How Coffee is Made
Have you ever thought about how that fresh, hot cup of coffee in your hand began it’s little coffee bean life? Not really? Well, I get it.
Most of us just want to savor the moment and satisfaction of that first sip of java in the morning, and where the little beans originated and found their way into your coffee cup is not exactly at the top of your list of things to learn at the moment. We want to make a great cup of coffee and enjoy it!
But, let’s say that you’re awake and alert, and that curiosity about how coffee is made is prompting some action on your part. You might even be a coffee newbie, and want to know all the facts about this curiously delicious brew.
It really is quite a fascinating process, with some very specific steps that go into the creation of the coffee beans that ultimately are used in brewing your java. So settle in with a cup of coffee in hand (maybe a sweet treat in the other) and prepare to understand how coffee is made.
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And so, our story, 'from bean to cup', begins...
How Coffee is Made
From a seed...
Yes, coffee beans are actually seeds, and are grown around the world in what is known as “The Bean Belt”. This is the area that is between the tropic of Cancer and Capricorn, a tropical region of the world.
There are more than 50 countries in ‘the Belt’, including:
- North America & The Caribbean - US Hawaii, Mexico, Puerto Rico
- Central America - Guatemala, Costa Rica
- South America - Columbia. Brazil
- East Africa - Ethiopia, Kenya
- West Africa - Ivory Coast
- The Arabian Peninsula - Yemen
- Asia - Indonesia, Vietnam
A coffee seed begins it’s life in a nursery, planted in large, shaded beds. With a lot of love, water, and protection from the harsh sun, the small plants are nurtured until they’re strong enough to be permanently planted during the wet season, and are typically about 18 to 24 inches in height.
Most of the coffee produced is one of two varieties derived from two plant species: Coffea arabica and Coffea robusta.
About 70% of the world's coffee is arabica, and it is considered to be the higher quality, with a mild taste and a light and airy complexion with an intense, intricate aroma. It grows typically in higher elevations and requires considerable care while growing. Most gourmet coffees are made with high-quality mild varieties of arabica coffee.
Robusta coffee is grown mostly in Vietnam, with India, Africa, and Brazil also contributing to the supply. It is easier to care for and has a greater crop yield than arabica, so it is cheaper to produce. The taste of robusta coffee is a little bitter although full-bodied and possessing a distinctive earthy flavor. Not surprisingly, you'll find robusta used most often in espresso blends.
...to a Fruit
The plants grow into a tropical evergreen shrub, and are pruned and tended to for about 4 years before they graduate to coffee tree status and are ready to produce their fruit.
The coffee trees flower during the annual rainy season with a delicate, white blossom that is somewhat reminiscent of the scent of jasmine.
After flowering (which only lasts a few days), the shrubs are tended for about 7 to 9 months for Arabica beans, or up to 11 months for Robusta beans, when the fruit comes.
It is green at first, but when it ripens, it turns into a deep red, shiny cherry, appropriately named the coffee cherry. Inside there are usually two seeds, and we refer to them as the green coffee bean.
Then Comes the Harvest...
In most countries the crop is picked by hand, which is labor intensive and slow. There are two methods for harvesting
- Strip Picked - all of the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time, either by hand or by machine. The machine could be a derricadeiras, a mechanical tool held by a picker to strip the beans. Or, it could be a machine called a mechanical harvester.
- Selectively Picked - harvested individually by hand, choosing only the cherries at the peak of ripeness. The pickers tyypically wear a basket around their waist, then empty the basket into one large bag.
The harvesting is done is cycles, revisiting the trees until all of the coffee is picked from the field. It is a costly process and used primarily for harvesting the finer Arabica beans.
How many coffee cherries does a coffee picker pick? Approximately 100 to 200 pounds per day, which translates into about 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.
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Processing must begin quickly after the coffee cherries have been picked to prevent spoilage, and is most often handled in one of two ways:
The Dry Method is the ‘age-old’ method and is used in countries where water resources are limited. It’s very simple but labor intensive.
The coffee cherries are spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. They are turned regularly to keep the from spoiling, and covered at night to keep the rain and moisture off. This manual process could continue for several weeks, and ultimately until the moisture content of the cherries reaches about 11%. After the drying process the outer cover will change to black.
The Wet Method is quite different in contrast. The freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the pulp and skin from the beans.
Then, the beans pass through water channels where they are separated by weight. The heavier beans sink and the lighter beans float.
The next step in the wet method is to soak the beans in large, water-filled fermentation tanks. The magic that happens here is that while they soak (anywhere from 12 to 48 hours), a slick layer of mucilage will dissolve and leave just the beans. After this process they feel rough to the touch. But, they’re now ready for drying!
The beans can be sun-dried by spreading them out and turning them regularly, or they can be machine-dried in large tumblers. Either way, they must be dried to approximately 11% moisture.
Now, our small java friends are referred to as parchment coffee. They are stored in jute or sisal bags until ready for export, in an area that has good air circulation, is dark, and away from moisture. There are quite a few steps in learning how coffee is made, and we're working our way through!
Now It's Time for Milling
In the milling process, the skin is removed from the coffee beans (the parchment coffee). There are two steps to this process:
- Hulling - the dried husk is removed using a machine called a 'huller'. It is done carefully to avoid damaging the little beans.
- Polishing - an optional process where any remaining silver skin is removed and leaves the coffee beans shiny and pretty. It doesn't affect the taste, though.
Now, the coffee beans are light brown, and they're called 'green coffee. I know. Confusing, but that's what it is.
The All Important Tasting of the Coffee
Before the beans are taken for roasting, more coffee-magic happens, and that is the grading of the coffee. It is done by professionals who are called tasters, or cuppers. They play a vital role in how coffee is made.
There are very special rooms designed solely for the purpose of cupping. This is the process of tasting the coffee and evaluating it for overall visual, taste, and aromatic appeal. A professional cupper can taste hundreds of samples per day and be able to find the subtle differences between them. Amazing.
You might be wondering how this is accomplished, as we’re still in the ‘green coffee’ stage, aren’t we? Well, here’s how the process works.
- A professional taster, or cupper, first evaluates the beans for their overall visual quality.
- Then, the beans are roasted in a small laboratory roaster, ground immediately, and infused in boiling water (at the perfect temperature, of course).
- The cupper will then nose the brewed coffee and experience its aroma.
- The coffee rests for several minutes, and then the cupper pushes aside the grounds at the top of the cup...that is called the crust...and they nose it once again.
- The tasting of the brew is quite special, too. The cupper quickly slurps a spoonful of coffee, then weigh it on their tongue before spitting it out.
The bagged, green coffee is loaded into shipping containers or bulk shipped inside plastic lined containers. By the way, coffee is the world’s most traded agricultural commodity.
There are a variety of methods and variables in the distribution chain, but simply put, ultimately the green coffee is exported from the country of origin, imported to the countries that are purchasing the product, then sold in smaller batches in bulk, to different sellers and distributors. It eventually reaches local coffee roasters.
Whew! Those little can beans travel.
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...then it's Roasted!
Okay, we’re finally to the step in the process of how coffee is made where the little beans turn the beautiful brown color that we’re accustomed to seeing (and smelling!)
Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 400 degrees Fehrenheit. During the roasting process the beans begin to turn brown, and they emit a fragrant oil called caffeol. This process is called pyrolysis...the evolution and creation of the flavor and aroma of the coffee we ultimately drink and enjoy so very much!
While roasting at high temperatures, the oils and lipids found in the coffee beans move from the center to close to the surface of the beans.
Much of the commercial roasting is done on a large scale, but a small-scale, single-origin roast can take place at your local coffee shop.
If you have an adventurous spirit and want to know first-hand how the coffee roasting process works, consider roasting your own coffee at home! The roasters themselves can be budget-friendly, and purchasing the green coffee beans isn't difficult. Wouldn't it be fun to amaze your friends by showing them your part in the coffee-making process with a uniquely roasted java?
- Coffee lovers finally have the chance to experience the coffee bean at its best with this set - the highest level of personal coffee enjoyment and their own roasting
- Roasting of green coffee beans is straightforward. Fill, adjust, turn on - great for beginners and those who want to create their own bake with different flavors
- Individually select the desired roast level (dark or medium) and achieve consistent results for a unique coffee enjoyment. Cooling mode gently cools the beans after roasting - for unparalleled enjoyment
- The temperature is slowly increased to a maximum of 200 °C in several stages over 25-30 minutes.
- During the roasting phase, the peels are automatically separated from the coffee beans and reliably fed directly into the cuticle screen - so there is no annoying sorting after the roasting process
- Upgraded Home Coffee Roasters: 0-60 minutes timer function and professional thermostat automatic constant temperature heating. Adjustable temperature from 100-240℃(212-464℉) can be adjusted freely to bake different grains. Strong controllability, easy for beginners to control.
- High Efficiency: 110V coffee bean roaster has a powerful agitator, roast 750 grams (1.65lb/26.45 ounces) green coffee beans in 25 minutes, larger roasting chambers for big volume roasting. Honeycomb chassis, honeycomb design, black food grade Teflon layer, safe, easy to clean, evenly heated.
- Ingenious Design: The transparent cover is heat resistant, durable, with a top four-hold ventilation system, and you could see the process and change of coffee beans easily all the time. Standing handle for easy placement of lid. Both sides of the anti-scalding handle thickening widening anti-scalding easy to hold.
- Easy Use: Automatic coffee roaster is great for beginners who are just starting to roast coffee at home. Very easy to use, greater operability, just choose the desired temperature for different roasting requirements, the thermostatically controlled roasting elements make sure the roasted beans evenly and reached the desired roast level.
- Multi-function: Affordable coffee roaster machine can be used to roast many kinds of beans including peanuts, chestnut, barley, dried fruit, popcorn, and so on. It could be used for home, coffee shop, or restaurant. It is a dual-use Baking Machine that does the job well.
- 【Premium Quality】110V and 1200W. This machine comes with non-stick chassis, and there is a stirring rod in the bowl, the beans will be stirred by this rod during the baking process. Professional thermostat automatic constant temperature heating. Can adjust the temperature freely to bake different cereals.
- 【Honeycomb Non-stick Bottom】The baked bean chassis designed with honeycomb shape and a black food grade Teflon layer that is safe, easy to clean and more uniform heating.
- 【Professionally designed】Heat-Resistant Cover, the transparent cover is heat resistant, durable, with a top four-hold ventilation system, and you could see the process and change of coffee beans easily all the time.
- 【Large Capacity】It is equipped with a big tank with 800G capacity, could hold a lot of coffee bean, you could bake a lot of coffee bean at one time, fast and convenient. The best amount of roasted coffee beans is 300g-500g.
- 【Multifunction】The machine could be used not only for roasting coffee beans, but also for baking other beans, peanuts, chestnut, barley, dried fruit, popcorn, etc. It could be used for home, a coffee shop or a restaurant. You could use it to create your unique coffee flavor to your preference.
- Coffee bean cooler double filters design, Above cool beans and remove chaffs, below collect silver skins.
- It is designed to quickly cool down coffee beans, prevent over roasting
- The powerful fan can cool down roasting beans fast in 2 minutes, lock in the flavor of the coffee and prevents it from over-roasting.
- Using 12V 3A adapter(US Plug) to work, much more safe than some 110V or 220V working voltage cooler
- Package: coffee bean cooler * 1, Adapter*1
Onward to the Packaging...
Because roasted coffee beans are easily spoiled by air or moisture, it's important to package them quickly and properly.
An air-tight bag with opaque material to protect them against UV rays is used, as well as a one-way valve in the packaging material that is included to allow carbon dioxide to escape the bag. The valve also prevents oxygen from entering the bag.
...Then it's Time to Grind
Our journey into how coffee is made has now ventured all the way to the point of grinding the beans. This can take place at the manufacturing location, at the local coffee shop, or in your kitchen!
There is nothing quite like the aroma, and then the taste, of coffee brewed with freshly ground beans. The level of grind depends on what type of coffee will be brewed:
Coarse - looks like flaky sea salt, and is used to make french press coffee
Medium: feels crumbly, looks like peat moss, and is used to brew coffee using the pour-over method
Fine: looks like finely milled salt, and is used when making espresso style coffee
Here is a helpful Coffee Grind Size Quick Reference Chart:
Read the full post here: A Simple Coffee Grind Size Chart for Better Brewing at Home
While purchasing ground coffee can be convenient and efficient, the process of grinding your own coffee is, in my opinion, so very worth the result! A coffee grinder doesn't have to cost a lot of money, and if you keep one on hand you can decide when you want to take those extra couple of minutes to grind the beans. After all, brewing a fresh cup of java should be fun, right?
If time doesn't allow, keep the ground coffee handy!
Here are some of the best selling coffee grinders:
- ENJOY OPTIMUM FLAVOR: Burr grinding provides a uniform grind to your fresh coffee beans with its 18-position grind selector – move the slide-dial from ultra-fine to extra-coarse to ensure your coffee grounds are exactly the way you prefer.BPA Free..UC Cubic Feet: 0.465, MC Cubic Feet: 0.558
- REMOVABLE FEATURES: Our 8 oz. bean hopper is fully removable as well as our built-in grind chamber for ease-of-use and accessibility during the cleaning process, Heavy-duty motor
- GRIND CHAMBER: Our removable grind chamber holds enough ground coffee for 32-cups, you won’t have to worry about grinding beans multiple times to brew coffee for the entire household
- ONE-TOUCH GRIND: The one-touch power bar is separate from the unit and complemented by an electric timer that automatically shuts off the unit when your grind cycle is complete
- CONVENIENT DESIGN: Our heavy-duty unit motor doesn’t take away space for additional design features; enjoy the convenience of cord storage and an additional scoop/cleaning brush to declutter, clean and maximize counter space
- Stainless steel conical burrs create uniform grounds for optimal flavor
- 15 grind size settings (plus additional microsettings) from fine for espresso to coarse for French press and cold brew
- One-touch start remembers your last setting, just push to grind
- Large-capacity hopper holds up to 3/4 lb/12 oz of coffee beans
- UV-blocking tint shields coffee beans from UV rays
- EASY CLEANUP — DISHWASHER SAFE GRINDING BOWL: The grinding bowl on this coffee bean grinder is designed with durable stainless steel. It's removable for easy filling and pouring and is dishwasher safe..Frequency : 60 Hz
- GRIND ENOUGH TO BREW UP TO 12 CUPS OF COFFEE: If you love the delicious taste of coffee made from freshly ground beans, this electric coffee grinder is perfect for the job whether you're grinding coffee for a quick cup or a full pot
- SIMPLE & INTUITIVE: The coffee grinder is so easy to use that you'll want to drink flavorful coffee made from freshly ground coffee beans everyday. Just place the lid on the grinder and press the button to grind coffee. Release to stop grinding.
- DURABLE STAINLESS STEEL BLADES: With the durable stainless steel blades, this grinder makes easy work of grinding everything from coffee beans to herbs and spices.
- REDUCE CLUTTER WITH HIDDEN CORD STORAGE: Hideaway cord storage at the bottom of the grinder stores the cord neatly and out of sight when it's not in use. Quieter than the leading competitor
- 【Precise Grinding Settings】 38 precise grind settings from the finest Espresso to the coarsest French Press, suit your all grinding needs.
- 【Premium Conical Burr】 Durable 40mm stainless steel conical burr, low grinding speed minimizes grinding heat for even grinding, retaining the best flavor and texture of coffee beans.
- 【Precision Grinding Timer】 One button start, automatic grinding. The timing grinding function of 5-60 seconds can meet your grinding needs, and it will automatically shut down after the end.
- 【Upgraded anti-static visible powder bin】Food-grade material and anti-static technology can effectively prevent coffee powder from splashing and agglomerating, thereby improving user experience.
- 【Upgraded Motor】The coffee grinder adopts a new generation of micro AC motor, small size, ultra-high torque, and long-lasting life.
So, our story of how coffee is made is complete, except for one final detail...
Savor the fresh brew!
Enjoy, my friend, now that you know how coffee is made!
Resources used in the creation of this post:
- images and video clips used by permission from canva.com
Last Updated on September 13, 2023