Have you ever wondered how they make coffee? I mean, before it even arrives at the café or store or even to your kitchen pantry? Here, we’ll explore the primary stages of coffee production, from a simple seed sprouting into a green coffee plant all the way to that robust cappuccino you’re sipping on now.
Sow seeds, huh?
Coffee seeds are just the coffee beans that we’re used to seeing everywhere, the difference is that those beans are already roasted and dried. For propagation purposes, the unprocessed beans (or… seeds) are needed (these have more of a light green color).
The seeds (or beans, tomato-tomato…), are traditionally planted in large shaded nurseries. Next, the seeds are watered until sprouted and ready to be permanently planted when moved to individual pots with formulated soils. For optimal results, this complete process is done during the wet season to ensure enough moisture for the roots to get firm.
Harvest those cherries!
The average time for a coffee plant to bear fruit after planting is 3-5 years. Once fruit-bearing, they will produce for 50-60 years and sometimes for as many as 100 years! The so-called cherries, turn from yellow to green (when unripe), to dark red when fully ripe, each with two beans inside. The higher the temperature and altitude, the faster these cherries ripen. Because they don’t ripen uniformly, bushes are usually hand-harvested so workers can carefully select only the ripe ones.
It’s extraction time, baby
After the coffee plant’s fruit is harvested, processing begins right away to avoid spoilage. There are two main methods used for separating the bean from the outer fruit:
The Dry Method
This is the traditional way. A process that’s been utilized for well over half a millennia. It consists of spreading out the cherries on a large surface and letting them dry in the sun for 15 to 20 days.
The Wet Method
This method uses water to extract the beans and to remove the fruit during the process. It also uses pulping machines, which squeeze out the fruit without damaging the prized beans.
Beans are then moved to fermentation tanks filled with water, where they’ll remain to clear away the slick layer of mucilage (a sticky substance adhered to the coffee bean). When this step is completed, the green coffee beans are rinsed and then ready to dry.
And now, we dry
For beans extracted using the Wet Method, drying tables or floors are where they bask in the sun to remove moisture. They’re turned regularly until ready, usually taking a day or two. The dried beans are traditionally known as parchment coffee at this stage. Finally, it’s time to load the unroasted green coffee into sisal (burlap) bags for shipment.
Milling and sorting the beans
Hulling machines are used to mill the coffee, which removes the parchment layer of wet-processed beans. This is needed to get rid of the dried husk (exocarp, mesocarp, and endocarp) of the freshly dried coffee beans.
Now, they’re ready to be classified by size, weight, and color consistency. The grading is usually done on a scale of one to ten, and only the best quality beans are packaged for sale. There are exceptions in which lower quality beans are sold for low-quality coffee. Don’t worry, we’re sure your brewing with a premium selection, friend.
Green coffee travels far and wide
The milled beans can now officially be called green coffee. Transported in shipping containers, depending on the quantity. Millions of bags are exported worldwide each year, with an estimate of US$24.4 billion total in 2019 alone.
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To taste or not to taste
But not so fast, cowboy, this is barely the beginning. This tasting corresponds to tests made to ensure the quality of the product.
A specialist who “cups” the coffee, evaluates its appearance, infuses the beans with boiling water to experience their aroma and flavor then completes a series of controlled examinations and samples to approve the batch.
Roasting those beloved beans
At this stage, a massive transformation takes place inside the bean. The coffee beans must be continually stirred, while roasting, to avoid burning.
Chemical and physical changes occurring inside the bean will result in the aromatic brown pellets that we’re so used to seeing. This state is called pyrolysis and gives coffee the flavor and aroma we all know.
Just like so many other stages of coffee’s production, variations here make a big difference in the final taste and effect! Here, it’s all about temperature. Light roasts are brought up to somewhere in the 196˚C (385˚F) – 205˚C (401˚F) mark before cooling. Medium roasts, 210˚C (410˚F) – 219˚C (426˚F), and ideal dark roasting temperatures can range from 225˚C (437˚F) – 245˚C (473˚F). For more about how roasting changes the effects of coffee beans, check out our post; What’s with that coffee buzz?
Regardless of the method, the basic objective of grinding coffee is to break down the roasted coffee bean into smaller pieces. This allows water to better cover the surface area, as compared to whole beans. Speeding up the brewing and intensifying the flavor. The finer the grind, the faster coffee will release its magical essence.
Finally! It’s brew time
What we’ve all been waiting for! How beautiful to see the myriad of stages a coffee plant takes on its way to, what we once considered, a simple cup of coffee. The perfect cup depends, of course, on the preference of whoever drinks it. Brewing methods vary depending on the existing variations, which all end on a very delicious and acclaimed beverage!