Coffee is the beverage of champions. We talk about how coffee is extracted and other stuff related to coffee.

World runs on coffee

Coffee is one of the most popular beverages on the planet alongside water and tea. It is the second most traded commodity after oil. Coffee has also given rise to a culture of coffee shops or coffee houses which seems to be a recent phenomenon. But are they really a thing of 21st century or do they have some history? Let’s find out.

Beverage of choice

Coffee is a magical drink of choice. Its ever-increasing popularity can be attributed to its versatility and of course Caffeine the magic alkaloid that gives you bliss as you sip your coffee down.

  • The coffee plant originated in Africa
  • Two different variety of Coffee:
    • Arabica: The more popular and expensive variety, this is considered to be milder and more flavourful. The bean is flatter and elongated and requires a cool sub-tropical climate. Typically grows around the elevation ranging from 2000 - 6500 ft where it needs sun, moisture and shade. Largest producers of Arabica are Latin America, Asia, Arabia and East Africa.
    • Robusta: This is cheaper to produce but has almost twice the quantity of caffeine than the Arabica coffee. Robusta beans are rounder and can grow at lower altitudes (sea level - 2000 ft.). Central and Western Africa, South East Asia and Brazil are the leading producers of Robusta.

History of Coffee

  • Coffee plants grew in the wild in the area called Kefa or Kaffa in Ethiopia. These plants were taken to Arabia and cultivated around the 15th century.
  • Legend is attributed to a goatherd by the name Kaldi who noticed that his heard started behaving weirdly after eating certain berries. He tasted them and felt ecstatic as well. He made coffee popular according to the legend.
  • Since it was an intoxicating drink, Islam forbade drinking coffee since such drinks are prohibited by Quran.
  • Despite the risk, coffee lovers grew in leaps and bounds within Arabia and drink became popular.
  • This paved way for the creation of “Coffeehouses” called Qahveh Khanehs and gave rise to the coffee house culture. They first appeared in Mecca around the 15th century and were popular places to catch up with friends.
  • Coffee came to Europe around 16th and 17th centuries and spread across Europe.
  • Some countries prohibited coffee stating they are magical potions.
  • Coffee houses became popular in Britain and British colonies by 17th century.
  • Yemen was almost the only supplier of coffee until the close of 17th century. But the popularity of the beverage took it all the way to Java in Indonesia and Americas along with Hawaii (since 1825).
  • By 20th century Brazil became a leading producer and exporter of Coffee.
  • In 19th and 20th centuries, coffee machines came into existence and various new methods of producing coffee came into being.
  • Instant coffee came into popularity and production was perfected post-1950 leading to the increased production of Robusta.

Caffeine - the magical ingredient

  • Caffeine is an alkaloid which is present in coffee, tea, cocoa and in some other nuts and berries.
  • It normally is a white powder highly soluble in hot water.
  • Caffeine stimulates central nervous system, heart and kidneys. It is also a mild diuretic (removes urine).
  • Used as an antidote to respiratory depression caused by overdose.
  • Negative effects: Insomnia, anxiety, irritation etc.
  • Positive effects: Increased alertness and improved motor performance.
  • Decaffeinated coffee became popular to control the amount of coffee in the system.

Production of coffee

  • Coffee cherries contain coffee beans, usually two. Single beaned berries are called pea beans and are said to be sweeter and flavourful.
  • Beans are separated from the berries and the dried to reduce the moisture content from 65-70% down to 12-13%.
  • Three techniques are used for processing coffee:
    • Dry method: In this process, the berries are placed under the sun on concrete or brick patios. This is the simplest way of processing and is least expensive. Practised in areas with dry and warm climate like Ethiopia and Brazil. The berries are raked to move them around and to prevent fermentation. The process takes few days to around four weeks. Overdrying breaks the coffee and underlying causes fungi and other bacteria attack. Once dried, the coffee beans are separated by machinery.
    • Wet method: This method produces better quality coffee and requires much more sophisticated equipment than the dry method. The skin and the pulp are removed using a pulping machine that uses a rotating drum. The thin layer of pulp that still remains is removed by fermentation that happens over three days as the wet seeds are kept in tanks. Remaining pulp is washed off and the beans are dried under the sun or by passing hot air.
    • Pulped natural process: In this third way of processing, the pulp is removed mechanically but there is no intermediate fermentation and the remaining pulp is removed once the beans dry off. This is a combination of dry and wet techniques. The beans produced in this method are both sweet and acidic.

Post the processing the coffee is graded and stored.

Roasting and Grinding

  • Coffee beans are roasted between 180-250 °C from 7-20 mins releasing carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide and water.
  • The beans lose weight and expand under the roasting process.
  • Roasting gives the aroma to the coffee.
  • Overroasting kills the flavour which is done in the case of Robusta beans to remove the strong coffee flavour.
  • The old method was to roast coffee beans in a rotating metal cylinder above a source of heat. Modern method uses hot air to roast the beans. Rotation ensures even roasting.
  • Grinding is either done before packaging or done by the consumer depending on the brew method involved. We use a French Press, hence coarsely ground coffee is what purchase.

Packaging and Brewing

  • Coffee needs to be sealed airtight to prevent moisture from reaching it.
  • Modern methods use inert gas and aluminium or polyethene compounds.
  • Different methods of brewing:
    • French Press
    • Pour over
    • Moka Pot
    • Aeropress
    • Cold brewing
    • Espresso
  • Instant coffee is a soluble coffee concentrate which does not need to be brewed but the flavour is usually inferior to brewed coffee.
  • Kopi Luwak (Civet coffee).

Decaf

  • For people who do not tolerate caffeine, it is removed from the coffee using chemical solvents, carbon filtering or carbon dioxide extraction. Caffeine is extracted just before roasting.
  • The chemical agent is either used to treat the beans directly or the water-based solution in which the beans are soaked.
  • Swiss water process is used to get more flavourful beans. The first batch of beans are processed in hot water and that water is used for washing the next bath of the beans.
  • 100% decaf is not a possibility.

Our favourite coffee makers/shops

Please note that this is not an endorsement, we just love their coffee that we want everyone to know about them :wink:.

Sources

Image: Vishnu’s 500px