Life of a Coffee Bean: From Ground to Grinder
Have you ever wondered where your coffee was before it sat piping hot in your mug, ready to be Instagrammed? Your coffee leads quite an adventurous life before gracing your followers’ newsfeeds and giving you that extra oomph to get through your day. Below is a brief synopsis of the life your coffee beans experience on their journey from the ground to the grinder.
Coffee farmers generally plant seeds in a shaded bed, watering and sheltering them from direct sunlight until they become strong enough to live with the “adult” coffee trees. The adolescent coffee trees later move from their nests during the wet season, the most opportune time for young-adult trees to establish themselves. Three or four years after establishment, the trees fully mature and begin to produce fruit known as coffee cherries.
Coffee farmers harvest these bright, deep-red cherries in one of two ways: by hand or by machine. While harvesting by machine is more efficient, harvesting by hand allows for individual cherries to be selectively picked at peak ripeness.
The method used to dry beans is an archaic one, often not involving much more than an old-fashioned sunbath. Beans first run through a machine that separates the pulp and outer layer of skin from the bean. After removal of the skin and pulp, the beans relax in the sun until little of their moisture remains.
At this point, the dried beans are referred to as parchment coffee. Milling includes the removal of the parchment layer, followed by a polishing session that removes any lingering extras.
Now the freshly-turned green coffee rests in burlap, awaiting its destination. Soon, it will board a ship and sail to its importer.
Ahh, roasting. Here, the true magic happens. Imported beans find their way to a Master Roaster, each of whom has unique techniques. You might have noticed one commonality among roasting techniques if you’ve ever watched the process: A constant motion among the beans. This ensures the beans don’t burn while the roaster transforms the green coffee beans by bringing out their true inner selves, an oil called the caffeol. This oil (and some others) turn the beans into the beautifully dark brown and delightfully scented beans we’ve grown to know and love.
By this point, your beans have grown, matured, traveled the world, and found their inner-selves. Now it’s time for grinding. Many overlook the importance of getting the right grind, but make no mistake. The grade of your grind matters and can make or break your coffee’s flavor. Grind size heavily depends on your brewing method. From espresso to cold brew to drip coffee to single serve, each brew method calls for a specific grind. You can dive deeper into the importance and how to’s of choosing the right grind in our next post: “Life of a Coffee Bean: Grind Time.”