An espresso is a small shot of delicious coffee. It’s usually around 20-30ml, and if you’re drinking it as it is without mixing it with water or milk, then it will only take a few minutes or even less to drink. However, that espresso that you love in the morning actually takes years to produce. From carefully selecting the seeds and planting the coffee trees through to harvesting, processing, drying, and roasting the beans before they are ground and go through the extraction process to make your coffee, there are a lot of steps that go into getting your coffee just perfect for you to drink in the morning.
Choosing the Right Coffee to Grow
Where is coffee from? Coffee is grown in various places around the world including Central America, South America, Africa, and some parts of Asia. There is more one type of coffee, and one of the first decisions that coffee producers need to make is the right type of coffee to grow. Some coffee varieties produce high-quality beans but are at a higher risk of disease. On the other hand, others are hardier, but not as likely to produce as high-quality coffee. Some are sweeter, some yield more coffee beans compared to others, and some are best for certain types of soil.
There are various steps involved in choosing which coffee to grow, which varies between countries. The local culture and the climate are often the top factors that go into determining the choice that a producer makes. Most of the time, they will choose to grow whatever is the most common for that area or what’s always been grown there. However, there are plenty of factors that impact the flavor of the final coffee including the humidity, altitude, soil, and other climatic factors, so it’s important to choose wisely. Coffee farmers will also consider the cost of growing the coffee and its expected market value.
Planting Coffee Seeds
Is coffee bean a seed? Coffee beans are actually not beans at all, but seeds of the coffee plant. Once the variety of coffee to grow has been chosen, the seeds are planted. For the first two stages of the coffee-growing process, the temperature, rather than the elevation, is the most important factor to consider. For Arabica, for example, the ideal temperature range is between 64- and 70-degrees Fahrenheit. Any hotter than this will cause the plant to become stressed.
Seedlings are transplanted into individual bags that are filled with fertile and earthy soil. They will stay here for anywhere between seven and twelve months, covered with plastic wrap to control the amount of light. During this stage, support might be provided to ensure that the main root grows vertically. This provides more stability to the coffee plant and allows it to live longer.
Harvesting and Picking
What is coffee made of? Coffee beans, which grow on coffee plants, are necessary for making your favorite morning hot beverage. Unlike many other cash crops, coffee tends to be grown by small-scale farmers on relatively small pieces of land. Harvesting the coffee is often a community-led process with farmers calling on family and friends to get stuck in to help with picking. While the coffee plant berries tend to ripen at a general time, this does tend to happen in stages, meaning that the entire amount can’t be picked all at once. It’s normally done in different stages with around 8-10 days in between each picking.
In places like Brazil, where coffee farms tend to be larger, they will often use machines to strip pick the berries from the plants. While this process is much easier compared to picking by hand, one of the main problems is that you end up picking all the berries, whether or not they are ripe. In other parts of the world, most coffee farms do not have a landscape that allows for mechanical harvesting.
Picking by hand might be harder work, but it does have the advantage of allowing for a much more selective harvesting process. It allows coffee farmers to only pick the berries once they are ripe, which ultimately results in better-quality coffee since unripe berries will have poorly developed beans.
Sorting and Selecting
After picking the berries, it’s time to sort and select the coffee beans. There are two small beans at the center of the berry, and the coffee berries need to be sorted in order to make sure that only the best beans go on to the next step. It’s simplest to sort them by hand, along with using a large sieve device to remove any stones, twigs, and other debris.
Some producers will use water immersion to make sure that only the best and ripest berries are used in the next step. They will do this by throwing the berries into a tank of water. The unripe berries will then float to the top due to the difference in density, allowing them to easily be removed. Once they are removed, the best berries are the ones left, and it’s time to collect the beans.
Pulping the Fruit
This next process involves getting rid of all the pulped fruit and skin that surrounds the coffee berries. This is done within 24 hours of picking the berries. It’s done using a pulping machine that will remove the skin and most of the pulp from around the berry. It’s typically discarded or used as compost, although some coffee producers now take a ‘zero waste’ approach and use the byproduct to make other products, such as tea.
Once the beans have had the pulp removed, there will still be a little bit attached and so it’s time for the fermentation process, which involves the microbial reaction of yeasts and bacteria producing acids by breaking down sugars in the mucilage. These acids are responsible for adding more complexity and depth to the coffee. There are three main ways of putting harvested cherries through the fermentation stage, including wet processing, medium fermentation, and dry processing. Wet processing or low fermentation is the most popular way to ferment coffee; however, it uses a lot of water. It involves sorting the pulped beans by size before putting them into a fermentation tank for 12-48 hours, where the naturally occurring enzymes dissolve the mucilage that surrounds the beans. Then, the beans are washed in fresh water.
No matter what fermentation process is used, coffee beans will need to be dried until their moisture content is as low as around 1%. This is either done mechanically or can be done naturally by laying the beans out in the sun on a flat, large space. Throughout the day, they will be raked regularly to ensure that they dry evenly and do not develop any bacteria or mold. This will usually take several weeks.
Milling refers to the final stage in the process: getting the coffee beans out and ready to roast and make into coffee with all the extra parts of coffee bean and layers removed. There are two steps in the milling process: hulling and polishing. Hulling involves putting the beans into a machine where the parchment covering them will be removed along with any skin or leftover dried fruit if they have been dry processed. This must be done carefully to ensure that no damage to the beans occurs. Polishing is an optional stage that leaves the beans shiny. It is done to remove any silver skin left on the beans but does not really make any difference to the eventual taste.
Now the batch is ready to be roasted, there’s one last step it needs to go through – grading. First, they will make a judgement of the quality of the coffee simply based on how the beans look. Then, they will move to the tasting stage, known as cupping. This involves roasting a sample of the beans, before grinding and infusing them in boiling water. This is allowed to stand for a few minutes before a professional taster will smell and taste the coffee, before giving it a final grade.
Once the beans get closer to the point that they are going to be made into coffee drinks and consumed, it’s time to roast them. Roasting coffee is a combination of both art and science and needs to be done correctly to make sure that the full potential of the coffee beans to make an excellent cup of coffee is reached. When roasting coffee, the trick for getting it right is to consider the flavors of the individual batch before regulating the roasting temperature and duration to balance and enhance the flavors. They will be rotated in a roaster that will reach heats of around 500 degrees Fahrenheit. The duration of the roast will result in different flavors and characteristics from the coffee.
Once all these steps have been completed, the coffee beans are ready to grind and be made into your favorite coffee. While a cup of coffee might take minutes to drink, it has often been years in the making!