The coffee bean has come a long way since its inception over two thousand years ago. It has virtually, become a market in and of itself as it now is a commodity with a monetary value only behind that of oil.
Although there are many varieties of beans, its plant falls into two main categories: the arabica or the robusta. Contrary to wine, the coffee berry (sometimes referred to as a “cherry”) is valued for the bean inside as opposed to the fruit. After being aged, roasted, ground and brewed, this bean is what makes the four hundred million cups of coffee consumed daily throughout the world.
The beans are, generally, either green or red. The red beans have a higher aroma oil but a lower acidic content and, as such, as used in the finer brews. For this reason, picking is one of the most important stages of a coffee bean’s life cycle.
Most beans are hand-picked at a rate of only a few baskets daily. Separating the red and green beans is really a rather valued skill as it has a great impact on the final product. Once picked, the fruit is removed and the beans are washed to remove any skin still remaining on the bean. The beans are produced during this fermentation stage and then dried in the sun over concrete or rock slabs until there is only a twelve percent water content. The beans are then sorted either by size and color and aged anywhere from three to year years, while some are roasted within one year.
While being roasted at 400-degrees Fahrenheit, the beans eventually expand almost double in dry size, crack and change from a green to brown color as the oil inside is released. This oil is what gives different coffees their basic yet distinct taste.
There is a wide array of in-house roasting techniques. In Java and Kenya, for instance, the beans are often lightly roasted to produce their own distinct flavor. The beans are then de-gassed by being packaged in semi-permeable bags generally prepared for shipping.
The resulting beans are then ground to a variety of styles and sizes, ranging from a choppy, inconsistent sized granule to very homogenous-sized granule or powdery appearance for some coffees and cappuccino.
The final result is then brewed. There are almost as many different styles and techniques of brewing as there are brewers, yet all fall into the categories of pressure, boiling, steeping and gravity. When “boiling,” hot water is run through the grounds after which they are filtered or settled. The pressure style, as with an espresso, forces lukewarm water through the grounds at a high rate of pressure. The gravity method drips hot water onto the grounds and the filter, whereas the steeping method is similar to using tea bags to make tea yet with coffee grounds instead.
Though coffee now ranges from aitem to a pricey, specialty item, the history and journey to the stores and shops is much the same. Just something to think about the next time you are enjoying a hot cup of your favorite brew!