A coffee bean is a seed that grows in the fruit of a coffee tree. There are numerous species of coffee plants in the Genus Coffea; however, there are only two species common for coffee production: Arabica & Canephora. The species Arabica is widely considered a higher quality bean compared to other coffee plant species. There are many more sub-varietals within both of these species that will grow and taste different.
Depending on the varietal, coffee plants usually take three or four years before they begin to bear fruit. The coffee cherries turn a bright red color when ready for harvest. This ripening usually takes 9 months for Arabica coffee, but this can vary depending on the growing region. Each cherry typically contains two coffee beans that are slimy with mucilage and yellowish-green in color. In some coffee cherries, only a single bean is within the cherry. This is called a 'peaberry' and is often sold as a separate product.
Coffee trees thrive in wet warm environments and are usually grown near the equator between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer. Arabica specifically thrives in higher altitudes. Though it is possible to grow some species of coffee in other climates (such as the continental US), the yield and flavor will be affected. Fun Fact: the caffeine in coffee is a natural plant defense!
Once the coffee cherry has been picked, it goes through one of numerous processing methods. The coffee processing method is intended to dry the coffee to a specific moisture content while also preparing the coffee for export. This is a delicate process as over-drying can hinder shelf-life and flavor potential and under-drying can cause bacteria or fungi growth. Among a myriad of possibilities, there are two most common forms of processing: washed process and unwashed process.
The washed process, or wet process as it is also called, allows the coffee beans to dry OUTSIDE the cherry. After the cherry skin and pulp are initially removed, the beans have a layer of mucilage that is washed off using water. The beans then dry in the sun. This processing method reveals cleaner and brighter flavors in the coffee.
The unwashed process, or natural process as it is also called, allows the coffee beans to dry WITHIN the cherry. It can take up to four weeks for the cherries to dry of excess moisture. This processing method imparts heavier fruity flavors onto the coffee.
Though these are the two most common processing methods, many coffee professionals are experimenting with various other forms of controlled fermentation during the processing time to explore a wider range of coffee flavors.
When roasting coffee, a chemical process occurs in which aromatics, acids and other flavor components are either created, balanced, or altered. It is a unique combination of art and science.
There are many different philosophies when it comes to roasting. The specialty coffee industry prioritizes displaying unique flavors within beans from different origins. This is best accomplished through lighter roasts and meticulous control over the roasting process to control changes in temperature. If one were to roast a coffee darker, they begin imparting their own smoky flavors on to the beans.
A good comparison to explain this is toasting bread. Let’s say you had white bread, rye bread, and pumpernickel bread. If you toast them lightly, you’d taste all of the differences. If you toasted them all to a dark level (burned them), then they’d begin to all taste similar with a smoky dark taste.
Though commercially a lot of emphasis is put on the color of the bean (such as dark or light roast), there are many more nuanced components to roasting and many more measures of a roast's identity than just color.
There is a lot of confusion among coffee drinkers about the distinction between coffee and espresso. Espresso utilizes pressure to create a coffee concentrate. This coffee concentrate tastes very complex and condensed. Espresso could almost be described as another form of brewing coffee, such as a coffee pot or french press. However, the method of utilizing pressure creates such a unique final product that it has built its own culture.
Pressurizing water through coffee grounds not only creates concentrated flavor, but it also emulsifies oils within the coffee producing a yellow layer of crema on top of the concentrate.
Though the same coffee seed extracted from a coffee cherry could be used for both coffee or espresso, the seed is roasted different for espresso to ensure the highly unique style of brewing produces a welcoming flavor. We craft our Espresso Blend specifically to be incredibly balanced, creamy and sweet for espresso extraction.
To achieve high pressures during brewing, most coffee businesses utilize an espresso machine. Espresso made through these machines can be used for many coffee shop drinks, such as: lattes, macchiatos, and cappuccinos.
It is also worth noting that there is no 'X' in 'espresso.' Sounds simple enough, but you'd be surprised how many people spell and pronounce the word incorrect!