Processing your coffee.


First an introduction to our friend, the Coffea arabica. Coffee plants were initially observed in the highlands of Ethiopia, Yemen and southern South Sudan. The coffee tree itself grows best at high altitudes and does not tolerate subfreezing temperatures. The flowers of the tree are white, the scent that of Jasmine. In fact this lead 

Antoine de

Coffea arabica

Image via Wikipedia

 Jussieu, to name it Jasminum arabicum. The great Linnaeus placed it in its own genus later. The ripened fruits of the tree are red and called cherries. The tree takes five years to mature to a point of providing useful yields. The fruit takes 9 months to fully mature/ripen although apparently there is some flex in that as trees in Columbia, South America can flower (thus produce fruit) twice a year. Deep inside under several layers normally there are two coffee beans, called flat beans (one side rounded the other side flat).

Structure of coffee berry and beans: 1: center...

Image via Wikipedia

 Sometimes only one is present, called a peaberry. This is a larger more oval bean. These peaberries are set off and used for a separate type of coffee. Most peaberry is associated with Tanzanian coffee; Kona coffees (grown in Hawaii) also produce a peaberry with some regularity.


When a coffee bean is harvested it is encased in the cherry. Sometimes green cherries are also picked. These greens are not ripe and will tend to produce a poor end product. This is what your mass producers use as they are cheaper. Cherries can be picked by hand or mechanical. In some parts of the world theft of crop is an issue which may encourage an early mass picking. There are two main methods to processing the bean of Coffea arabica wet and dry processing.

The primary methods of wet processing are ferment and wash and machine washable. Ferment and wash allows the fruit to break down over the bean and is then washed off. This has to be monitored closely to prevent absorption of undesired flavors. This stage takes from 24 to 36 hours. Machine washing uses a mechanical process to separate the fruit from the seed. With the machine wash process the chance for the pulp of the fruit to influence flavor is lost. Then the bean must be dried out, this is done by sun or machine. There is quite a bit of moisture in the shell surrounding the bean. This has to be dried out. The final result of this is a relatively dry bean (10% of its original moisture content) which needs to be hulled. Drying out will result in what is called a parchment bean. There will be a covering over the bean that is dry like parchment and can be crumbled off easily. The parchment will have a sand paper texture.

Dry processing is fairly straight forward. 

Coffea arabica: Dried beans. Photographer: Met...

Image via Wikipedia

Old fashioned layout in the sun drying or in a solar dryer or mechanical. With sun drying the fruited beans are laid out in the sun and simply dried. This can take up to four weeks. Dry processing results in a pod. This is the dried cherry wrapped around the bean. The pods will be dark in color. Sometimes machines are employed to speed the process up or take over if humidity or rain is preventing the drying process from reaching success. Smaller scale operations can use a “solar box” to capture and utilize sun without direct contact. This process allows for the cherry to impart more flavor on the bean.

After the beans have reduced to the proper moisture levels (which must be monitored closely to avoid mildew) they can then be hulled. From the processing process thus far a skin will be left over the beans. Sometimes it the beans will be polished to improve appearance and remove the silver skin and chaff.

Coffea arabica, Rubiaceae, Arabica Coffee, Mou...

Image via Wikipedia


After all that the beans are not yet done. Now they must be sorted according to size, density and color. There are machines that will do this much more quickly than people ever could for density. For color the best tool is the human eye. This can be done by machines by passing the beans through a camera focus that tests for color and uses compressed air puffs to separate the off color (and therefore undesirable) beans. How these machines do this fast enough is mind boggling.


* Sweet Maria’s Coffee in Oakland California has awesome videos on youtube. Some of them are shot on a flip cam so they are not the highest resolution but the content is incredible.

Enhanced by Zemanta

How old is that bean? Part II

I went back to The Inner Bean today. Hoping I would see a difference. Boy howdy did I. The place was quiet as usual. I believe that coming in just after 9am I miss their rush. So there was one couple talking quietly, and another customer that came in after me who was apparently a regular.

One of the owners was in today. She greeted me from the kitchen and asked me to wait a moment while she finished up. Not a problem. I noticed that they did not have any coffee on the shelves save one bottle of the GI blend of Drug of Choice Coffee that I imagine was the exact bottle that was there the last time I went. There were however no Dancing Goat coffee bags up there. This is interesting.. Have they stopped selling whole bean?

Coffee bean

Image via Wikipedia

Once the owner came out I inquired about the coffee on the shelf. She commented that they no longer sold coffee that way she explained that once a bag sat on a shelf you had no idea how long it had be there. She stated that they got their coffee weekly from Batdorf & Bronson Coffee Roasters. So why stock coffee beans on shelves when she can just pull from her weekly inventory?

Now they sell whole bean by the ounce from shipments they get weekly so that their coffee is never more than a week old. Their turn over in inventory necessitated weekly ordering. She went over the various coffee she had in stock. While for me to look at it, it did not seem like a lot of inventory, these bags of coffee she had. Then it occurred to me that this was good as it enforced reordering weekly and keeping that freshness which is critical.

Eventually I chose the Tanzanian. Sure enough she got out her scale and started measuring. The Tanzanian was a dollar more per pound than the others but wow this was a great experience so far. She asked me how much I knew about the Tanzanian, I stated I knew a little bit but would like to hear more about what it. She pulled out her cards and described the coffee to me. Over time she will get it memorized I bet. (I am drinking it as I write this and I assure you, darn good stuff. The smell is heavenly, the taste, superb. Very good stuff by the way. )

She really did go out of her way to help, offer information, to make me feel pretty good about the coffee I was buying. I didn’t try the food this time. I have to say, if they keep this up I will be happy to be heading back there again. Next time I will try the half pound size of something.

So how old is that bean? It was roasted on Tuesday, three days ago.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Your coffee prices are boiling over. How long will you pay?

What’s a cup worth? Coffee prices keep rising, are you planning on cutting back? In short, no. You will most likely not, much like myself. Will you switch to a cheaper type of coffee? Why would you?

Coffea arabica, Rubiaceae, Arabica Coffee, Mou...

Image via Wikipedia

Bob Koslow of the Dayton Beach News Journal tells us that [t]he wholesale price for preroasted Colombian arabica coffee beans increased 54 percent in the past year, according to the International Coffee Organization, made up of coffee exporting and importing governments.1.

When reading the ICO’s coffee report for April we see that a large portion of the increase came from exporting countries upping their prices to offset a falling US dollar.

Coffee is the second most traded commodity behind oil. So, if the dollar picks up will we see a corresponding drop in coffee prices, or more likely will it turn into the same situation as gas? You know how that is, any reason to raise a price and not even an act of congress will lower it, even when there is not one single good reason for it to have gone up in the first place?

The rise and fall of the US Dollar has a huge effect on just about anything and everything we or the rest of the world does. Now we will all be paying another bit of increase to off set Uncle Sam’s loses in his geriatric years.

So how will increased prices affect your coffee buying and coffee drinking habits? Please tell me. After all, my Sanity hangs on tenuously by threads to my next cup of coffee!

1“Coffee prices percolating updwards” Dayton Beach News Journal, Bob Koslow 09MAY2011

Enhanced by Zemanta