How is Coffee Made (From Seed to Cup)
Coffee is such a regular part of our lives, it’s easy to take for granted. But in fact, every coffee bean travels a long way, encounters a lot of people, and goes through many processes to end up in your cup. So let’s follow along on its journey. You’ll have all the more reason to savour that next cup of coffee.
Growing Coffee: From Seed to Plant
Coffee production starts at growing a coffee plant. Coffee grows on a flowering shrub. It was once native to tropical Asia and Africa, but now coffee is found around the world. These coffee trees, especially those that produce the best coffee, only thrives in certain climates, typically those found near the equator. The regions where coffee beans come from are collectively known as the coffee belt.
You can learn about it in this quick and informative video:
The key conditions for growing coffee are ample sunshine, no frost, plenty of rain, and well-draining soil. Other factors, like mineral-rich soils, high elevation, and steady day-to-night temperatures, contribute to growing high-end coffee.
There are two main types of coffee, ARABICA, and ROBUSTA. Arabica coffee beans are the type of coffee beans that are considered superior, with sweeter and more complex flavours, but they are more expensive and challenging to grow. Robusta has harsher flavours and more caffeine, but it’s a hardier plant that thrives in rougher conditions. Both coffee bean types have a place in the coffee world.
Coffee plants produce fruits known as coffee cherries. At the heart of each coffee cherry are two beans — or occasionally one coffee bean, a peaberry, but that’s a story for another day.
Related: Coffee: Pros and Cons
Processing Coffee: From Plant to Green Coffee Bean
Coffee processing is the step of removing the coffee beans from the coffee cherry and drying them. This results in green beans that you can store until roasting.
There are three main processing methods:
- Natural processing: Also called dry processing, this is the oldest method. The coffee cherries, which are sometimes called coffee berries, are left in the sun to ferment, and then the fruity pulp is removed. The beans absorb sugars from the fruit during the process, so naturally processed coffees are often sweeter. This is also the most challenging method to control because the cherries can rot in the sun if not tended carefully.
- Washed processing: Also known as wet method or wet processing, the fruit is removed from the beans before fermentation. The coffee is much more consistent and has a cleaner taste, but wastewater management can present environmental problems (1).
What I love about washed coffees is that they can have pure intrinsic flavours from the bean, if the washing is done properly.
- Honey processing: This is essentially a mix of the first two. In this new method, the cherry is only partially removed before fermentation and drying. The resulting coffee is both sweet and clean-tasting.
Roasting Coffee: From Green to Brown Coffee Bean
Roasting the coffee gives it the rich brown colour you recognise from the local cafe. Roasting makes the coffee more soluble, so you can extract all its glorious flavour when you brew, and it adds flavours of its own.
The flavour of a roast depends on the time and temperature of roasting. Light roasted beans still taste mainly of the origin, with bright fruit and floral flavours. Medium roast coffees take on some flavours of caramelisation from the roast. Dark roast coffees get much of their character from the roasting process, with toasted flavour notes and a full body.
Brewing and Extraction: From Coffee Beans to a Coffee Drink
There are many methods of brewing coffee. Plus, the new ones are popping all the time! But at their core, they all do the same thing.
Brewing extracts the soluble flavour compounds from the coffee beans into hot water.
To facilitate this extraction, we grind the coffee. The finer the ground coffee beans, the faster you can extract them. That’s why you need finely ground coffee to pull a quick shot of espresso. A medium grind is for a pour-over and coarse for a slow method like French press or cold brew.
Instant coffee is made by taking regular brewed coffee and dehydrating it to a powder, which you can do through freeze-drying or spray drying. To learn more about it, check out our article: How is instant coffee made?
Yes, coffee beans are seeds. They are the seeds of the Coffea plant, and they’re found at the centre of the plant’s fruit. Coffee plant’s fruit is called the coffee cherry.
No, coffee is not a grain. The coffea plant is a flowering bush, and the coffee beans are the coffee seeds. They aren’t actually beans.
- Ospina, A.K.M. (2018, December 18). Processing 101: What Is Washed Coffee & Why Is It So Popular? Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2018/12/processing-101-what-is-washed-coffee-why-is-it-so-popular/