Let’s face it, most of us are at least a little reliant on coffee. Whether we’re students pulling all-nighters, busy professionals trying to make it through the workday, or new parents who haven’t slept in days, coffee has become a staple in our lives.
I’ve always been intrigued by the process of making coffee from bean to cup. So, every day, I religiously start my morning by manually brewing a single cup.
First, I measure out the beans and grind them to perfection in a burr grinder. Then, I slowly place the ground coffee in a pour-over, followed by cascading hot water.
As I prepare each cup with care and thoughtfulness, something shifts within me. Instead of just getting an energy boost from my morning cup – it’s much more than that. It’s a feeling of connection to every bean that made it into my mug, as if each one is reaching out to me in its own unique way in order to tell me its story.
But what exactly is this magical elixir that gives us the energy we need to keep going? This blog post will take a closer look at what is coffee, how it’s made, and why people enjoy drinking it so much.
What is Coffee?
Coffee is a brewed drink made from roasted coffee beans, which are the seeds of berries from the coffee plant. The Coffea plant is native to tropical Africa and Asia and was first cultivated in Ethiopia. Today, coffee plants are grown in more than 70 countries worldwide, with Brazil being the largest producer of coffee beans.
A Brief History of Coffee
Contrary to popular belief, coffee is not native to Starbucks. In fact, coffee has a long and storied history dating back centuries.
The Earliest Days of Coffee
Coffee traces its roots back to Ethiopia, where legend has it that a goat herder named Kaldi discovered the plant after noticing that his goats seemed unusually energized after eating the beans. Kaldi shared his discovery with local monks, who disapproved of the stimulating effects of the coffee plant and threw them into the fire.
However, the enticing aroma emanating from the roasting beans was too much for the monks to resist, and they fished them out of the embers. After trying the roasted beans themselves, they found that they indeed kept them awake through even the longest nights of prayer.
They shared this information with other monks at a nearby monastery, and coffee quickly became a staple in religious communities throughout Ethiopia.
From Ethiopia to Arabia
While coffee may have originated in Ethiopia, it was in Arabia that it truly began to proliferate. Traders traveling along the famed Incense Route brought coffee plants to Yemen in the early 15th century. It wasn’t long before coffee plantations began springing up all over Arabia, and the drink became an integral part of Arab culture. Coffeehouses quickly became popular social hubs where people would congregate to discuss news and politics.
The Spread of Coffee Throughout Europe
In the early 17th century, coffee made its way to Europe courtesy of Dutch traders who had set up shop in Mecca. After tasting this new drink, they decided to bring some back home with them.
The first European coffeehouse opened its doors in Venice in 1647, and from there, coffee rapidly spread throughout Italy and then to France, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Poland, and beyond. By 1700 more than 500 coffeehouses were operating in England alone!
Different Types of Coffee Beans
The four main coffee types all have radically different taste profiles. Keep reading to find out more!
Arabica: With its smoother, sweeter taste, and flavor notes of chocolate and sugar, Arabica coffee is by far the most popular type of coffee in the world. Around 60% of all coffee consumed worldwide is Arabica. They often also have hints of fruits or berries.
Robusta: Robusta coffee beans have a harsher, more bitter taste and contain higher levels of caffeine. They’re often used in instant coffee or as a cheaper alternative to Arabica beans.
Excelsa: This coffee has a distinctive tart, fruity, dark, mysterious taste. In blends, it enhances the middle and back palate and lingering finish. If you’re looking for an exotic twist on your coffee, Excelsa is a great option.
Liberica: This type of coffee is relatively rare, accounting for less than 1% of global production. The plants are also much larger than Arabica or Robusta plants, sometimes reaching up to 20 feet in height! Described as smoky, nutty, and floral with hints of dark chocolate, ripe berry, and spice. It is favored for its smooth chocolate aftertaste. Liberica beans are quite rare, so if you’re lucky enough to find them, snag some up!
All four of these coffee bean types have unique and delicious tastes that are perfect for any coffee lover out there.
How is Coffee Made?
There are a multitude of steps between initially planting coffee shrubs to taking that first sip of coffee, but we’ll just hit the highlights here.
Planting: Most coffee is grown in tropical regions, like Central and South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia. The coffee plant is a small tree like shrub that produces cherries. It can take up to four years for a coffee plant to mature enough to produce cherries.
Harvesting the Cherries: Once the coffee cherries are ripe, they are picked by hand or with a machine. This usually happens between October and March, depending on the region.
Processing the Cherries: The cherries are then processed to remove the fruit’s flesh. This can be done by soaking the cherries in water, making them swell and the flesh easier to remove. Some farmers also use a machine called a depulper which removes the skin and some of the flesh before they are soaked.
Drying the Beans: The next step is to dry the beans. This can be done in one of two ways: either in the sun or in large mechanical dryers. Sun-drying is more traditional but takes longer, up to four weeks. Mechanical dryers dry the beans more quickly but can sometimes damage them.
Milling the Beans: Once they are dried, the beans need to be milled. This removes any last bits of fruit or flesh that might still be clinging to them. It also polished the beans so that they have a shiny appearance.
Exporting the Beans: The next step is to export the beans so that they can be roasted and ground locally. This usually involves shipping them in 60 pound sacks by boat or plane to their final destination.
Tasting the Coffee: It needs to be tasted before roasting. This is done by professionals called cuppers who have a trained palate. They evaluate coffees for aroma, flavor, acidity, body, and aftertaste. Only coffees that score well will be sold to artisanal roasters, while lower-scoring coffees are sold for cheaper blends or used as components in other products like instant coffee.
Roasting the Coffee: Now it’s time to roast those beautiful beans! Roasting brings out all of the natural flavors in coffee and gives it its signature aroma. The roast also determines how light or dark your coffee will be once it’s brewed. Light roasts have more bright flavor notes, while dark roasts have more bold and smoky flavors.
Grinding Coffee: After it’s roasted, your coffee needs to be ground before you can brew it. The grind size determines how quickly water will flow through your coffee and affects flavor. A finer grind results in a longer extraction time and, thus, a stronger flavor, while a coarser grind results in a shorter extraction time and lighter taste.
Brewing Coffee: We’ve finally reached the best part: brewing your delicious cup of coffee! There are dozens of ways to brew coffee, from simple pour-overs to more complicated espresso machines. No matter how you brew it, just remember that fresh, quality beans are the key to a great cup of coffee.
Why Do People Drink Coffee?
We all know that feeling. You wake up groggy, struggling to open your eyes. You make your way to the kitchen, start the coffee pot, and sit down at the table with a cup of steaming black coffee. And suddenly, you’re awake. You’re alert. You’re ready to start your day.
But why do people drink coffee? In addition to providing a much-desired energy boost, studies have shown that coffee can actually have some health benefits.
Coffee can lower your risk of Type 2 diabetes. According to a 2014 study, people who 2 or more cups of coffee are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes.
Studies have also found that coffee drinkers have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease – two degenerative neurological disorders.
Did you know that coffee is actually packed full of nutrients and antioxidants? A single cup of coffee contains some vitamins and minerals – including Vitamin B2, Vitamin B5, Manganese, Potassium, Magnesium, and Niacin – and antioxidants like quinic acid and chlorogenic acids. Not too shabby for something that tastes so good!
Some evidence suggests that drinking coffee can improve brain function in both the short-term and long-term… In other words, drinking coffee will help you power through your afternoon meeting (or class), but it may also help improve your memory and cognitive function later in life!
So now you have some compelling reasons to keep drinking (or start drinking) coffee! Of course, it’s important to remember that moderation is key – too much caffeine can lead to restlessness, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. But as long as you enjoy your cup o’ joe in moderation, there are tons of good reasons to keep making it a part of each day!
What’s Really in Your Coffee Cup?
Have you ever stopped to think about what, exactly, is in your coffee cup? Besides the obvious answer of “coffee,” of course. Well, wonder no longer! Here are some of the main compounds found within coffee beans.
Caffeine: We all know caffeine is a mainstay of most people’s morning routines. But did you know that it’s actually classified as a psychoactive drug? That’s right, caffeine can affect your mood, energy levels, and even your cognitive function. Caffeine works by blocking the neurotransmitter adenosine from binding to its receptors. This increases the activity of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine and norepinephrine.
Tannin: Tannin is a bitter-tasting compound in many plant-based foods and beverages, including coffee. It is responsible for the astringent taste that some coffee drinks can have. Tannin can also cause stool hardness and discoloration.
Thiamin: An essential nutrient that helps the body break down carbohydrates and produce energy. It can be found in many foods, including coffee beans.
Xanthine: A bitter-tasting compound that is similar to caffeine. However, it does not have the same psychoactive effects as caffeine. Xanthine is also found in many other foods and beverages, such as chocolate and tea.
Guaiacol: Guaiacol is a compound that gives coffee its characteristic flavor and smell. It is also present in other foods and drinks, such as whiskey and smoke-cured meats.
Acetaldehyde: Acetaldehyde is a compound that contributes to the taste and smell of coffee. It is also present in cigarette smoke and alcohols such as bourbon whiskey. Acetaldehyde has been shown to cause cancer in animals, but it is unclear if it has the same effect in humans.
These are just some of the main chemical compounds found in coffee beans. There is a lot more going on in your cup of joe than just caffeine.
Whether you’re a student studying for finals or a busy professional powering through your never-ending to-do list, there’s no doubt that coffee plays an important role in our lives. Now that you know a little bit more about this popular beverage, we hope you’ll appreciate your next cup even more! Thanks for reading!