Everything about coffee production
From the bean to the cup
How do you prefer to start your day? Many people like to greet the morning with a cup of a freshly brewed coffee. The coffee aroma alone can sometimes have an invigorating effect. Its full-bodied flavour turns it into a joyous event that can be celebrated to the full, experiencing centuries-old coffee culture at your fingertips. You can also support the taste sensation visually with a pretty coffee cup and a luscious crema.
Coffee – pick-me-up and indulgence in one. Before this much-loved hot drink lands in your cup, it has already covered some distance, which we will depict in this article. Step into the world of coffee and find out more about coffee production, cultivation, roasting and the different coffee varieties.
the origin of coffee
According to popular legend, a shepherd in the Kingdom of Kaffa (modern day Ethiopia) discovered coffee completely by chance. It then spread to the Arabian world in the 15th century and to Europe a century later. Ethiopia along with Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia and Uganda is one of the most important coffee-producing countries in the world. What was once a rare luxury good, is now literally on everyone’s lips. But coffee production is a complex process that demands a lot of experience and care. The taste of your coffee depends on many factors, such as the variety, climate, cultivation conditions and roast.
Coffee cherries: the flavour foundation
Cappuccino, espresso, mocha or simply a filter coffee? The foundation of all coffee specialities are coffee beans, which are then ground into coffee powder. Contrary to what the name implies, coffee beans do not have much in common with beans. In fact, a coffee bean is the seed of the Coffea coffee plant. The evergreen shrubs and trees produce bright red fruits called coffee cherries. They contain two seeds – the coffee beans, which have a characteristic flavour depending on the type.
THE ART OF COFFEE CULTIVATION
Where is coffee grown?
Whether Brazil, Vietnam or Columbia: coffee is cultivated around the equator, the “coffee belt”. And this is exactly where coffee production also starts: in the fields, with its cultivation and reproduction. This is usually done by planting seeds and adding cuttings among them. Coffee plants need about six weeks before the first germ buds start to show, which eventually turn into coffee cherries. They are carefully replanted and cultivated in beets. After about eight months, the coffee farmers return the plants to the plantation – and then play a waiting game as it can take up to four years for a plant to become productive. But once it does, it produces a high yield for many years: a plant can be harvested for up to 20 years before the yield drops.
Brazil is the largest coffee producer in the world, accounting for about 34% of global coffee production. And it's hardly surprising – as the climate offers the best conditions for growing coffee. Arabica and Robusta coffee shrubs flourish in monoculture coffee plantations in the Brazilian sun. The Brazilian coffee varieties are known for their balanced, full-bodied flavour. Coffee cultivation is different in Ethiopia – the original home of coffee. Coffee still grows in mainly traditional forest gardens run by smallholders in the Ethiopian highlands. The Arabica shrubs sprout here under the shade of high trees. The mixed forest has proven to offer natural protection against pests. Fertiliser and pesticides are not necessary in these forest gardens. Coffee is harvested by hand. Two methods have become standard: selective picking, which involves the picker picking the cherries by hand, and strip-picking, where all of the fruit is removed from the plant, regardless of how ripe it is. Coffee harvested using the gentler hand-picking method is considered to be of very high quality.
Wet and dry processing
For the dry processing method, the cherries are spread out generously on a surface and dried for up to five weeks. The skin and pulp can then be easily removed and the resulting raw coffee bean further processed. The wet processing method is more elaborate: the cherries are first washed in water and then fermented, washed again and then dried. The many steps have one clear advantage: it makes the coffee considerably more aromatic. This explains why the wet processing method is used for high-quality coffee – such as the Arabica bean.
Processing: from cherry to bean
The next step in coffee production is the processing of the coffee cherries – taking us one step closer to the full coffee flavour. It is this part of the process that produces raw coffee beans. But time is of the essence as the cherries start to rot soon after they have been picked. Two methods are used to process the cherries – the dry process and the wet process. The method chosen depends on the coffee variety and the country of cultivation. The Robusta beans cultivated in Asia are usually processed using the wet method whereas the dry process is preferred in Africa. The wet process is also the standard way to process Arabica beans – with one exception: the fine Arabica beans are also processed using the dry method in Brazil and a few other coffee-growing countries.
You have probably seen the “100% Arabica” sign on exclusive coffee. As a coffee lover, you are probably also familiar with the term “Robusta”. Robusta and Arabica are the most commonly grown coffee varieties in the world. Their official names are Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. The two varieties seem very similar on the face of it – yet they couldn't be more different.
Arabica beans hold the highest share in the coffee market, roughly 70%. They grow best at high altitudes, from about 1000 metres, and rely on a stable climate. The coffee cherries need a lot of time to ripen, about nine to eleven months. The coffee beans have a richer flavour. Arabica beans are flat, oval and mild thanks to a maximum caffeine content of 1.7%. This creates a unique aroma with few bitter substances. They react sensitively to pests so crop failures are not uncommon.
Not so with Robusta beans. In contrast to their sensitive relatives, they are much more robust when it comes to pests as well as climatic conditions. Therefore, the lowlands as well as regions with strong temperature fluctuations are suitable for growing Robusta. Robusta beans develop an earthy, less-acidic flavour and contain about twice as much caffeine as Arabica.
Other coffee varieties such as Liberica with a particularly high caffeine content, Excelsa with a distinct earthy flavour and Kopi Luwak, the most expensive coffee of all as it passes through the intestines of viverrids for its characteristic flavour, only make up a vanishingly low share of coffee varieties available.