One day as I was browsing in the grocery aisle to buy coffee, I came across a bunch of different brands. Some of these said Bird friendly, Rain Forest Alliance & Fair Trade affiliated. I thought these are environmental friendly. I decided to give a try even though they are tad bit expensive than my regular coffee. The next day morning when I had a cup of coffee its different and tasted better. So I decided to delve deep into where those beans came from.
A Little History:
Coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia by an animal herder Kaldi. He noticed that his goats became very active through out the day after eating certain berries.
He took those berries to the local monastery where the monk prepared a drink which helped him stay active during his evening prayers. The knowledge is shared among the communities. Soon the coffee trade began between Africa and Arabia. In Arabia the coffee beans were first roasted and brewed. Coffee was later introduced into India and Europe in 16th Century. The 1773 Boston Tea Party changed American consumption of coffee forever.
About the Beans:
Coffea arabica(Arabica) and Coffea canephora (Robusta Beans) are two main species grown in the coffee trade today.
Arabica beans are rich in flavor ,aroma and quality compared to the robusta beans. They are grown in shade grown on hilly terrains. They are vulnerable to diseases and pest manifestations. The yield is low. Arabica Beans contribute to 70% of the coffee production.
Coffee canephora(Robusta) beans have high caffeine content low in quality, it tastes bitter and burnt. The high caffeine content makes them resistant to disease and pests. They are grown in warmer climates, flat lands and the yield is 3 times more than Arabica beans. Robusta beans account for 20-30 % of the coffee trade. These beans are used to make Instant coffee. Vietnam is the largest producer of robusta beans and Starbucks is its undisputed largest purchaser.
Farming & Processing :
The traditional method of producing coffee is to plant seeds in the soil directly before the rainy season. Half of these seeds don’t sprout.Brazil adopted a more efficient method by planting the seedlings which are grown in the nurseries for 6-12 months before being sowed in coffee plantations.
Before reaching the roasters coffee berries undergo thorough processing. Coffee berries are picked based on ripeness which is a more labor intensive method. They are also strip picked and harvested regardless of ripeness. After harvesting they are processed either by dry method or wet method.
The ancient method of processing coffee uses dry method. The harvested berries are cleaned by winnowing to remove dirt and damaged berries. They are then sun dried and sent to a mill. In large plantations they let the beans dry in the sun for a few days and then they use machine drying. Those beans are sent to mill for hulling , grading and bagging. This is practiced in Brazil, Ethiopia,India, Haiti & Paraguay where Arabica beans are produced.
The berries are sorted by ripeness and the flesh on the berries is removed with the help of a machine. The seeds are then fermented and washed thoroughly. This produces massive waste water. The beans are dried on patios and sun beds. Later sent to mills for hulling and bagging.
The green coffee is then sent to roasting. Roasting influences and alters the taste of the coffee. The light roast coffee has high caffeine content ,aromatic flavors of its origin with complex acidity. Medium roast coffee has muted acidity.
Many opine that the coffee sold at Starbucks , Peets is over roasted. This over roasting of beans mask original characteristics and inferior quality.
Small boutique roasters don’t over roast their beans. They also specialize in high quality beans and roast them to their suited roast profile. This helps them bring out full flavor of the beans.
Encourage your local roasters and get a high quality coffee for your buck.