidity. After 2-4 weeks the dried, crumbly berry will be ready to shed the rest of its skin ("Don't forget to turn me").
Wet processing: This method uses lots of water and equipment. First, usable berries rise during immersion. They are fermented and washed or mechanically scrubbed to remove pulp, then dried. This will produce consistent coffee with less body but more aroma ("Not technically beans").
- #4 Milling. Any remaining fruit or parchment will be removed and dry coffee will become sought-after "green coffee" beans. Optional steps: polishing, aging (decaffeination); grading (origin and quality); cleaning and sorting (size, density and color); hulling.
- #5 Roasting. By applying heat, green coffee will transform into fragile, easily opened packets of flavor. Chemical reactions inside the bean begin to make it puffy, oily and tasty. Scratches become sugars, acidity weakens, aromatic oils develop. It's usually done with large commercial machines, but home roasting is also possible. Temperature and duration of heat impact a bean's consistency, color and flavor: "Italian roast" 475° F(very dark, shiny w/oil, used mostly for espresso), "French roast" 468° F(burnt flavor, surface oil), "Vienna roast" 450° F (second crack, light oil), "Full city roast" 440° F(rich even color, often bittersweet), "City roast" 428° F(most popular U.S. roast), "American roast" 410° F(right after, first crack), "Cinnamon Roast" 380° F(lightest drinkable bean), "Drying phase" 328° F(yellowing, enlarging), "Unroasted" 75° F(can be stored for two years).
The roasted bean -> coffee shops, retailers, homes -> grinding -> brewing - > drinking.
- #6 Packaging. Beans are (ideally) put into cool, dark, dry, airtight containers. Vacuum packaging was introduced in 1931.
- #7 Shipping. Don't fear! Your coffee is headed your way!
- #8 Grinding. Coffee ground. Beans will be ground into a specific fineness, whether by machine or hand. Burr-grinding, blade-grinding, pounding.
- #9 Brewing. Water can be introduced to the grounds in many ways, but these are the main methods. Open pot (Middle East, c.1600, bitter flavor, full body), espresso (Italy, 1855, bitter flavor, full body), drip pot (France, c.1750, full flavor, light body), percolator (France, c.1800, full flavor, light body), plunger (Italy, 1929, full flavor, medium body).
- #10 Drinking. Finally! Enjoy your morning joe even more now that you know what the little coffee beans has been through.