Updated – October 2020
Today I want to talk about the word “coffee”. We like coffee, we drink it every day, we like it, we speak about it but do we know what’s behind this word? I think is good to make it clear for everyone, as you may just be a customer of a coffee shop and you don’t have any idea of where coffee comes from (unless you’ve been to a farm).
The very basics about Coffee
I mean, technically speaking, it is produced by a coffee plant, or rather, a shrub that grows throughout the tropics (tropics of Capricorn and Cancer). The area within the tropics is called the bean belt or coffee belt. This shrub can grow more than 10 metres high and, depending on the weather, it produces a certain number of white flowers just before producing green cherries on its branches which are then harvested when turned into red (pink or yellow in some cases depending on the variety).
The cherries, or rather, the drupes consist of two beans, or rather, seeds. The drupe can develop sporadically into just one seed. We normally refer to this as a peaberry.
Now, there are some debates around the peaberry: people argue that these coffee beans taste better than any others with more sweetness and desirable flavours and because of that it sold at a higher price. What is certain, however, is that a peaberry has a rounder shape than any other coffee beans so it needs to be roasted separately to avoid any inconsistent roast profile.
You can find out more on this link.
More in deep
So, we have established what the word “coffee” refers to.
Now, we can skip the part of the coffee benefits, which I’ve already explained previously in different articles and pass over to the next point.
We can look now at the coffee as a fruit.
We usually describe coffee as a bean or cherry but it can also be described as a fruit. And like many other fruits, it grows and develops a wonderful complexity.
So, when we talk about coffee and its complexity, we refer to acidity and sweetness. Acidity and sweetness have to be considered like two different people who are looked after on every single stage of the supply chain.
It will then be the task to the baristas to highlight both. Ideally, we refer to a great coffee when the overall is balanced. Also, a good cup of coffee comes out when sweetness is predominant. On the other hand, when acidity is predominant we are likely to not appreciate that cup.
Let’s have a look at who is behind the stages of the supply chain.
First of all, there’s the farmer
His job is to make sure that the seed is planted in the right place, at the right altitude, with rich soil and a good climate. The shrub needs to grow in a shade system; this plays the very first and crucial part as the decision made at this phase affect hugely the following ones.
Growing coffee in shade system influence dramatically the farm bringing out so many benefits:
- it saves a lot of money: there’s so less need for water and fertilizers. The soil is enriched of natural mulching which is formed by the plants and the other plants (such as banana or avocado) that are aimed to partially/fully cover the shrubs from direct sunlight. This prevent also the soil erosion as wind and water flow have less impact than an open coffee plantation;
- it creates an ecosystem: the trees are not only useful as a windbreak but also as the habitat of worms and birds. Birds stop by when migrating tackling coffee pests and worms are on the ground to “play with the layers of mulching.”
Last but not least, the altitude; the altitude and the shade complement pretty well to each other. They both contribute to the slow ripening of the cherry which will then develop much more complexity in the cup.
Another crucial part is made by the roaster
He has to roast the beans to enhance sweetness and acidity. It’s not an easy task as if he roasts too light, the coffee is going to be too much acidic overwhelming the sweetness.
On the other hand, roasting too dark give to the coffee a smokey and charcoal taste and all the complexity is going to vanish. Please just bear in mind that a dark roast profile is sometimes made to mask all the defects such as rubber or any sort of vegetative notes or the taste that comes out from poor quality beans such as wood or leather.
So, a balance between light and dark is recommended; nowadays speciality coffee roasters tend to roast their beans with a medium-to-light profile, thinking it’s the best way to highlight their complexity.
Keep in mind that the roasters choose a roast profile that they think it suits better for the area in which they operate.
Also, the roast profile may be different between the coffee they serve in their coffee shop and the coffee they sell abroad (different countries usually have different coffee cultures; for instance, people of Scandinavian countries prefer their coffee to be roasted with light or medium-to-light roast profile rather than Italian people that tend to prefer a medium-to-dark roast profile).
And last but not least, there’s the barista.
Baristas are responsible to enhance all the effort that has been made previously as they are the last segment of the supply chain.
They play a key role to raise awareness among customers, talking about the sustainability and traceability of the coffee they are going to serve. The final product is, needless to say, the proof that everything has been made properly.
However, the variables to consider for making good espresso or filter coffee not only depend on the ability of the barista but also on how coffee is stored or for example the equipment and tools that are used.
So, in this article, there are just some of the several aspects that need to be pointed out. For sure there are going to be more in the following articles.
We can talk about coffee in infinitive ways as the coffee world is rich in diversities and sadly, a lot of suffering too.
Here’s below some other insights
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.