Our favorite beverage doesn’t come easily. There are unending disputes about the best way to brew coffee and the best varieties of beans. But before they get to the store shelves where you can agonize over your choice, coffee beans first have to be grown and processed – no easy feat.
Unlike Money, Coffee Grows on Trees
The coffee tree is native to tropical Asia and Africa. The trees evolved to produce caffeine as a defense mechanism against insects. Once they discovered the wondrous energy-enhancement properties of that natural insect repellant and the delicious flavor of the beans, humans spread the trees all around the globe. Now they can be found in almost all of the world’s tropical regions.
Most trees start to bear fruit when they are between three and five years old. One tree will produce a large number of fruits, most of which will contain a pair of beans. A rare minority of the fruits will contain a single bean, and these specimens are often sold separately to be turned into special brews.
Fruits need approximately nine months to reach maturity, but they don’t reach it all at once, and some fruits on a tree take longer than others. This leaves farmers with two options for harvesting. They can pick all the fruit at once, which saves labor but wastes that part of the crop that isn’t ripe, or they can expend extra labor to pick the fruits gradually as they ripen.
Beans into Beverage
Processing the beans requires a significant amount of skill and effort and determines many of the characteristics of the brew.
Since the usable bean is the inner part of the fruit, the next step is separating it from the flesh. There are two primary methods for doing so. Many producers allow the fruits to dry in the sun. This leaves some flesh on the beans, but removes enough volume so that they can be roasted. Other producers pulp the fruits and then run the mix through water channels, which separates the beans by weight. After that, they are stored in water-filled fermentation tanks until the outer layer is removed, and then they are dried.
The beans are then sorted, graded, and shipped to a roasting facility. In some cases, that may be a cafe where they will also be ground, brewed, and served. In most cases, though, it is a large factory where coffee will be prepared and packaged for sale to consumers and institutions.
The beans are roasted to change their flavor, which is largely the result of a chemical called caffeol, which only becomes available when the beans are heated. The amount of time that the beans spend in the roaster plays a large role in determining their flavor. After the beans cool, they are ready to be ground.
Beans lose flavor quickly after they have been ground, so many people prefer to grind their own beans immediately before brewing coffee. After that, the ground coffee only needs hot water to turn into the delightful beverage we so value.
BostonbeaN Coffee Company supplies coffees, teas, brewing systems, cold beverages, snacks, and other break room necessities to Boston-area businesses. Call for details: 800-448-2739.