Four (4) Critical Ingredients to Quality Coffee
In Coffee Knowledge Part 1 we touched on ‘What is Coffee’. This time we are going back to the source to find out what makes quality coffee.
- Growing Territory – Where the coffee is grown.
- Variety – is the type of coffee that is being grown.
- Harvesting & Processing Method – How the coffee is harvested and processed.
- Craftsmanship – The human element of producing coffee is ultimately the one we have the most control over.
1. Growing Territory
Coffee is grown in more than 50 countries worldwide with about 30 of those countries producing more than 5,000,000 tons of coffee each year.
Brazil is the largest supplier of coffee today, followed by Columbia with about 2/3rds of Brazil’s production.
The Coffee Belt
The ‘Coffee Belt’ is the imaginary line that wraps around the globe and houses all of Africa’s, South America’s, Central America’s, and Asia’s best coffee-growing regions .
(Source: The Coffee Belt, by Drew Moody on Feb 8, 2012, http://www.cornerofthecafe.com/coffee-101/the-coffee-belt// www.papanicholas.com/guide/wherecoffeecomesfrom.aspxhttps and //graphikos197.wordpress.com/the-map-collection/food-frenzy/global-coffee-belt/)
Coffee variety affects flavour, caffeine content, body or mouth feel and acidity. Reasons include:
- the local environment where the coffee plants are grown,
- the method of process
- the genetic subspecies or varietal
Coffee grows in two types of conditions:
1 – In lowlands – where it is hot and humid with an abundant amount of rainfall, the coffee produced is naturally bitter, dirty, and has higher caffeine content due to the harsh and extreme conditions of the environment. However, coffee plants are easier to grow and they produce more fruits; and the maintenance is inexpensive which makes the lowland coffee suitable for mass and commercial production.
2. – Highlands have more quality and better tasting —there is meager rainfall, temperature is cooler, and soil in these regions are thinner and have fewer nutrients. These conditions slow down the growth of coffee, which in effect, develop the coffee to have more flavour. Production is slow instead, and they are not as abundant as the ones in the lowlands. They cost more and they have an overall excellent quality.
This quick guide can serve as a basic overview of how coffees taste from region to region:
- Costa Rica – medium body, citrus, nutty
- Guatemala – can be spicy, smoky, chocolate, earthy or delicate, floral, fruity, sweet
- Honduras – crisp, light-bodied, nutty, spicy
- Mexico – light/medium bodied, milk chocolate, bright, lively, fruity
- Nicaragua – mild acidity, vanilla, hazelnut, chocolate, pear
- Panama – zesty, lively, spicy, lemongrass, herbal
- El Salvador – pretty similar to Nicaraguas
- Bolivia – medium body, caramel, chocolate, can be flowery and fruity
- Brazil – medium/full body, low acidity, milk chocolate, fruity
- Colombia – medium body, medium acidity, fruity, nutty
- Ecuador – light/medium body, medium acidity, caramel, fruit, nutty
- Peru – medium body, medium acidity, spice, nutty, chocolate, earthy
Africa and Arabia
- Burundi – full body, low acidity, grassy, chocolate
- Congo – full body, low acidity, intense, chocolate, nutty, tobacco, vanilla, earthy, spicy
- Ethiopia –the most diverse region in the world, it’s very hard to find terms that can accurately describe this country’s coffee; they can have full body, chocolate, cherry, creamy, earthy, blueberry or medium body, flowery, herbal, nutty
- Kenya – full body, zesty, citrus, floral, herbal
- Rwanda – medium body, chocolate, floral, nutty
- Tanzania – medium body, woody, earthy, spicy
- Uganda – full body, chocolate, creamy, vanilla
- Yemen – full body, chocolate, winy
- Zambia – medium body, tangy, citrus, caramel, bittersweet
- Zimbabwe – medium body, woody, low acidity, herbal, vegetal, spicy
Indonesia and Asia
- Bali – full body, low acidity, creamy, nutty, chocolate, vanilla, earthy
- Flores – full body, low acidity, floral, earthy, woody, syrupy sweet
- India – full body, spicy, medium acidity, tropical fruit; monsooned Malabars are very intense, tobacco, low acidity
- Java – full body, chocolate, nutty, low acidity, creamy
- Myanmar – medium body, medium acidity, similar to Brazils
- Papua New Guinea – full body, medium acidity, fruity, earthy,
- Sumatra – full body, intense, earthy, woody, gritty, low acidity
- Sulawesi – full body, low acidity, herbal, spicy, woody
- Timor – full body, low acidity, floral, woody, earthy, herbal
Islands and Others
- Australia – medium body, medium acidity, mild, juicy, syrupy
- Dominican Republic – medium body, medium acidity, mild, sweet, caramel,
- Hawaii – medium body, low acidity, creamy, vanilla, brown sugar
- Jamaica – medium body, low acidity, tobacco, mellow, sweet
- Puerto Rico – medium body, low acidity, smoky, creamy, buttery, nutty, sweet
3. Harvesting & Processing
As coffee is often grown in mountainous areas, the ripe coffee cherries are picked in one of two ways:
- Strip Picked – all the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time, either by machine or by hand such as in Brazil where its landscape is flat.
- Selectively Picked – only the ripe cherries are harvested and they are picked by hand.
- Pickers check the trees every 8 to 10 days and individually pick only the fully ripe cherries.
- Selective picking is primarily used for the finer Arabica beans.
- Coffee trees yield an average of 2 to 4 kilos of cherries
- a good picker can harvest 45 to 90 kilos of coffee cherry per day (9-18 kilos of coffee beans)
After harvesting the next step is to remove the coffee seeds from the ripe fruit and dry them. This can be done in two ways: the dry and the wet methods.
The Dry or ‘Natural’ Method
- It is the oldest, simplest method and requires little machinery.
- involves drying the whole cherry.
- Almost all the Robustas are processed by this method.
- Majority of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, Ethiopia, Haiti and Paraguay, India and Ecuador
- The harvested cherries are sorted and cleaned, by hand, to remove unripe, overripe and damaged cherries as well as any dirt, soil, twigs and leaves. Can also be done by floating the cherries in water.
- The coffee cherries are spread out in the sun, either on large concrete or brick patios, or on matting raised to waist height on trestles. If it rains they are covered up.
- As the cherries dry, they are raked or turned by hand to ensure even drying.
- It can take up to 4 weeks to dry the cherries. On larger plantations, machine-drying is sometimes used to speed up the process after the coffee has been pre-dried in the sun for a few days.
- Dried cherries are brittle with a hard outer shell and should have a maximum moisture content of 12.5%.
- The dried cherries are stored in silos and then sent to the mill for hulling, where the outer layers of the dried cherry are removed. The ‘green coffee’ beans are sorted and graded ready for selling.
The Wet Method
- The wet method requires the use of special equipment and the availability of water.
- The ripe cherries are first cleaned.
- They are then pulped by a machine that squeezes the cherries so that the flesh and the skin are separated from the beans. The beans are left with a slippery outer skin (the mucilage) and a parchment covering.
- The beans are further cleaned to remove lingering bits of pulp and put in large tanks; there the mucilage is broken down by natural enzymes and washed away, takes between 24 and 36 hours.
- The coffee is thoroughly washed with clean water. At this point the coffee is approximately 57% moisture.
- To reduce the moisture to a desirable maximum of 12.5%, the parchment coffee is dried either in the sun, in a mechanical dryer, or by a combination of both.
- Sun-drying takes from 8 to 10 days and then
- Just before sale, this coffee is hulled to remove the parchment, and cleaned, screened, sorted and graded.
Effect of Wet v’s Dry Processing on Coffee Taste
|WET PROCESSED||DRY PROCESSED|
|· Clean cup without the wildness|
· Cleaner coffee
|· A slight wildness|
· A little extra tartness
· An unevenness
· A little randomness to the taste
· If the coffee cherries aren’t dried fast enough there will be a slight rottenness to the coffee.
· In poor grade coffees, there’s also a slight chance of dirt granules or rocks.
· Selection by hand