What is Coffee?

What is coffee? What is the definition of coffee? According to Merriam Webster, it is a beverage created by either infusion, decoction or percolation.

The source of coffee is the roast and ground seeds or beans, of a tropical evergreen shrub commonly known as a coffee plant (genus Coffea).

It is once described as “The gasoline of life” coffee can be served hot or cold.

The two most popular species of coffee plants are the Arabica and Robusta.

Coffea Arabica is traditionally grown and harvested in the Central and South America regions with other areas such as the Caribbean and Indonesia. These growers are responsible for up to 80% of the global production of coffee.

The Robusta or correct name Coffea Canephora can be found in many parts of Africa and produces the other 20% of global production of coffee. There are another 23 species of coffee plants, but the two I have mentioned will be the main ones you will be familiar with.

We all know making a coffee only takes a few moments, but the process before you see the final result takes a few years.

The seed of a coffee plant takes approximately 2 to 3 months to germinate from a seed to a plant. Like many young plants, they are fragile and are shaded, usually under a cloth to shield them from the natural elements.

Then follows 3 to 4 years of growth before producing those beautiful un-roasted green coffee beans.

During this same period, the plants bear small flowers. These are white with a hint of Jasmine-like fragrance. These same flowers eventually after a short period of approximately five months will develop into red cherries.

The cherries are generally ready to harvest once per year unless you happen to be a coffee plant in Colombia who have two flowering opportunities each year culminating in two harvests.

While the world modernises and evolves, harvesting coffee remains labour intensive and achieved by many hands.

Taking Colombia as an example, labour costs are low compared to many other countries. The prospect of transporting heavy machinery to replace the workforce will meet many difficulties.

In many cases, the terrains where the plants flourish will never allow for such machinery to be delivered or installed Mules in the wet seasons are still the normal mode of transport high up in the Andes.

As soon as the coffee growers have an abundance of bright red cherries, the harvesting begins. Some cherries will be selectively picked and many others by a stripping motion. The former method permits follow-up visits to a particular crop of plants a few days later. The Coffee Picker will harvest any additional cherries that were not ripened enough on the first visit.

This latter method is quick; the Coffee Picker runs his hand along the chosen branch. In doing so, he will pull all the beans to the ground. He will attempt to avoid the green ones as these will have a negative impact on the final taste of the coffee.

One to remember: The seed is referred to as the bean and the fruit is known as the cherry, due to their magnificent red outers when mature.

Now the cherry harvest has been completed; it is time to retrieve the coffee bean out of the fruit. It has to be achieved as effortless as possible to avoid spoilage.

To do this, the grower can opt for one of four processes known as Natural, Honey, Pulped natural, and washed. The final decision relies on where the Coffee farmer is located and what season he is harvesting in. Here I will explain the two most common methods briefly.

Chart showing 4 processes of coffee

  • Dry processing is the oldest process and done by hand. The cherries with their skins intact are cleaned and sorted to remove any damaged or unripe ones. The final crop is placed on brick or concrete surfaces to allow drying under the ever-present sun. This process usually takes up to four weeks, and the grower will be turning the cherries manually to ensure all are ready. 
  • Wet processing is where the grower submerges the cherries into large volumes of water — thus allowing the removal of the skins of the cherries before any drying process. Any rejected cherries are easy to detect as they usually float to the surface.

Whichever way the grower decides to harvest his cherries, at some point he will need to remove all the outer parts of each cherry.

Next, the coffee grower will concentrate on the silver coloured skin on the beans. Here he will remove the skin via polishing the bean. He doesn’t need to do it, but many growers around the world accept the belief that a polished bean is superior to an unpolished bean.

Finally, the coffee grower can sort and grade his harvest of coffee beans. Those that he deems to be too small or has blemishes will be rejected. He will also discard any beans that show signs of over-fermentation or insect damaged.

In conclusion to what is coffee?

So our hardworking coffee grower has a product ready to sell locally to his domestic market or export to a global market.

This export market is the ultimate goal for any serious coffee grower. The market is colossal. It is estimated that some 5 million people are involved in one way or another in the growing and processing of coffee worldwide.

One of those unsung heroes of mine. Used his weather-beaten hands and weakened back after years of bending and picking up the next bean for my morning coffee.

Let’s show our appreciation by sharing our new found knowledge with all the coffee drinkers you know by starting conversations with a question – What is coffee? You will be amazed at what more you now know.

The likelihood of this good-natured and humble man who has earned little to accommodate me and my morning thirst, knowing I appreciate him every day, I know it is shallow. But I do.

So remember. Next time you are visiting a busy street cafe. Bear a thought for the journey that bean has taken. The love it has received from the beginning of its life and the sheer pleasure you gain from that aroma of coffee.

Why not tell all who matter the most to you the ins and outs of what is coffee. Like me become immersed in this beautiful world.

You have undoubtedly heard of caffeine and coffee; wherever it is produced, it will have large amounts of caffeine.

Caffeine’s effects have most certainly had a significant part to play in the global popularity in the drink. I love that initial boost I experience each day with my first cup of almost black nectar.

Why not read my next articles on the subjects of caffeine and coffee & the incredible history of coffee.

The incredible history of Coffee.

 Caffeine and Coffee.

If you cannot wait, go and read my first published blog –

An Englishman’s Journey with the World of Coffee

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5 thoughts on “What is Coffee?”

  1. Hi there! I just wish to give an enormous thumbs up for the nice information you’ve got right here on this post. I can be coming back to your blog for extra soon.

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