Coffee is the seed of a berry-like cherry from a tree. Coffee grows from sea level to approximately 6,000 feet, in a narrow subtropical belt around the world. Coffee trees are evergreen and can grow to heights of 20 feet although many varietals average 8 to 10 feet only. Coffee cherries ripen at different times. They are picked primarily by hand.
Do you know that it takes approximately 2,000 Arabica cherries to produce just one pound of roasted coffee? In terms of beans, the same one pound of roasted coffee is derived from 4,000 coffee beans since each cherry contains two beans. The average coffee tree produces only one to two pounds of roasted coffee per year. It takes about four to five years for a coffee plant to produce its crop.
The coffee plant has a flower with delicate clusters of white blossoms, resembling jasmine in shape and scent. The blossoms have a very short life and are beautiful, particularly when entire coffee plots blossom. The coffee cherries that first appear on the branches are green, they ripen to yellow and finally to a dark red. It takes from six to nine months for this cherry color transition and ripening to take place.
Once the coffee cherries are picked, they go into processing. The fruit is removed from the seed by one of two methods.
- One method is called “natural or dry process” where the cherries are dried in the sun or in dryers.
- The fruit is separated from the bean through a mechanical husker.
- Another method is known as “the wet process” which produces “washed coffees.”
- After processing, the beans are dried, sized, sorted, graded and selected.
- They are then bagged and ready for shipment to roasters around the world.
There are two commercially important species of coffee beans: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Robusta.
- Arabica beans grow best at altitudes over 3,000 feet. Arabica beans produce superior quality coffees than Robusta beans.
- Robusta coffee usually grows at lower elevations. Robusta trees are easier to grow, produce higher yields, and are more disease resistant than the Arabica species.
- Robusta beans produce a woody, astringent flavored coffee and command lower prices than Arabica beans.
- There are many other factors that contribute to the overall quality of coffee beans. For example, soil conditions, altitude, weather condition, fertilization, cultivation, harvesting, water availability, and processing methods are just a few.
Two very important steps in the production of gourmet specialty coffee for the consumer market are the roasting and the blending.
- A good roaster is essentially a scientist and an artist who has to maintain quality and consistency during the roasting process.
- Roasting is a very important phase in the coffee trade: it is during the roasting process that the sugars and other carbohydrates within the bean become caramelized creating what is known as “coffee oil.”
- Technically speaking, this is not “oil” in the traditional way. Instead, it is a fragile chemical that gives coffee its aroma and flavor.
- However, the amount of oil drawn to the surface of the bean is proportionately related to the length of roasting time.
- Once roasted, the roaster cannot change the results. Timing and experience in knowing the right roasting duration is a very valuable skill to have in the coffee trade.
- Drum-type roasting machines roast the coffee beans as they tumble inside a rotating drum that is typically heated by gas or wood. Some beans will be under-roasted, others will be over-roasted or scorched. Also, some broken roasted beans are normal with this method.
- When the desired roast level is achieved, the beans are then poured into a cooling hopper to keep them from overcooking.
- The convection roasting process roasts the coffee beans as they “tumble” on a current of hot air for the appropriate amount of time to attain the desired level for the specific varietal or blend. This method uniformly roasts beans for each batch without a scorched or burnt taste.
- Lightly roasted beans range in color from cinnamon to a light chocolate tan. Generally speaking, lighter roasts are not used for espresso because the lighter roasted coffee produces a sharper, more acidic taste than do darker roasts.
- In contrast, darker roasts have a fuller flavor. Some coffee lovers refer to this as a bittersweet tang flavor. Caffeine and acidity decrease proportionately as the roast darkens.
- You will taste the char of the bean rather than the flavor of the bean the darker the roast turns out to be. Extreme dark roasts have a smoky flavor and are very suitable for espresso coffees.
Some terms commonly heard concerning the degree of roast include: cinnamon, medium high, city, full city, French, Espresso, Italian roast and others. The terms are used to describe the degree of roast not the place where the coffee is grown or roasted.
One of the best ways to enjoy freshly roasted coffee to order and to experience the many flavors and tastes of coffee from around the world is through a coffee club membership. Why? Because membership in a specialty gourmet coffee club delivers coffee selections roasted to order and delivered to your home fresh every month or more frequently as desired.
What about tasting a delicious cup of Sumatra Mandheling Grade # 1?