Updated: Jan 18, 2021
You, reading this, are probably robustly familiar with the strong, comforting smell, rich taste, and awakened feeling of a cup of coffee, but do you know the journey your coffee beans went through to make it to your mug?
First of all, "coffee beans" are misleadingly not beans at all. Coffee beans are actually seeds located inside the coffee berry, a colorful and fleshy fruit similar to a grape grown on trees (up to 10 meters tall) in the tropics at elevations between 1000-2000 feet above sea level.
The skin of a coffee berry tastes very bitter, but enclosed in the skin lies an intensely sweet fruit. What we know as "coffee beans" are blue-green seeds encased in a parchment-like layer in the middle of the fruit.
Most coffee berries are grown in the "bean belt", between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn 23.5 degrees north and south of the equator including parts of Central and South America, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. The tropical, rich environments in this region provide the perfect conditions for coffee berries to grow. Coffee trees require a very specific climate. To survive and thrive they need:
Sufficient rain with distinct dry seasons
Moderately sunny days with cool and stable temperatures
Regions within the "coffee belt" provide the conditions for coffee to grow, however variance in soil, rainfall, altitude, and temperature have a dramatic effect on the flavor and quality of the coffee beans.
You have probably noticed a difference in the flavor profiles in a cup of Columbian coffee and a cup of Brazilian coffee, you might even have a favorite!
Columbian coffee grows at extremely high altitudes in nutrient-dense volcanic soil providing a variety of flavor profiles from subtly chocolaty and nutty to intensely fruity and floral
Guatemalan coffee is grown in volcanic soils providing bold and heavy chocolaty coffees as well as fruity and floral coffees
Costa Rican coffee is known for its "clean" taste, with tasting notes of sweet brown sugar and a wide range of fruity notes
Ethiopian coffee is known for being distinctly unique, producing varieties that cannot be found outside of Ethiopia with aromatic notes of lavender, jasmine, and bergamot; tasting notes are intensely fruity
Coffee berries are usually harvested by hand once a year during the dry season. Since most coffee berries are picked by hand, the process is labor-intensive. Most pickers can pick 100-200 pounds of coffee berries per day, producing 20-40 pounds of coffee beans.
Each day's harvest must be taken to a processing plant as quickly as possible to begin processing, preventing any spoilage of the delicate fruits.
Coffee berries are processed in two ways:
The dry method of processing is typically used in regions where water is a limited resource. The berries are spread out by hand on huge surfaces to dry in the sun, being turned multiple times each day to prevent spoilage. This process can take weeks to dry each batch of berries down to 11% depending on moisture in the air.
The wet method of processing uses water channels to remove the pulp from the seed of the coffee berry so that only the seed and parchment-like casing are left. These seeds are then dried and ready for roasting. In contrast to the wet method, the dry method has a much faster turn-around time, taking only 12-24 hours to process.
These are only the beginning stages that go into your cup of brew. Stay tuned to our blog for more information about the roasting process! Part 2 coming soon.