Do you ever look down at your cup of coffee and ponder how it came to be sitting there on your work top? As a society, we take for granted the ease in which we can almost instantly access anything we want when we want, and tend to forget the long and difficult processes with which our most basic necessities are produced.
Here I look at the whole process of how that coffee bean from the other end of the world has ended up in your cup…
The function of brewing coffee was thought to be first used in Yemen to help people stay awake during long hours of prayer, before spreading into Ethiopia and the Arab world. By the 15th century there were the many coffee houses or ‘kaveh kanes’ popping up all over Saudi Arabian cities before arriving in Europe in the 17th century.
Coffee is now the world’s most popular prepared beverage, and being served to over a third of the Earth’s population. Multiple ways of roasting coffee beans have been developed to alter the flavour of the brew, but the basic process remains the same as it was all those centuries ago.
Although originally coming from parts of Africa and Asia, the majority of the world’s coffee today is grown in Latin America because countries like Brazil and Mexico have fertile volcanic soil that coffee plants simply love!
Yes, coffee is a plant, or a shrub to be more specific. The coffee plant grows bunches of small red fruits that look like cherries or grapes – yes, coffee is actually a fruit! Or at least, the seeds of a fruit.
Within each cherry are two of these seeds, or coffee beans. When harvesting time comes around, these beans are hand-picked; even with the developments in other areas of the coffee production process, no invention or machinery has been made in which the coffee beans’ ripeness can be determined automatically, or the coffee fruit actually picked. That means they must be picked by experienced human hands who know just when the fruit is at the height of maturity.
Coffee fruits are left out in the sun to dry, being turned over multiple times for a few weeks until the liquid has completely evaporated away. Drying is the oldest stage in the coffee making process, requiring vast concrete surfaces or matting so the fruits can be spread in a thin and even layer.
Once done, the beans are squeezed out from the dry husks that were once juicy fruits, and the roasting stage begins.
Think coffee beans are always brown? Think again. Initially, a coffee been is a vivid green colour and it’s only when they’re roasted that they turn brown. The roasting normally ranges between 180° – 240°C and the true art of coffee bean roasting comes in getting this temperature spot on, and roasting for exactly the right length of time. Over-cook them, and your coffee will just taste burnt.
Coffee companies like Starbucks look to source particular beans that can be roasted for longer, to get that dark chocolatey colour.
The flavour can be altered in this process by ‘double roasting’ or changing the temperature. Different cultures have their own preferred methods, with the French typically using a double roast to get a more intense, sweet taste.
Finally, the roasted coffee beans are ground into a powder and vacuum packaged, ready to be sent away. The vacuum packaging increases the shelf life considerably for storage. The coffee is then distributed to various supermarkets, cafes, shops and restaurants around the world.
The final part of the coffee-making process is you – well, or the barista serving you in a café. By mixing moisture (that’s water) back into the dried coffee you release the flavour and there you have it, a steaming mug of delicious coffee sitting on your glass worktop that’s come from Brazil, Africa, Asia or one of the of the other 50+ countries that supply our favourite beverage.
Do you choose coffee because of where it comes from to get a particular distinctive taste?
Estelle Page is a passionate coffee addict who loves to experiment with different brews on her home coffee machine – Santos Java is her favourite everyday blend to date! She splits her time between blogging for sites such as Loveglass and working as an interior designer, with a regular cappuccino break of course.
- The Humble Coffee Bean ( By Renee Dallow) (reneelouise21.wordpress.com)
- The London coffee purists (standard.co.uk)
- How is coffee made? (slicedscience.wordpress.com)