Coffee 101

It’s all about the beans, right? Well, actually, it’s all about the berries. Because the journey to our beloved dark grinds starts with juicy, red coffeeberries. Each coffee tree yields only around one pound of roasted coffee each year. And it can be a long road from the tree to the cup.

Traditionally, coffeeberries have been selected and picked by hand. These days, though, the berries are machine-harvested, then the keen eye and hand come into play, sorting berries by ripeness and color. Those berries at the peak of ripeness are then stripped, removing the coffee seeds to be dried.

Dried coffee seeds are called green coffee. Once roasted, green coffee becomes the coffee we’re used to seeing—dark, shiny coffee beans, ready to grind and brew.

The roasting process—which varies widely in method and style—influences the taste of the beverage and gives each batch its own flavor and character. Roasts can be graded by eye or through the use of specialized equipment that can determine for definite whether you’re drinking a light, medium, dark, or very dark brew.

The two main species of coffee are Arabica and Robusta. Arabica makes up about three quarters of the coffee cultivated around the world, preferred for its flavor and balance. Robusta, however, is higher in caffeine.

A long history.

Ethiopian ancestors are credited with being the first to recognize the energizing effect of the coffee plant, but the first credible evidence of coffee drinking appears in the mid-15th century—in monasteries surrounding Mokha in Yemen. From there, eventually, coffee spread to Italy. And once coffee hit Venice, the rest of Europe found out. Americans first became aware of coffee in the Colonial Period—but it wasn’t popular here until the Revolutionary War, when tea supplies were hard to come by.

A global heritage.

While Central and South America produce around two thirds of the world’s coffee supply, coffee grows in more than 50 countries around the world. Based on dollar value, coffee is the world’s second leading export (next to oil). Brazil, Colombia, and Vietnam are the world’s top three coffee producers, which Brazil coming in at #1—supplying around 30% of the world’s coffee. Beans from different areas can be distinguished by flavor, aroma, body, and or acidity—characteristics determined by the coffee’s growing environment, genetic makeup, and processing. Coffees are generally called after the place where they come from—something to keep in mind next time you’re enjoying that cup of “Java”

Leave a Reply