Coffee - From Bean to Cup!

on Wednesday, 16 February 2011.

Coffee – From Bean to Cup!

Coffee, it’s the drink we all love, it’s the drink many of us can’t do without and it’s the drink we have to kick start our day!  There are so many different bean varieties, growing regions and ways that coffee can be served for our enjoyment.  It’s a huge industry that just keeps growing.  But what happens to give us that delicious aroma, taste and feeling we all know and love?  From bean to cup and everything in between...............................................



Did you know, there are more than 60 different varieties of coffee?  But for trade purposes Arabica and Robusta are the most important.

 Brazil is the world’s main coffee grower, growing about 28% of the world’s consumption of coffee.  Columbia, Indonesia and Mexico are three other major producers.  Coffee trees have broad, dark green leaves and when they blossom the flowers are white and star shaped.  Trees can grow up to 15 metres in the wild, however plantations generally keep them at 3 metres by continual pruning, this makes for a higher yield crop and is easier to harvest.  When and how fast trees blossom depends on where the plantation is located in relation to equator, altitude and weather conditions.  The coffee plant is selective about growing conditions. Coffee trees can't tolerate weather that is too hot or cold, or too wet or dry. They need direct sunlight, but only for a few hours a day - about two hours a day is ideal.  The time span between blossom and harvest is generally about 8 – 9 months.  Harvesting is a very labour-intensive exercise and for this reason is one of the most expensive parts of coffee production.


The actual coffee bean is the seed of the berry that grows on the trees and resembles the look of a cranberry.   There are usually two flat-sided seeds inside each berry.  Unprocessed coffee is called Green Coffee.  Harvesting is mainly done by hand, it ensures that only ripe high quality beans are picked, however machinery is used in Brazil in some of the larger plantations, which shake all the beans on to the ground.  The two seeds inside the berry make up only one third, therefore the pulp, skin and husk need to be removed.  There are two methods of processing for this which are used worldwide:-

Wet Processing – The beans are washed and fed through a water channel, this gets rid of any impurities and also makes unripe berries sink to the bottom.  The fruit flesh of the ripe berries is then removed using a de-pulper, whereby a roller scourers away the flesh (which is then used as fertiliser).  The beans are then fermented in large water containers, this dissolves any remaining fruit flesh and also removes the sticky film from around the bean which is not water soluble.  At the end of fermentation the coffee is then left with just the husk and is washed.  The beans are then dried out, which takes up to six days.  This process is usually done in direct sunlight on concrete slabs, however producers operating on a larger scale may have a drying machine.  Coffee cultivators will now sell their product to a wholesale distributor or exporter who will then take care of the “hulling” process, i.e removing the husk from the beans, using large specially built machines.  Beans are then sieved the get rid of any foreign objects and graded according to size and shape.

Dry Processing – This is much less labour intensive and a cheaper process than wet processing, however for that reason the quality of the coffee is affected.  Twigs, leaves, stones etc...  are first sieved out from the berries.  They are next put out in the sun and turned for 2-3 weeks to dry them out completely.  A peeling machine will then remove the skin, flesh and part of the husk.  The beans are then sorted according to size and shape.

Inspection is the final process, whereby experts will take a sample from every bag of coffee beans, roast, grind and brew each sample, giving every bag a quality seal of approval.  Beans can be blended to change the characteristics of aroma, taste and quality.

Roasting the beans accounts for approximately 70% of the final characteristics of the coffee we drink and enjoy.  Roasting temperatures are controlled to never exceed 230 degrees Celsius and the longer the roast and the higher the final temperature, the stronger and more intense the final flavour.

A good barista will grind your beans to order, so as to avoid it going stale and ruining the quality of your coffee.  The grind will then have water put through it to give a strong shot of coffee.  A good quality coffee shot will have a “crema” head on it!  Milk can be added in various forms to make your favourite coffee drink. 

So next time you are sipping your delicious latte, enjoying your frothy cappuccino or relaxing over your flat white, think about all it has gone through to get there, appreciate it for all that it is and savour the wonderful feeling it gives you!


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