How is Coffee Produced?
As coffee is so readily available, it’s easy to forget about its journey, from first being planted to when it’s finally poured.
The coffee production process is fascinating and hasn’t changed much over the hundreds of years humans have been enjoying the iconic drink.
Here, we explore everything you need to know about coffee processing and the steps it takes to transfer a humble bean into one of the world’s favorite drinks.
Step 1 - planting the coffee
The first step to producing coffee is planting the beans. Although, it’s useful to note: coffee beans aren’t actually beans, they’re seeds. If the seeds are not dried, roasted and ground - but are left to germinate - they’ll become coffee plants.
From initially being planted, it will take coffee plants around four years to produce coffee cherries. These cherries hold the seeds that we call coffee beans. Coffee trees also only grow in certain climates - needing protection from direct sunlight and plenty of rainfall to thrive. Because of these factors and more, coffee is primarily grown in Central and South America, Africa, The Middle East, and Southeast Asia. These nations sit across the equator and are collectively known as the ‘Bean Belt’.
Once the coffee cherries are ready to be harvested, then the processing can begin.
Step 2 - processing the coffee beans
When it comes to processing coffee beans, there are various methods a farmer can use. The most common methods are the washed process and the natural process:
The washed process
Also known as the “wet” process, this method involves washing the cherries a few days after picking. In doing so, you remove a lot of impurities and mucilage to reveal a cleaner coffee bean. In fact, many state that coffee beans that have been “washed” tend to taste cleaner - in part because this process focuses on the bean and not the processing method.
This process involves the following:
- Coffee cherries are sorted based on how ripe they are. This works by floating cherries in water to sort and find them.
- Once the skin and flesh of the coffee cherry are removed, the seeds and sweet gum-like substance that surround them are fermented in water for a couple of days. This part of the process helps remove excess or remaining mucilage.
- After all this is complete, the final step is to dry the beans, usually by laying them in the sun.
The natural process
Referred to as natural or “dry” process, this coffee processing method is less complex than the washed process:
- The coffee fruit is harvested before being dried. This process involves laying the cherries out in the sun to dry. The skin and fruit pulp dry while still on the coffee seed, adding a distinct flavor to the bean.
- In order for coffee to retain a pleasant flavor during the drying process, coffee beans must dry evenly and in rotation. The drying process can last up to a few weeks.
- Once completely dry, beans are passed through machines that remove the dry fruit and skin.
Step 3 - roasting the coffee beans
Once the coffee is processed, it’s time to roast the beans. Equally as important as cultivating and harvesting, the roasting process removes moisture so that the beans can be ground. Applying heat to the coffee beans changes the color of the beans (from green to the classic brown hue) and brings out aromas and flavors.
Coffee can be light, medium, medium-dark or dark roasted, with each having its own signature flavor.
What is light-roasted coffee?
Roasted for the least amount of time, a light-roasted coffee highlights an acidic flavor and tends to taste less bitter. The shorter roasting time means the sugars in the bean do not caramelize, which gives the coffee a fruitier, more floral taste.
What is medium-roast coffee?
Medium-roast coffee has a little more body than its lighter counterpart and is what most American coffee drinkers will be used to. Due to its longer roasting time, the acidity and taste of medium-roast coffee are much more pronounced than light-roast coffee, giving it a deeper, sweeter flavor.
What is medium-dark roast coffee?
As we build through the strengths of each coffee roast, the hues and flavors become darker and deeper. Coffee that is roasted to a medium-dark level releases CO2 and opens the beans’ pores to exude oils - making the flavors much more intense than light- and medium-roast coffee.
The acidic taste in medium-dark roast coffee is balanced out by the aromas that occur during the longer roasting period. This gives the coffee a more bitter character with hints of sweetness.
What is dark-roast coffee?
Finally, we have dark-roast coffee, which is visibly more oily and has deeper cracks than other roast levels. Dark roast coffee oxidizes quicker due to the exposed oils which shortens its shelf life as the aromas degrade faster. The richer, stronger flavor of dark-roast coffee makes it perfect for Italian-style espresso.
Step 4 - grinding the coffee beans
Now that you have your freshly roasted coffee beans, they need to be ground for the appropriate brew method. Although some will prefer to buy their coffee already ground, people are also choosing to buy their own home coffee grinder to better tailor their experience to their tastes and preferred extraction method.
There are many different types of grinders but we recommend a high-quality electric burr grinder for the very best results, like our X54 Allround Home Grinder. Having an at-home grinder like this one allows you to adjust the grind size as often as you’d like, ensuring an even, quality grind each time. You can even connect the X54 to the Mahlkönig app via Wi-Fi and create, edit, save and delete grinding settings as recipes.
Another benefit of grinding your own coffee is the enhanced aromas. The aroma of ground coffee degrades after around 30 minutes, so grinding your own beans ensures a richer, better-tasting cup.
Want more coffee grinding information and advice?
If you’re looking for more information and tips to perfecting your home-brewed coffee, check out our blog.