Who says that there's no such thing as magic! Coffee beans or as I like to call them "magic beans" turn every morning’s groggy monster into a functioning human being. According to different studies it was seen that around 70% of the population have coffee in their kitchen cupboard.
However, only a few know the real story of transformation from mere seeds to your delicious cup of joe. My visits to different "CoffeeCon" events helped me to understand how coffee is grown and produced.
Also, because of this knowledge, I can effectively brew a fine cup of coffee every single time. If you too are a coffee lover like me, and want to know the journey of your coffee, then do read on!
Plantation of Coffee Seeds
The coffee beans which you buy from the supermarket are seeds of the coffee plant. However, these beans or seeds which you buy for consumption are processed. The coffee beans are dried, roasted and in some cases (for instant coffee powder) grounded before they are packed for the consumers.
So, unprocessed seeds are initially planted in quite big beds in shade so that they can germinate.
The young coffee seedlings after they sprout will be left to grow for just a few days in those beds only. After that they are moved with care to designated individual pots. The uniqueness of the pot is that it contains formulated soil which happens to be ideal for optimal growth.
Even the atmosphere is also made ideal in coffee farms. The potted seedlings are kept in shades and watered as and when needed. The plantation process is usually carried on during the rainy season to ensure that the soil remains moist as much as possible (allows the roots to hold on the soil better). After they are big enough, they will be moved to their designated growing (permanent) area.
Hand-Picked or Hand-Harvested Coffee
A coffee bush that is newly planted will take around 3 to 4 (depending on the specific variety) years to produce fruits or "cherries". The color of the cherries goes from green to dark or bright red when ripened. And to ensure that only ripe cherries are collected, most coffee farms follow a hand-harvesting process.
As the coffee fruits take different time periods to get ripened, a farm usually organizes maximum three pickings in order to completely clear the farm. As the fruits ripen faster in high temperature and low altitudes, countries like Brazil follow machine harvesting.
Whereas most countries have only one coffee harvesting season annually; Kenya, Colombia and other countries have two (main and secondary) harvesting seasons. However, no matter what the time or style of harvesting may be, it is harvested by following two major picking methods known as Strip and Selective Picking.
The green ones will be left to ripen while the red ones only picked. Usually a 10-day interval is there between the picking processes. This style is commonly used for Arabica coffee.
All cherries are stripped from the plant completely by hand or machine.
Dry and Wet Processing Methods
In order to know how coffee is grown and produced, I learnt that the cherries are processed immediately after they are harvested to avoid any kind of spoilage. Now, two major methods are used depending on the location and available resources.
This is an ancient method and is used usually by small-scale coffee farms and/or where water is not available in plenty. Drying beds are made to be slightly elevated from the ground for air circulation. The cherries are kept on these beds to be sun-dried. The cherries are raked or turned throughout the day to avoid fermentation.
This also allows even drying. However, they are kept covered during night time to ensure that the beans can absorb moisture. The whole process takes about 15 to 20 days depending on the weather conditions. This kind of process is also known as a natural or unwashed type of processing.
This type of processing is called the wet method as water is used to aid in this process. Comparatively, this is a new process where the skins of washed ripen cherries are removed with a help of a pulping machine.
This results in mucilage formation. So, the beans are then transformed into tanks and stirred with enzymes. This is done to remove any kind of stickiness from the beans. This whole process takes about 1 day only. After which the beans are sun-dried for 2 to 3 days. This drying process can be done with the help of machines as well and in that case the process will take less time than sun-drying.
Roasted to Perfection
Green coffee or unroasted coffee will have all its flavours, but it is roasted before the packaging process to ensure its aromaticity. The green coffee is stirred continuously while being roasted in a temperature of above 200 degree Celsius generally. The stirring process ensures that no beans are burnt. During this time, beans will change into yellowish color and will develop the roasted smell.
When the internal temperature of the beans is above 200 degree Celsius, the beans develop a light brown color and will double in size. This very step is called the "first crack".
After this, as you keep on increasing the temperature, the color of beans will change from medium to dark brown and they will also start to emerge fragrant oil known as caffeol. This stage is known as pyrolysis and it is the main part in the whole roasting process. This process is responsible for the aroma, color and flavour of your favourite coffee. During this process, the beans are usually light to medium brown in color and depth of colors and flavour can be added if it is kept on roasting. This next step is known as "second crack".
After the second crack or second pyrolysis, the beans will gain an oily sheen and the color will change into dark brown. Once the desired level of roasting is done, the beans are washed with water to cool them off as soon as possible. So, because of the roasting process, coffee is available in three different types and they are light, medium and dark roast.
Ground Packaged Coffee
Coffee beans are packed after the roasting process; however, many manufacturers sell ground coffee powder. In an attempt to learn how Coffee is grown and produced, I understood that coffee farms and manufactures determine how coarse or fine the coffee grounds should be. This type of grinding will determine how quickly the coffee can release all its flavours in the hot water. So, this is the reason why you will find coffee made to have as an espresso is grinded into a fine powder.