Many of us drink coffee everyday, but have you ever wondered what goes in to making that delicious cup of Joe? Coffee production is actually a surprisingly long and involved process, and many steps must be taken to transform coffee fruit into your morning brew. Let’s take a look at the work that goes in to creating the perfect cup of coffee.
Coffee trees blossom with beautiful white flowers in the spring, which then give way to small green coffee beans. These beans grow over the following months, until they ripen into a red fruit called coffee cherry in the fall. This cherry must be picked by hand, which is a very laborious process.
To get the best quality coffee, experienced pickers will carefully select only the ripest beans from each tree, leaving the younger beans for later. However, low quality coffee farms will pick green and red beans at once to save time and labor. This results in a final coffee that is bitter and acidic, not smooth and flavorful.
Coffee is processed by hulling the outer skin off the bean. Once the cherry is collected the first processing step is to remove the outer red skin of the fruit. This process, called pulping, is done by a machine with a cylinder and spinning knobs that pull the skin off of the bean.
Once the beans have been pulped they are laid out in the sun to dry. This drying process takes about a week, as the beans must reach a moisture content of no more then 10%. Special drying houses are often built to expose the coffee to sun while protecting it from rain.
Once the coffee is fully dried it is known as parchment, due to a thin membrane of skin still surrounding the bean. At this point the parchment can either be stored for a few months, or the processing can immediately continue to the next stage.
Hulling and roasting
To continue the process, coffee parchment is run through a hulling machine that strips the last layer of skin away from the beans. The result is called green bean, and is an expensive product that can be sold on its own.
Once the coffee is hulled it must be sorted. The sorting process classifies beans based on size and weight using a gravity table.
Once the coffee is sorted it moves on to the roasting process. Roasting is done as close to the time of sale as possible to prevent degradation of the flavor. This process turns the green bean into a dark and flavorful bean due to chemical changes during the roast. Roasting is not a straightforward process, as it can be done at different temperatures and durations to produce unique results.
Roasted coffee can be light, medium, full, or somewhere in between. The degree of roast influences the final taste of the brewed coffee, which can be smoky, spicy, smooth, or even a combination of many flavors. Roasting is an art unto itself, and dramatically changes what the final product will taste like once brewed.
In the end, about 8 pounds of coffee cherry go into making one pound of roasted coffee.
At this point you probably know the rest. Roasted coffee is distributed and sold to the consumer. It is ground into a powder and brewed with hot water to release the delicious aromas and flavors of the bean. Many of us are familiar with this step, but it is easy to forget where our coffee came from, and just how much work went into producing it.
High quality coffee may seem expensive at times, but just look back on the long journey those beans took to get to you. It’s amazing how much work goes into producing such a common commodity, and that realization makes a good cup of coffee all the better.