Coffee! The Story of its Journey! July 18, 2014
How did this steaming cup of coffee end up in your hands!? At Red Whale Coffee, the story of the coffee bean is an important part of the experience. The miles that the bean traveled and each individual that had a hand in those beans have created the cup that you enjoy. The process of taking a coffee cherry from the tree and eventually transforming it into a cup of coffee is an art form and a collaborative effort that bridges the globe. What are those steps?! Let’s check them out!
Growing the coffee
A coffee plant takes approximately five years to grow to maturity and yields about a pound of coffee per year. A coffee plant starts its life protected in a nursery until it is 24 inches tall, it reaches this heigth about a year into its growth. It is then planted outside, with a spacing of 10 to 12 feet between other coffee trees. Coffee trees can grow up to 20 feet tall, however for harvesting purposes they are usually pruned to 8-10 feet. When a coffee cherry is ripe, it is a bright red, sometimes with hues of yellow in some varieties. Once fully ripened it is ready for harvest.
Harvesting can either be done by hand or with mechanical harvesters. Typically, small farms do their harvesting by hand with the entire family helping. Farm workers can also span the entire community, where everyone shares the labor by harvesting each farm when the coffee cherries are ripe. Harvesting by hand allows the harvester to pick the cherries that are ripe and leave behind cherries that need more time on the tree. Mechanical harvesting does not discriminate. While faster and helpful for larger farms, the machine takes all the cherries available. In Brazil, mechanical harvesting is favored.
We have discussed processing in another blog, but a short review never hurts! Processing brings out the flavor of the beans. Depending which processing method is utilized; the beans flavor profile will change. Different regions prefer different methods based on the availability of water, the size of the farm and accessibility to machinery or the traditional way that the country has processed its bean.
The processing most commonly used is either natural process or washed process. The natural process dries the cherries in the sunshine as they lay out flat on raised beds. This ferments the flavor of the cherries into the beans inside. Raking the cherries every few hours helps to even out the drying process. Once the cherries are the texture of a raisin, they are hulled to reveal the green coffee bean.
In the wet process, the cherry’s outer layers are softened and the husk and pulp are removed right away by machinery. The beans are sent through the machine, separating by size and weight then they are fermented in tanks full of water. The mucilage is broken down and then about two days later the coffee cherry is ready to be dried, again usually on flat raised beds or patios.
After the beans are polished and sorted for uniformity they are prepared for export. The beans are put into large bags and labeled. Samples are often sent to roasters through coffee brokers or directly, whereupon the coffee is roasted, cupped and chosen for purchase. The bags are sent overseas, meticulously cared for along the way, stored in cool dark areas until they reach the buyer.
The roaster, having initially cupped the coffee and identified the flavors and qualities of the bean can now roast the beans they select, to bring out their subtle complexities. Roasting done right brings together science and art. It takes great dedication and attention to detail to roast great coffee. Roast for too long, the bean will get an acid-y and burnt taste. While not roasting it long enough will cause the coffee to have an underdeveloped, grassy taste. A roaster must use all their senses to understand each individual coffee and roast the bean to its greatest potential. At Red Whale Coffee, Sean’s experience as a chef provides him with the expertise to identify different flavor profiles within the beans as he roasts to bring out the subtle flavors.
The coffee is almost in your cup! After grinding the beans to the correct grind, it brews. There are a variety of different brewing methods available and grinds per brewing method. The different brewing methods emphasis the beans flavors differently. For instance, using a paper filter will give a cleaner cup, with less graininess and oils, as opposed to a metal filter, which will have a grainer mouthfeel and more particulates.
(Coffee producer,Wilford Lamastus from Finca Elida, and coffee roaster, Sean Boyd! Red Whale Coffee purchased some of Mr. Lamastus’ coffee from the Best of Panama, and he happened to come in to visit us and try some of our Panamanian coffee. The exciting stories coffee can tell; tying people together by their love for coffee!)
Coffee takes time, dedication, and passion. Producers spend years of their lives caring for the coffee trees, then spend hours processing and readying the coffee to bring out the best flavor for their beans. After the beans are exported, the roaster continues the hard work, cupping and roasting the coffee, using all their senses to roast the perfect cup of coffee. It’s exciting to know the story of your coffee, it has a proud lineage of collaboration and dedication! Coffee can connect you with the stories of the people who spend their lives readying coffee for your cup. For more information come in to Red Whale Coffee and chat with us about it!
Also check out this awesome website that illustrates the process a coffee bean goes to get to you!
Written by- Caitlyn Prien