Coffee – where does it come from and how is it made? It’s a fascinating process that leaves you wondering how someone discovered this whole thing in the first place – but that’s a story for another time. For now, we’ll look at an overview of the process to understand the big picture before diving into details. Here’s the process in a nutshell:
1. Planting. Much like other life forms, coffee starts out as a seed. Coffee requires a very specific environment in which to thrive – different types of coffee need different climates. Some examples of coffee-producing countries in the world are: Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, Ethiopia, and of course, The Philippines. The process begins as farmers plant seeds in large patches of land, typically at a minimum of one hectare, which will yield 1-2 tons of coffee depending on how efficient the farmer’s practices are. After the seeds sprout, they are transferred individual pots. It’s like being in an incubator. Seedlings are taken special care of in the pots – the farmer waters them frequently and keeps the plants out of very hot sun – until the seedlings can be planted and live on their own. Planting the trees needs to happen during rainy season, so the soil around the roots stays hydrated while the plant is still forming its roots.
2. Harvesting. It takes three to five years for a tree to produce a cherry fruit—this is what contains the bean. The cherry starts out small and green, then blooms into a wonderful deep red. Most coffee around the world is picked by hand – it’s a very labor-intensive process.
3. Processing. You can choose one of two methods to process coffee – wet or dry. The dry method is more common because water isn’t needed- thus using less resources. With this method, cherries are laid on a flat surface to dry in the sun. To make sure all sides receive sunlight, the coffee is raked several times a day. Cherries are covered at night or when it rains. After a few weeks, and once the moisture content in the cherries is less than 11%, they are stored in a warehouse. The wet method is much more complicated and costly. The process involves de-pulping, separating by size, fermenting them in groups, rinsing, and drying.
4. Milling. A machine removes the husk (basically, the skin) of the bean. Think of it like peeling an orange. The husk-less beans are called “green coffee”.
5. Sorting. Coffee needs to be sorted by size and weight. Beans of the same size need to be roasted together so that they cook evenly. Beans that don’t make the cut (discolored or not the right size) are removed so you’re left with a high quality batch of coffee. Picking can be done with a machine or by hand, or both.
6. Roasting . To turn green coffee into our morning delight, we must roast it. Coffee is loaded into a roaster, where it is exposed to a flame, and constantly rotating to ensure an even color. The master roaster sets a time and temperature and lets the roaster do its work. When the timer goes off, the master roaster releases the beans from the roaster into a drum, where they are cooled by air, and sometimes water. As you know, or might have guessed, light, medium, and dark roasts all have very different tastes.
7. Grinding. Coffee is run through blades so it can be put through whatever coffee-making method you choose. The goal of grinding coffee is to maximize the flavor in your coffee, so that means your extraction method (whether you’re using an espresso machine, percolator, or French press) determines your grind. As an easy to remember rule: <strong>the faster coffee will be prepared, the finer the ground should be</strong>, so it can extract more flavor. For example, espresso coffee should be finely ground because they go through the extraction process quickly. On the other hand, drip coffee, which is a longer process, should be more coarsely ground.
8. Brewing. Finally, coffee victory is yours! Popular methods are using a brewer, French press, or an espresso machine. Drink black, or add milk and sugar. Maybe some chocolate powder? Whatever it is, enjoy! See our Brew Guide for some preparation tips.