It doesn't start with a bean but with a red cherry. The path to a perfect coffee in your cup is long and difficult. The details…
The coffee plant
Before a tree bears its first fruits, it must be intensely nurtured and protected for four years. The intensive care includes cutting, raking the earth, fertilising, weeding, mulching and irrigating. It is a demanding plant. It is sensitive to frost and suffers lasting damage or even dies completely when confronted with cold.
The leaves of the coffee tree are shiny and evergreen. The coffee fruits, the cherries, do not all ripen at the same time. The tree bears blossoms, ripe (red) and unripe cherries at the same time. The plants of expensive coffees, for this reason, are picked several times a year. The coffee blossom gives off a delicate and lightly bitter fragrance.
The best coffees come from the equator regions and grow at a height above sea level of between 800 and 2,000 metres. The sensitive plant feels most at home there due to the average temperatures (it is not too hot and not too cold), the regular precipitation and the fertile soils.
High-quality coffees are picked by hand; lower-quality coffees by machine. The cherries are then washed, sorted and the crop residues are removed in several steps. What is important is that the cherries be processed quickly, because untreated the ripe fruits would rot within a few days.
Separating the pulp
The beans are separated from the pulp by machine and end up in containers where they ferment for several days. In this way, the last bits of pulp fall from the bean.
Another washing step is necessary, and the bean remains packed in a thick parchment.
The beans are then dried for three weeks. The most expensive coffees in the world, which come from Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Hawaii, are dried in the fresh air for a long time and turned several times. Coffee connoisseurs sense the strength of the sun in these beans. Other types of coffee are dried with hot air.
After drying, the last foreign matter is removed before the beans are shelled by machine. This is when the pure bean comes out. It is usually a pale green. The remainders of the husk are removed in pulsing air currents. It is then sifted, ordered by size and the bad ones are sorted out. The biggest beans result in the best coffee.
The pure bean is only round in rare cases -- at least in terms of taste. What is better is the optimum blend. This is why the formula for the blend is a roaster's well-kept secret. A good roaster complies with the following principles: he mixes pungent with milder types, more chocolatey or fruity types with more acidic ones. He lets one component dominate so that the blend gets its own character.
Roasting takes between twelve and twenty minutes at temperatures between 180° and 250° Celsius. The hotter the beans are roasted, the darker the colour they assume. The trade language uses colours between blond and black. The volume of the bean gets larger and it loses water. Towards the end of the roasting process the oils emerge which disseminate the wonderful smell of coffee.