Coffee is a funny thing. It’s one of those things that people seem to either love or hate, with very little in-between. And those who love it, really love it. They’re willing to pay top dollar for the best beans, and they’ll go to great lengths to get their fix.
I don’t drink coffee for the energy boost (although that is a nice perk). For me, it’s all about the flavor. I love trying different beans and brewing methods to find the perfect cup. And I’m not alone. There is a world of coffee lovers out there who are willing to pay a premium for their favorite beverage.
So why is coffee so expensive? Well, there are a few reasons. It’s a long process to start as a tiny seed and find its way to your cup. The beans must be grown, harvested, roasted, and then brewed. All of these steps take time and money.
Additionally, coffee is a volatile commodity. Prices can fluctuate based on weather conditions, politics, and other factors beyond our control. This means that the cost of coffee can go up or down without warning.
Planting from seeds
Each delicious bean (seed) ground into coffee started as a tiny plant. The coffee plant is a small tree or shrub that produces these seeds, which we know as coffee beans.
Coffee is an evergreen shrub that grows in tropical regions near the equator, such as Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Indonesia. These countries dominate the worldwide coffee industry. The coffee belt is a term for the region where this plant thrives.
The coffee plant grows best in shady areas with moist soil. The trees can grow up to 20 feet (6 meters) tall, but they are usually trimmed to about 10 feet (3 meters).
When the coffee plant blooms, it produces small white flowers. Each flower will turn into a coffee berry (fruit). It takes about nine months for the coffee berry to mature.
When the berry is ripe, it will be a deep red color. It’s at this point that the coffee cherry is harvested by hand. This is a very labor-intensive process, which is one reason why coffee is so expensive.
Harvesting coffee cherry
Coffee harvesting is typically done by hand. The coffee cherry is very delicate and can be easily damaged.
The coffee pickers will go through the trees and carefully select only the ripe berries. This process is time-consuming but ensures that only the best fruit is harvested.
After the coffee cherries are picked, they are sorted by quality. The best coffee cherries will be sent to processing plants, where they will be cleaned and sorted again.
The lower-quality coffee cherries will be sold as “lower grade” coffee or used for other purposes, like making instant coffee. High-quality, single-origin specialty coffee can go for a steep price. Some of the most expensive coffees can cost up to $80 per pound!
Processing the coffee cherry
Once the coffee cherry arrives at the processing plant, the first step is to remove the outer skin and pulp. This can be done by machine or by hand.
Several processes are used to separate a cherry from the delicate bean inside. The easiest and least expensive method is called the “washed process.”
In the washed process, the coffee cherries are sorted by quality and then pulped. The pulping machine removes the outer skin and most of the fruit surrounding the bean.
The coffee beans are then soaked in water for up to two days. This separates the remaining pulp from the beans.
The beans are then washed and dried in the sun or in large mechanical dryers. Once they’re dry, the coffee beans are sorted by size and weight.
Milling Coffee Beans
The next step is called “milling.” This is when the coffee bean is removed from its outer shell. The shell is called the ” husk.”
After the skin and pulp are removed, the coffee bean is left behind. These beans will be sorted again by quality and size.
The next step is to wash the coffee beans. This removes any remaining debris and makes sure the beans are clean.
Finally, the coffee beans are dried again. This step is essential because it removes excess moisture from the bean. If the beans are too moist, they will mold and spoil.
Exporting Coffee Beans
Because we don’t all live in the coffee belt, we need these amazing beans to be transported to us. This is typically done by ship, although planes are sometimes used for time-sensitive shipments.
The coffee beans are loaded onto a vessel and shipped to their destination. Depending on where the coffee is going, it may need to be inspected by customs officials. Coffee beans are typically shipped in large sacks or bags. These bags can weigh up to 60 kilograms (132 pounds)!
Once the coffee arrives at its destination, it will be unloaded and typically stored in a warehouse. From there, it will be transported to coffee shops, grocery stores, or roasters.
Tasting Coffee Beans
Before coffee is roasted in mass, coffee roasters will taste or “cup” the beans to check their quality. This is done by roasting a small batch of beans and brewing them.
The coffee is then evaluated for its flavor, aroma, body, acidity, and aftertaste. This process is called “cupping.”
Cupping is crucial because it allows the roaster to determine the roast profile best suits the beans. For example, lighter roasts are typically more suited for coffees with delicate flavors.
Experts in cupping are called “cuppers.” These cuppers have a discerning palate and can often pick out very specific flavors in coffee.
Coffee cupping is both an art and a science. It takes years of practice to develop a refined palate. However, anyone can learn to cup coffee and enjoy the process.
Coffee beans are graded on several different factors. The most important factors are size, density, and moisture content.
The size of the coffee bean is crucial because it affects the surface area to volume ratio. This ratio determines how long it should be roasted. A mixture of small and large beans would create an uneven roast.
The density of the coffee bean is important because it affects how much heat is required to roast it. The denser the bean, the more heat and time that is needed.
The moisture content of dried green coffee beans should be 8 to 12.5 percent, according to the International Coffee Organization. The exception to this rule is for specialty coffees that historically have a high moisture content, such as Indian Monsooned coffees.
Roasting Coffee to Taste
The next step is to roast the coffee. This is where the beans are heated to high temperatures, usually between 370 to 540 degrees Fahrenheit (188 to 282 degrees Celsius).
This process alters the physical and chemical properties of the bean. It’s during roasting that the coffee bean expands and changes color. The “coffee crack” is also a result of roasting.
Roasting coffee is both an art and a science. The perfect roast is a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer their coffee light and delicate, while others prefer it dark and bold.
There are numerous ways to roast coffee. The most common methods are air roasting, drum roasting, and fluid bed roasting.
Air roasting is the most common method of roasting coffee. It’s also the quickest method, taking anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes.
Drum roasting is a slower process, taking anywhere from 12 to 20 minutes. This method produces a more even roast, which some people prefer.
Fluid bed roasting is a newer method that produces a more uniform roast. This method uses hot air that is circulated around the beans. It can take anywhere from 8 to 15 minutes.
Cooling and Storing Coffee
After roasting, the coffee must be cooled quickly to stop the roast process. The beans are typically cooled in a cooling tray or bin.
Once the coffee is roasted and cooled, it’s ready to be packaged and sold. However, it’s best to wait at least 24 hours before brewing the coffee. This allows the flavors to develop fully.
Coffee can be stored for several months if it’s properly packaged. The packaging should keep out light, air, and moisture.
Grinding Coffee to be Brewed
This is best done just before brewing, as freshly ground coffee has the best flavor. There are many different ways to grind coffee, and each method will produce different results. The most important factor is the particle size of the grind.
The particle size will determine how much contact the water has with the coffee. This, in turn, affects extraction, which ultimately determines the flavor of the coffee.
If the grind is too fine, excessive extraction may occur, resulting in an unpleasant bitterness in the coffee. If the grind is too coarse, insufficient extraction might result, causing the coffee to be weak or sour.
The best way to grind coffee is with a burr grinder. This type of grinder produces a more uniform grind, which is what you want.
There are two types of burr grinders: wheel and conical. Wheel grinders are less expensive, but they can produce a lot of heat, which can impact the flavor of the coffee. Conical grinders are more expensive but don’t produce as much heat.
You can use a blade grinder if you don’t have a burr grinder. This type of grinder works by chopping the beans into smaller pieces. The problem with this type of grinder is that it can be challenging to get a uniform grind.
The final step is what this has all been working towards. This is where the roasted and ground beans are combined with hot water to create the most wonderful beverage.
There are many different ways to brew coffee. The most common methods are drip brewing, French press, and espresso.
Drip brewing is the most common method of brewing coffee in the United States. It’s also the most straightforward method. All you need is coffee grounds, water, and coffee filter, and a drip brewer to handle the rest.
The French press is a popular brewing method that produces a richer cup of coffee. It’s also a bit more hands-on than drip brewing.
But why is coffee so expensive?
The simple answer is that coffee is expensive to produce. Growing, harvesting, and processing coffee beans takes a lot of time and resources. And roasting coffee is both an art and a science.
But the real question that needs to be answered is more personal, “Is it worth it?” A good cup of coffee is a thing of beauty. It’s a complex beverage with hundreds of different flavors. And it’s something that can be enjoyed every day.
So if you’re wondering why coffee is so expensive, just remember that you’re paying for quality. And in the end, quality is always worth it.