Coffee Life Cycle: A Tale of Brewed Delight
Whether or not you believe a different version of how and where coffee was discovered, the famous legend of its Ethiopian roots is amusing to say the least. The story goes something like this: Kaldi, probably the most famous goat herder after Moses, was herding his flock some 14 centuries ago, minding his own business, when he noticed that his goats were acting a bit strange. They were jumping around, practically standing on their back legs, acting very giddy and energetic. Sound familiar?
After exploring the area, Kaldi found that the source of this peculiar behavior came from a small shrub covered in bright red berries. In pure Adam and Eve style, Kaldi had to try the fruit for himself. One thing lead to another and coffee took hold of Ethiopia and the Arabian Peninsula. Some believe the origin of coffee is Yemen but perhaps the relatable nature of the jumping goats is what made the Ethiopian theory so widely believed. Delighted four-legged creatures aside, it takes much more than origin myths to get that steaming cup of delight into your hands.
So where does cycle of coffee life begin? First and foremost, coffee looks nothing like, well, coffee. It begins as a fruit that grows on trees and resembles a cherry. Similar to cherries, there is a pit in the middle. This pit is the sought-after coffee bean and once separated from the fruit, but prior to roasting, is referred to as a green coffee bean.
Coffee trees thrive in soil that is well-drained and deep, and coffee roots love volcanic soil. The “Coffee Belt”, located between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, is known for providing the optimal circumstances for coffee tree growing, and produces the two types of coffee: Arabica (grown best at high altitudes) and Robusta (low-land coffee trees).
It takes about 3 - 4 years for coffee trees to bear the coffee cherry. Harvesters know that the fruit is ready when it turns a bright, deep red. Typically, countries that produce coffee experience one major harvest a year and the crop is picked by hand, usually a labor-intensive process. Once the coffee is harvested, either strip picked or selectively picked, it is sent to a processing plant.
Processing - Drying - Milling
The next few stages from processing, to drying, to milling are all part of the process of removing the bean itself from the meat of the fruit through various methods. Some coffee farmers prefer to dry-process the beans by letting the sun take care of removing the skin from the bean, while others prefer to soak the skins off by applying them via multiple water channels. The beans are then dried, either by sun or by machine, to achieve the desired 11% moisture for the perfect green coffee bean.
Prior to exportation, the dried beans are milled in a way that removes any excess skin and then sorted. A series of screens sort the beans for any imperfections, and by size and weight. No matter the process by which a coffee farmer chooses to sort his beans, only the best beans of the finest quality are chosen for export.
In some cases, tasters from coffee buying companies arrive at the processing plant to preview their purchase and taste it on the spot. In other cases, green coffee samples are sent around the world to many coffee importers.
Coffee is tasted again and again, in a process called cupping, for quality and taste. Where do we sign up for this job? Before the taster actually takes a swig, the coffee beans must pass a visual and aromatic inspection. If all senses agree, the coffee is then tasted by experts to assess the potential of the coffee to either be sold alone or brewed along with other superior roasts.
Export - Roasting