In the beginning there was a goat!
Coffee can be traced back centuries to Ethiopia. Legend says a goat herder called Kaldi first discovered the potential of these beloved beans after he noticed that after eating the berries from a certain tree, his goats became so energetic they did not want to sleep at night.
Kaldi reported his findings to the abbot of the local monastery, who made a drink with the berries and found that it kept him alert through the long hours of evening prayer. The abbot shared his discovery with the other monks at the monastery and so knowledge of these energy bearing berries began to spread.
As word moved east and coffee reached the Arabian peninsula, it began a journey which would bring these beans across the globe.
Types of coffee
Arabica coffee grows at higher elevations of 600 - 2000 metres (the rule of thumb is that the higher the coffee is grown, the better) and requires a cool subtropical climate, lots of moisture, rich soil, sun and shade. It is subject to attack from various pests, and is extremely vulnerable to cold and bad handling. It can take up to seven years for the farmer to get their first yield. It is therefore very labour intensive as a crop and expensive to grow. However it is the superior bean which holds the best flavours (all of our Premium Origins are Arabica beans).
In contrast to Arabica the Robusta beans (I say beans but actually they are seeds) have a more earthy flavour and a heavier body. Robusta beans have twice the caffeine kick of Arabica beans, giving them a bitter taste. The Robusta plant is hardier than the Arabica and is capable of growing well at low altitudes of 200 to 800 metres. It is also less subject to problems related to pests. It is cheap to grow as it can only take a year to get the first yield (it grows like a weed!). Robusta is often used in a blend to make it cheaper and to give it more of a caffeine kick.
What's with the altitude?
Elevation affects the final taste of coffee beans. In general, coffees grown at higher regions contain more floral, spicy, fruity notes, while lower elevations produce milder notes. In the coffee world, anything over 1500 meters is considered pretty high. Mid-range elevations (around 1200 meters) produce nutty cocoa notes. Lower elevations (in the 900 meters range) generally produce simpler coffees.
Different processing techniques showcase the inherent qualities in the coffee bean and can reveal new flavors profiles. The two most dominant processes are: natural and washed.
Also, known as the Dry Process or the Sun-dried Method, this coffee processing technique is the oldest and most basic. The coffee cherries are harvested and sorted. The ripe ones are picked out from the green (cherry picked) and any unripe cherries. These ripe cherries are then simply put out to the sun to dry. They are spread thinly on a flat surface and are raked regularly to maintain even drying and temperatures throughout the many layers of the cherry down to the bean inside.
Once dried, the cherry turns into a shriveled fruit (I know how they feel!). This is then stripped off using a special hulling machine. In this process, the pulp and skin are hulled so that only the seeds inside will remain. These green seeds (beans) are what will soon become coffee beans.
Wet coffee processing takes out the cherry pulp early in the process so that it doesn’t decompose with the bean. The freshly picked cherries go through a pulping machine which separates the fruit pulp and the thin parchment that surrounds the green coffee seeds. The beans are sorted as they pass through a water channel. The lighter beans will float, while the heavier ripe ones will sink to the bottom. Then, the ripe ones are collected and passed through several rotating drums to separate them by size.
After sorting, the beans then go into big fermentation tanks filled with water. Fermenting in these tanks, the beans will start to produce enzymes that will dissolve this slick layer. This mucilage may also be removed by mechanically scrubbing the beans together. Once this layer is removed, the beans are rinsed multiple times before they go to the next step, which is drying.
This next step requires the beans to be dried on drying floors or in machine-powered tumblers, so that they can be properly stored. Once dried, these beans are called parchment coffee because of a paper-thin layer surrounding the beans.
There are many other kinds of coffee processing techniques that are used, however there is no right or wrong way of processing coffee. One is not necessarily better than the other, it is simply a matter of choosing the best process to bring the best flavours out the beans.
Finally, the green beans are graded and sorted according to size and weight, where the flawed and defective ones are removed either by hand or special machinery.