So many of us are coffee lovers. As working hours become longer and longer, we need an extra help from a delicious cup of coffee. But have you ever asked yourself: where does the coffee I drink in the morning come from? How much water do I need to use for my coffee? What do I need to check before buying coffee? The coffee you normally drink is actually part of a long journey. It all starts with the planting of seeds, then moving onto the harvesting of cherries’ fruits, processing, drying and then moving into milling the beans, roasting and ultimately drinking it. (Not to mention the importing of the beans). Knowing about the coffee chain will not only help you to choose a good coffee, it will also let you know more about the work behind scenes of such popular beverage.
- Planting the coffee seed
This is the starting point of the drink we love. Farmers from different continents (South – Central America, African and Asia) will plant coffee seeds during the humid seasons and when there is warranty that the soil will have enough water for the plant to grow. Something that needs to be considered is that it will normally take between 3 to 6 years for the plant to mature so you can harvest the ripe cherries. There are two main varieties of coffee plants: Robusta and arabica. I am familiar with specialities from the arabica coffees and among the most familiar varieties you can find: geisha, caturra, bourbon, typica.
A coffee tree could last up to 60 years!
2. Harvesting the cherries
When the cherries become ripe, they will be collected normally by hand. In certain coffee plantations, and when the terrain is accessible, the collection may be done with the help of machinery. The former is a vastly done in Brazil. When we talk about Speciality coffee the collection will be selective, picking only the ripest cherries and getting rid of defective ones. There is normally only one harvesting per year. In some countries like Colombia, the harvesting occurs twice a year.
- Processing and drying the cherries
Once we got the cherries, the next step will be- in some cases- to extract the pulp and mucilage from the cherries. There are normally three processes:
- Wet Process: this process requires water to wash the coffee cherries and specialised machinery to remove the pulp. Farmers will first put the cherries in big containers and cover them with water. At this moment it will be observed that the good cherries will remain at the bottom of the containers and the bad ones will float.
The next step will be to pass the good cherries through a machine that will remove its pulp. The pulp then will be used as fertilizer.
In order to remove the mucilage from the bean we will once again use water to cover the beans. After this we will need to remove the mucilage from the bean. Immediately after, we let the beans covered in water for anything between 24 and 36 hours where they will ferment and mucilage will be gone. After this time, once more the beans are washed up to three times with clean water.
- Dry Process: this process was commonly use in the region where I come from and it as common as there was no water available. Farmers simple spread the collected cherries in drying tables or patio and let them dry in the sun.
- Honey process: this is a hybrid process between the wet and dry process. Farmer will remove the pulp from the coffee cherries as described in wet methods but they will leave the mucilage and let them dry with it.
- Drying the beans on patios
Once we have finalised the above processes farmers will put their coffee to dry in patios or drying tables called African beds. This process needs to be slowly evenly and consistently.
The coffee beans need to be dried until they have a water content between 11 to 13%. Once the this is done the farmers will next be hulling the beans. This process involves the removal of last layers of the bean. If this wet process- it will mean the removal of the parchment skin, if the process is by dry method the hulling will removed the entire dried husk.
- Roasting the beans
This is the time were the green bean will be roasted until taking up a nice brown colour and releases its natural oils. It is useful to know a bit more of what kind of coffee you are buying, so I hope that the tips below will help you decide:
Date of roast
Look for the date in which the coffee was roasted. Coffee flavours start to fade after 3 weeks of being roasted.
Lighter to medium roast
Look for light to medium roast, as dark roast covers the good qualities hidden inside a bean.
Detail information where the coffee comes from
Check where the coffee comes from, the region, cooperative, etc. The more information you get in the coffee the more chances you will get a good quality of coffee.
Profile of coffee
Always check the profile of the coffee. This will tell you the aromas and flavour you can encounter such as nutty, citrus just to put some examples. If you like this profile look for the same or similar next time you need to buy coffee.
Look for the process method used in the coffee: that could be washed, natural or honey (see above)
Elevation coffee was grown at and coffee varietal
Check for the elevation the coffee was grown at. Good coffees are grown anything between 4000 and 6000 feet. And last but not least important, look for the coffee varietal e.g. geisha, caturra, bourbon, SL28. (All of them are arabicas)
The altitude of is one of the most important factors that will give you coffee the flavour you would like to find. (Picture credit DT Coffee Club)
- Grinding the beans
How to grind your coffee depends on how you brew it. There are three ways of grinding your coffee
Coarse grinding for percolator and French press
Medium for flat bottomed drip coffee makers
Fine grinding for conical drip coffee makers or espresso
Important note: keep your beans stored in an airtight container.
- Drinking the coffee
This is the best moment of all. You can actually enjoy your cup of coffee using the brewing method you like the most. The ratio of coffee water I would recommend is 1 spoon of coffee for 4 oz – 5oz of water. Some people will give more but for me this is the best way to enjoy my favourite drink.