Tuesday, April 1, 2014

From Bean to Cup

Ever wonder how that cup of coffee went from a tiny seed to steaming hot happiness in your hand? Well wonder no more! We're going to follow the journey of a coffee bean from seed to cup. 

Coffee can come from many different regions, but the most predominant areas are Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa, near the equator. Coffee is farmed similarly to wine grapes. Great care is taken in choosing the soil and area in which the plants will mature. Once farmers have chosen the kind of seed they'll plant it generally takes four or five years from the time a coffee tree is in the ground to when it will yield any fruit. 
Once the tree has matured, its branches produce small white flowers. Six to nine months later, small green cherries appear that hold two coffee seeds. These ripen to a deep red (although some have a hue closer to orange or yellow). They can be used to plant more trees or they will go through the next steps to become your delicious coffee.

1. Harvest:  This is generally done three times per year. The first crop is usually astringent and considered unusable. The second crop has most of the developed fruit, the most valuable product. The third crop is often seen as the leftovers. Harvesting used to be done all by hand, and still is in some countries. However, this process takes a long time and some farms opt to use machinery.

2. Depulping: Coffee cherries consist of a few layers. The first layer is hard and difficult to get through. The second layer is a fleshy pulp which protects the "silverskin" layer around the two seeds. Whether farms use a hand depulper or a central depulping station the outcome is the same. The outside and flesh of the cherry is torn back to reveal the seeds inside. 

3. Fermentation: After they are shelled the seeds are placed into a large tank to ferment. This can take anywhere from four hours to three days depending on climate. When the seeds soak they're bathing in their own sugars and the leftover particles of their pulp. This is said to bring out the unique flavors of the coffee.

4. Drying: Beans are taken from their tank and laid out in the sun to dry, or dried by machines. 

***Wet processing versus Dry processing***
There are two ways to process coffee beans, the process outlined in the steps above is the technique called "wet processing". Another technique is used when seeds are allowed to dry in the sun or on the tree still encased in the cherry pulp and shell, waiting to shell the seeds until the last step. This is called "dry processing". 

After processing, seeds are sorted by hand or by machine and the good seeds are bagged and shipped out. 

Once the roastery receives the seeds they choose their roast profile. A roast profile is made up of heat and time; how long and how hot the beans will be roasted. Roast profiles range from MEDIUM (a mild tasting bean with light brown color) to FULL CITY (beans at their peak flavor with a dark brown color) to VIENNA (an oily looking, almost black bean which produces a strong, velvety taste). Once roasted, they are packaged up and made ready for you to buy. 

The next time you enjoy your favorite brew think about all the work that goes in to making sure it's taste is perfect just for you!


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