Growing coffee is not something you would be thinking of doing but have you ever wondered where your coffee comes from and what goes into making a great coffee bean?
Different Types of Coffee Bean
There are three different types of coffee bean, Arabica, Robusta and Liberica. Arabica is the most sought after quality bean. It needs to be grown on higher land usually between one and two thousand metres. Robusta is grown at lower altitudes and tends to be used more in instant coffee and for blending. Finally Liberica is a hardy, low altitude bean.
Coffee grows on shrubs or small trees, at maturity they are 15 to 20 ft. high. The leaves are shiny and green and the tree produces white flowers although only for a few days. After flowering the fruit develops changing from light green to red and then when fully mature it colours a deep crimson. The mature fruit is called a cherry and grows in clusters attached to the limb by very short stems, usually contains two seeds, or beans surrounded by a sweet pulp.
The coffee tree produces its first crop when it is about five years old. It will then go on to produce for 15-20 years. Some trees will yield 2-3lb of beans annually but most farmers will work on a yield of 1lb per plant per year. This yield explains why coffee is more expensive than tea. A further issue that relates to the cost of coffee production is that coffee picking is a highly skilled activity.
Curing Coffee Beans
Two methods are used for curing coffee beans, wet and dry.
In the wet method machines remove the pulp of the ripe coffee cherries. The beans are then soaked in large tanks to loosen their covering until the beans are really clean. This water process causes a fermentation of the sugars in the beans which adds to the acidity of the bean, so sought after by coffee drinkers.
The beans are left to dry in the sun or put into a huller which removes the covering. The coffee cherries are left on mats to dry. They are raked and turned frequently to dry in the sun which can take weeks. The polished bean, called green coffee, then gets sorted by hand or machine to remove defective beans. They are then graded by size. Beans that are dried tend to have a flatter taste with less acidity.
Issues In The Drying Process
Beans can get over fermented and if not detected can make the coffee taste really bitter. In the business these are called ‘stinker’ beans. Cheaper coffees often use unripe beans and may even include stinker beans. Cheaper instant coffees will be like this. That isn’t to say that all instant coffee is bad but unless you pay for quality instant coffee then you will get inferior beans mixed with plenty of Robusta.
This type of coffee is produced from green beans before they are roasted. There are different methods for this but include water solutions or chemical solvents.