A Journey from the seed to your empty cup.
To get a great cup of coffee, you need high-quality coffee beans. But it’s not like you can go into your yard in the spring, plant some seeds, and be harvesting coffee beans right off a plant by mid-summer. There are several reasons why you can’t do this. Let’s start with these three:
1. Coffee beans come from a cherry.
The coffee beans that are used to brew your coffee actually come from the inside of a bright red fruit we call a coffee cherry. It’s the cherries that are harvested directly off of the plant, not the beans. Most coffee cherries have two beans inside of them. The cherry takes about one year to mature after the first flowering of the plant. (1) Once the cherry is ready for harvesting, there are different processes used to extract the bean from the cherry.
2. You can’t get the fruit in one summer.
Coffee plants come from a genus of plants called Coffea. Healthy coffee plants take about 3-5 years to get to the time when they are yielding the most fruit. Although coffee plants can grow up to 30 ft. tall (think, a little taller than a two-story house), farmers will prune the plants, which stimulates growth. As a result, these shorter plants yield more and better quality fruit. (2)
3. Coffee grows best in cool to warm tropical climates. Sun, but not too much sun.
There are farmers all over the world we have to thank for growing our coffee. The high coffee-producing countries make up what is called the Coffee Belt or the Bean Belt. This imaginary line runs just a few degrees north and south of the equator and spans across the globe. It includes the countries in lower North America, Central and South America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. (3)
World Atlas has a comprehensive chart of the world’s top 50 producing countries of coffee and how many pounds they produce every year. (4) Hint* Brazil is at the top of the list at over 5 billion pounds annually.
Coffee grows best in temperatures between 59-85 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the species. Arabica prefers cooler temperatures and Robusta can grow at the higher end of the temperature scale.
Because it takes the coffee cherry so long to ripen, temperatures that are consistently mild over a long period of time are best.
Now that you know where your coffee beans come from, let’s explore two of the different types of coffee species.
1. Coffea Arabica
The Arabica species has many different varieties. Some of the most common are Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Mundo Novo, Tico, San Ramon, and Jamaican Blue Mountain.
This species grows best in temperatures between 59-75 degrees Fahrenheit, 15-23 degrees Celsius. Arabica needs consistently mild temperatures, rich soil, and high rainfall. As a result, the higher quality Arabica trees often grow in high altitudes (depending on where they are in relationship to the equator) which means steep terrain and more challenging cultivation. (5)
For those that want to go a little bit deeper, World Coffee Research (6) has a stunning free downloadable catalog on Arabica Varieties.
While Arabica beans are flatter and more elongated, Robusta coffee beans are shorter and rounder. Robusta makes up only about 20-30 percent of the world’s coffee production.
This is surprising at first because the beans can grow at lower altitudes and higher temperatures, making farming and production cheaper. The beans are higher in caffeine than Arabica and the plants are more resistant to pests.
However, the beans have a reputation for lacking in flavor and sweetness. They are often used in instant coffee or blended with Arabica.
There are individuals in the industry who are trying to change the quality and reputation of Robusta for the better. Gabe Shohet, co-founder of Black Sheep Coffee in London, was highlighted in an article on Perfect Daily Grind for his choice to serve specialty grade Robusta in his cafe. (7)
How do you process the coffee cherry to get to the coffee bean?
Once the coffee cherries are harvested, the next step is to process them using one of three main processing methods: the dry, or natural, method; the wet, or washed, method; and the honey method.
1. Dry, or Natural, Processing depends on the sun and takes longer.
As the name of the process implies, the first step in this method is to dry out the cherry, using the natural heat of the sun. The cherries are spread out over a large surface and then raked throughout the day to help them dry out evenly. The goal is for the moisture level in the cherries to drop to 11% before moving on to the next step in the process. (8) The natural process can take several weeks, depending on climate conditions.
2. Wet, or Washed, Processing is more complex and quicker.
In the washed method, the pulp of the cherry is removed directly after harvest and before the bean, or seed, is dried. This is accomplished by passing the coffee cherries through a pulping machine that separates the bean from the pulp and skin of the cherry.
The beans are then separated by weight and moved into water-filled fermentation tanks. The goal in this step is to remove the mucilage, which can take anywhere from 24-48 hours. (8) After fermentation, the beans are rinsed and ready for drying.
3. Honey Processing uses aspects of both Natural and Wet Processing.
Contrary to how it might sound, there is no actual honey used in honey processing. The process gets the name “honey” because the mucilage left on the bean becomes sticky, like honey.
In honey processing, the pulp and the skin are removed from the cherry, just as in washed processing. The difference is the bean is then dried with the mucilage layer still left on the bean.
The mucilage layer has a high amount of sucrose and acids. (9) The goal in this process is for these flavors to be transferred from the mucilage to the coffee bean. To get the honey process right requires a delicate balance of timing and managing moisture levels so they don’t dry too quickly or slowly.
We are like a coffee cherry.
The coffee we sell in our shop and our online store has had quite a journey. Kind of like each of us, when you think about it.
We come into this world new and a bit round, like a coffee cherry. (It’s a stretch, we know, but bear with us.)
Then we grow and we journey and we transform. Somewhere inside of us is the best version of ourselves. The journey it takes to find it can be messy, painful and laborious even. But if we take the time to reflect and examine the journey, we’ll see that there’s beauty in all of it along the way.
At The Red Dot Coffee Company, we recognize that wherever you’re at in your story, it’s valid. We see the value of being present where you are today. Because where you are today is part of who you are becoming. That’s why when you come through our doors or interact with us online or buy our coffee, you’ll see us welcoming you, right where you are.
Because you are here.
So when we talk about the journey of coffee, we recognize that all parts of the journey matter, just as in our own lives.
Try our coffee.
While it may not be realistic for you to grow coffee in your own backyard, you can get our coffee shipped right to your front door, skillfully roasted and fresh. Check out our current selection of coffees, see where they’re from, how they were processed and what their flavor profiles are.
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