“Adventure in life is good; consistency in coffee even better.” ― Justina Chen Headley, North of Beautiful
In part 1 article I wrote about the history and how coffee roasting is a first key step for a great coffee. Location influences coffee’s taste, also the cultivation methods. In this part, we will see how cultivation, harvesting, milling and roasting all contribute to a great cup of coffee.
Coffee needs around 25% light. Coffea arabica and C. canephora supplies the majority of coffee. Elevation plays a significant role of distinctive flavors in coffee. For example, the coffee that is grown in the foothills of volcanic mountains, has a distinctive flavor compared to the Sumatra beans that is grown in Indonesia’s rich soil. Elevation plays an important role in the quality and flavor aspects of Coffee. The country, El-Slavador grades the coffee by its elevation. Another factor is Shade. Coffee from Costa Rica promotes coffee grown in shade. This is done to get less bitterness and acidity in the coffee beans.
Beauty of Coffee trees lies in the fact, that it can remain productive provided they are healthy without any insect infestation. Coffee tree starts from seeds and starts to bear fruit after 3 or 4 years. It reaches maturity around 6-7 years.
Watch this video, you will see how banana trees provide shade. How soil fertility, pest control, significance of harvesting only fully ripen fruits for high quality.
Coffee picker chooses the red ones and leave the yellow, green coffee cherries. Coffee tree gets pruned periodically to keep the tree to certain height, so it produces more cherries as it keeps growing.
After the coffee cherries gets harvested, it is time to process it. First step is to pulp out the outer portion covering the seeds.
Coffee cherry pulper machine separates the pulp and seeds of the coffee fruit. It is hand cranked.
Two main methods are in practice. Wet and Dry methods. Traditionally, farmers process Coffee using Wet process. But now it is reserved only to specialty coffee. They prefer “Dry method” for commercial commodity coffee processing as it is a cheap way to process.
Wet Processing beans gets washed in water. This process produces consistent taste and smoother coffee. Unripe seeds float and removed. This way we get a high quality coffee as quality of fermentation is even.
Dry Processing beans are dried out in sun. Fermentation is uneven and so there are high chances if done wrong produces bad taste and high acidity.
Other than usual dry and wet process, there is unique
Animal Processing. Famously Indonesian Palm Civet Cats eat the coffee berries and excreta the depulped coffee beans. They are then further processed normally. This coffee named Kopi Luwak sells for $30 a cup of coffee in New York. This natural depulping mixed with digestive enzymes produces a unique flavor and smooth coffee.
Post-processing the coffee, there is a period of 2-3 months when is coffee gets rested. This helps them to lose the grassy smell and mature well.
In Karnataka, India, during resting process, coffee is left open exposing them to air and humidity. This mimics the coffee from 19th century to create a mellow low acidic coffee.
Milling & Packing
After the resting period, Millers mill the Coffee, to remove any defective seeds and graded by size. They are then packaged in jute based sacks to allow air circulation and reduce mildew. Nowadays, specialty coffee producers prefer to keep in plastic covered bags to avoid sun and humidity to reduce the bean effectiveness.
I wrote about Roasting in Part1, but this is a bit more high level. There are 2 types of Roasters. Specialty and Commodity roasters. Specialty roasters focus on single origin and special varieties of bean. Large scale commodity roasters are Nestle, Kraft Heinz, J.M.Smucker, Luigi Lavazza, Starbucks, JAB Holding company. read more. They roast to specific standards and disregard taste profile and flavors.
Most roasters today use drum roasters. Basic principle is, beans are heated. More heating causes gases, oils and sugars to caramelize, resulting in more body and bitterness. Roasters tune their machines to such an extent to control the roasting based on the flavor profile of the seeds and their expected outcome. First crack of seeds happen at 201° C. Seeds break open under pressure building up from the gases building up.
Second crack happens at 225° C due to the cell walls breaking down. This causes the oils to come out to the surface. Specialty roasters focus on time between crack 1 and 2. They bring in best flavors during this time. Roasters are differentiated by how they fine tune this time and bring out the best combination of taste profile.
Further heating will turn the coffee black, more bitter and zero moisture. Dark roast is anything above 225° C. Anything between 210° C and 224° C is considered medium roast.
Roast Names based on Temperature.
- 240° C – French Roast
- 245° C – Italian Roast
- 205° C – New England Roast
- 210° C – American Roast
- Light Roast - Lighter body, less bitterness, higher acidity. Represents the original character of the coffee
- Medium Roast – Acidity is equalized, higher body and mild roasting flavor
- Dark Roast Bittersweet flavor, little original character, aroma, roasting flavor has heavy influence.
Removing Caffeine from Coffee , commonly called decaf. This is done by applying solvents like dichloromethane or ethyl acetate, CO2 or water to extract caffeine from the beans. This will leave the flavors intact as much as possible.
Original Organic solvents used to decaffeinate caused health issues, so recent ones were switched. Coffee beans are steamed and rinsed with solvents to extract caffeine.
Alternatively, water based process is used to extract caffeine. But they are not as effective as solvent based methods. But many recent works try to enhance this method to avoid chemicals to decaffeinate. Also, other process exists like using supercritical CO2, Triglyceride process that reduce the use of solvents to decaffeinate.
Brewing your coffee has 4 different ways
- Turkish Coffee – Boiling the ground coffee in water
- Immersion – Hot water is added to ground coffee. e.g French Press
- Percolation – Hot water passed through ground coffee.
- Pressure Brewing – Pressurizing the ground coffee speeding up the extraction and squeezing the flavor out. e.g Espresso
Brewing is the key moment to transform all the hard work that happened so far to great cup of coffee. Bad brewing can spoil all the work preceding it. Many people spend money for proper tools and when it comes to espresso machines, they by themselves are pricey.
So next in part 3 I would like to cover brewing in detail, so we get a great cup of coffee.
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