From seed to drink: Understanding the coffee process
You drink coffee every day, but do you have any idea how those beans in your grinder grew and ended up at home? It's awesome to learn about the process and know just where your favorite drink comes from. Here's an overview from seed to drink:
The coffee beans you buy by the bag can't be planted because they have been processed, but raw beans are seeds that can go straight into the ground. They are planted in tropical locales during the wet season to allow the roots to grow and grab hold of the soil. The seeds grow into short trees covered in green leaves, and white flowers that turn into red cherries after three to four years of growth.
In most countries, coffee is harvested once a year, but occasionally twice if the growing is really good. Some plantations use workers to pick the cherries by hand while others use machines that strip the branches of coffee cherries. Just like when picking berries off a bush, some of the fruit is ripe and others are not, so it's important to only use the ripe coffee cherries to promote optimal flavor.
The cherries then immediately move to a processing plant. There are two kinds of processing:
Wet processing: First the pulp or outer covering of the cherry is removed, leaving behind the seed or bean wrapped in fruit. Then it is all fermented with the addition of water (called wet fermentation) or the beans are left to rot out of their fruits (dry fermentation). The former option is said to create brighter coffees, while the latter varieties are sweet and complex.
Dry processing: Developing countries with less access to water often use this method of processing. It consists of placing the recently picked coffee cherries out to dry in the sun. This method takes weeks and the cherries require protection at night and in wet weather. The coffee cherries aren't ready until they have an 11 percent moisture content. Larger operations use machines called tumblers to turn the cherries regularly to decrease the drying time.
When filling your Mr. Coffee® Automatic Burr Mill Grinder with fresh beans, have you ever noticed how they are all roughly the same size and color? Coffee beans don't start out that way. A newly processed batch has beans of many colors and some are too large or too small. During the milling stage, the beans are graded and sorted to weed out imperfections like color flaws. Then, machines with an air jet go through the beans to separate the heavy and light ones. Here any defective beans (like ones that still have their hulls or have been damaged) are removed with the help of workers or machines.
The coffee you drink very likely wasn't grown and processed anywhere near your home. The beans had to travel in their raw form, when they are called green coffee, from their country of origin to a roaster. There were around 152.7 million 60 kilogram bags of coffee produced in 2015-2016 and almost all of it had to travel to reach coffee drinkers.
Most regular consumers don't use raw coffee. If they did, they'd have to roast it at home - a process that is often better left to professionals. The green coffee goes from it's growing and processing locations straight to roasters who heat and treat the beans so they go from light green to the brown hue we're used to. This involves a process called pyrolysis, or roasting the beans at until they reach around 400 degrees Fahrenheit which is when they release oils and delicious aroma. The beans are also cooled right away using water or air to prevent them from overheating and preserve optimal flavors.
Those beans are packaged at the roaster and then placed on a shelf for you to purchase. You may buy whole beans or grounds, which you place in your favorite Mr. Coffee coffee maker and enjoy. The next time you smell the enticing aroma of a good brew, think back through all those steps at the amazing system that is growing, processing, transporting and finally enjoying coffee.