Coffee is the brew that more than half the people around the world need to kick start the day. Ever wondered about the origins of this humble but oh so important cup of joy and how it landed up on the shelf in your neighborhood store? Did you know that every day there are about four hundred million cups of coffee consumed around the world? It all began about two thousand years ago and today it has a market in which the output as a commodity is a close second to petroleum in its dollar value.
Coffee is broadly categorized into two main types – the Arabia which started out on the Arabian Peninsula and the Robusta which has twice the amount of caffeine. Apart from this there are at least a dozen bean varieties in common use today. The beans are red or green in type. The red is known for its higher aroma and lower acid content and it is this type that is used to make some of the finer coffees of the world.
The coffee berry, or ‘cherry’ as it is called, is not of much value by itself, but the bean inside it – that’s the part that has all the importance. It is this bean that is aged, roasted, ground and then sent on for brewing. Coffee picking is done by laborers who pick a few baskets a day, and they have to be skilled in separating the red from the green beans. The sorting of the beans has a very definite role to play in the final product. The time of picking of the cherries is of the utmost importance, as it has to be done just when the berry changes from green to red.
Once picked, the fruit undergoes a process of being soaked, scoured and rubbed mechanically to remove the fruit, and the bean is then washed to ensure no flesh of the fruit remains. Then the beans are fermented. Once the proper amount of fermentation has occurred, the resulting beans are then sun-dried on large concrete or rock surfaces until their water content has dropped to about 12 percent. This is followed by the sorting of the beans based on size and color. After “polishing” to remove any remaining skin they are then either sent on for roasting or kept to age for from three to eight years.
Roasting is done at about 204 Celsius (400 F.), where the beans expand to almost double their size, then crack and turn brown as the oil inside is secreted out. This oil is where the difference in the basic flavors comes from. After the roasting, the beans are de-gassed, which means that the beans produce a lot of carbon dioxide and this is removed by airing them out or packaging them in semi-permeable bags for shipping.
At the roasting stage, a lot of in-house techniques have been developed which basically account for the difference in flavors between the different coffees. So, for example, coffee from Kenya or Java will taste different from that roasted some other country. At the grinding level there are again a lot of differences in styles and the results of those styles. The Turks pound the beans into a powdery consistency using a mortar and pestle and in some other places the ‘burr’ grinder crushes the beans to a regular sized granule. Yet others chop the beans to a less homogeneous size using a chopper.
The final cup of delicious coffee that you get is actually either boiled, which means hot water is poured and the grounds are allowed to settle, or it is pressure-prepared, which refers to the espresso type of preparation where not quite boiling hot water is poured through the grounds at very high pressure. The third way is “percolating,” where hot water drips onto the grounds and is filtered. And more rarely, coffee grounds are steeped like tea is, but in larger bags.
So there you have the journey of coffee from the plantation to your cup, and with research coming up with the benefits of drinking coffee, let’s raise a toast to the cup that cheers!