Coffee Beans from the Ground Up

Author: Rob   Date Posted:17 March 2015 

Most of us take our coffee for granted. We know coffee beans are grown in far away places, but that's about all we know. Let's follow a coffee bean's cycle from the ground up and find out just what it takes to bring our favourite beverage to our table.

The Coffee Tree

Many people have the mistaken impression that coffee comes from a bush. Coffee beans actually grow on trees. The trees naturally grow to heights of up to 6 metres, but are kept to a reachable height of about 1.8 metres to make harvesting easier. This might be the reason for the confusion.

The typical coffee tree matures at about five years of age, when it produces an aromatic white flower. After that, berries appear. Inside the berries are two small beans that lie together with their flat sides facing each other. Depending on conditions each coffee tree produces between one half to 5 kilograms of coffee.


Altitude Matters

Have you ever wondered why the best coffee beans are grown at high altitudes in tropical countries? It's largely because beans grown at altitudes over 1370 metres (4500 feet) are denser and harder than beans grown at lower elevations. Mountain grown coffee is of a better quality than the softer "robusta" coffee that grows at lower elevations. It is less abundant, too, which is why better quality Arabica coffee costs a little more than robusta coffee, which is reserved for canned and instant coffee.


Grading Coffee

After the beans are prepared and roasted, they go through a grading process. The process covers four criteria:

●The size of the bean

●Where it was grown and at what altitude

●Quality of the picking and preparation method

●A taste test

Specialty coffees can cost much more than other coffees because each bean has to be carefully graded. A single lower quality bean can spoil the taste of an entire pot of coffee. Grading is taken seriously because a company's reputation often depends on the quality of their coffee.


Roasting Coffee

Coffee roasting is the final stage before the coffee is ground and packaged. The reason why coffee is roasted is to convert starches to sugars and reduce the moisture content. Care must be taken when roasting coffee:


●If it is not roasted long or hot enough, it has a pasty or nutty flavour

●Roast it too long or at too high a temperature and you get a thin-bodied or "industrial" tasting coffee

●Roast coffee too long or at too low a temperature and it has a "baked" flavour

Better coffee companies like Lavazza have the whole process down to an art, but the final stage is up to you. Even the best coffee can be spoiled by a poor quality coffee machine. With an espresso machine, you get a stronger, more flavourful cup of coffee and use less coffee because the machine extracts all the coffee goodness from the ground coffee, leaving nothing to waste. 

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