Have you ever wondered where your morning coffee comes from? How are the coffee beans processed? Or what steps are taken to give you such a wonderful flavor?
Each bean goes through a rigorous process to become that well-known cup of coffee. From start to finish, it endures a long journey before reaching your coffee machine and is brewed into your favorite mug.
Step 1: Planting coffee seeds
Like any plant, each coffee bean starts off as a seed. Similar to soybeans, peas, and lima beans, what we eat is also the seed in which more beans can grow.
Coffee seeds are generally unprocessed and planted in large beds in shaded nurseries to hopefully become coffee trees. The seedlings are watered frequently to keep the soil moist. If the plant is in need of water their leaves will droop, letting you know it is being under watered.
Once the plant is strong enough, during the wet season it will be permanently planted in a field in order for its roots to spread out and hopefully form an entire tree.
Step 2: Harvesting coffee cherries
As the coffee plant continues to grow, after 3 to 4 years it will begin to bloom small cherry blossoms which will turn into coffee cherries. The cherry starts off as a small green bud, transforming into yellow then to a bright, deep red. The cherry is ripe when it’s a deep maroon, letting pickers know it can be harvested.
Typically, each tree is harvested at least once a year. Colombia can have at least two harvests a year due to the volcanic soil, annual rainfall, and high altitudes, providing an ideal environment for Arabica beans.
During the coffee cherry harvest, this process is labor-intensive as each cherry is selectively picked by hand. Some countries, like Brazil, are fortunately able to mechanically harvest their cherries as the land is nearly flat and they have enormous coffee fields.
On average, a good picker can achieve 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day. Next, these cherries will need to be processed.
Step 3: Processing and Drying
There are two ways of processing coffee cherries: the dry method and the wet method.
Dry processing is when the cherries are spread out among huge surfaces, giving the cherries room to dry in the sun without.
To help reduce spoilage, the beans are turned everyday. This process can take up to several weeks to over a month, depending on the weather. The cherries are dried enough once their moisture content is under 11%. The process keeps the beans sweet and acidic.
Wet processing is when the pulp of the cherry is removed, leaving the bean with a fine layer of skin. Afterwards, the beans are washed where the ripe beans float to the bottom.. Once washed, the ripe beans are transported into water-filled fermentation tanks where they will soak from 24 to 48 hours. This will help remove the glossy layer of mucilage, a sweet and sticky film over the bean.
Once the fermentation is complete, the beans feel rough without their sweet coating. They are rinsed and are ready to be dried, just like the cherries. Once dried, the beans show off their fresh green exterior.
Step 4: Milling coffee beans
Before being sent off to different coffee companies, the coffee beans needed to be milled. There are three different steps: hulling, polishing, then grading and sorting.
Hulling means to peirce. In a hulling machine, the parchment skin of the wet processed coffee bean is removed. On a dry processed coffee bean the entire dried husk is removed from the dried cherries.
Polishing the coffee beans is not needed and is optional. Polishing the beans means to remove any silver skin left behind from huling.
Once the beans are hulled and polished, they are graded and sorted. The beans are reviewed for any color flaws or other imperfections before being sized and weighed. To be sized, the beans are passed through a series of screens. To be sorted they are sprayed with an air jet to separate the heavy from the light.
Step 5: Exporting and Tasting the coffee
After the beans have been properly milled, they are ready to be exported and tasted by professionals.
Coffee is then repeatedly tested for quality and taste. This process is known as cupping where the taster is known as a cupper.
Samples of different batches are sniffed and tasted daily to determine certain characteristics and flaws before being sent out to roasters. The bean’s exterior, interior, aroma, and taste are all judged to determine the quality of each batch.
The cupper evaluates each coffee bean in their sample by looking at it’s overall visual appearance. After being professionally examined, the samples are roasted in a small roaster, ground up, and boiled in carefully-controlled water.
The cupper then noses the aroma. Once the coffee grounds sit in the water for a few minutes, the cupper breaks up the coffee more along the side of the cup, then gives it another whiff.
After the sniffing examination, the cupper tastes the coffee, inhaling it quickly to evenly coat their taste buds before spitting the coffee out.
Step 6: Roasting the coffee
Roasting coffee beans is what turns them from green to their well-known brown color.
To achieve the perfect roasted bean, most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit. To keep them from burning, the beans are continuously spinning within the roaster.
Once the beans have reached an internal temperature of 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans begin to turn brown and the oil locked inside, known as caffeol, that gives that warm, coffee smell emerges. This process is called pyrolysis in which it produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee.
The beans are then immediately cooled after roasting either by air or water.
Step 7: Grind the coffee
When grinding coffee beans you need to make sure you give them a proper grind or else the coffee will not come out as one hopes during the brewing process.
To grind coffee properly, one must own a coffee grinder. Depending on what type of coffee you enjoy depends on how you grind it.
If you enjoy cold brew, grind your coffee extra course where the consistency is similar to rock salt. If you use a French press or old-fashioned percolator, grind your coffee course.
If you are like most coffee drinkers and you own a drip coffee maker, grind your coffee at medium where the consistency is similar to sand. Medium works great for pour-over and Chemex as well. If you enjoy your coffee brewed through an Aeropress or pour-over cone, try a medium fine grind. If espresso is your choice, grind your coffee fine. And if Turkish coffee is the only way you enjoy coffee, grind up those beans super fine.
Step 8: Brew your coffee
Depending on how course or fine your coffee grounds are determines how you like your coffee. Whether it’s through an espresso machine or heated up in a turkish cerve, enjoy each sip knowing it's a well-fulfilled journey.