· By Bethany Letoto
What Even IS Coffee? Intro to Coffee
Welcome to the first installment of our new educational blog series where we address the question: What even is coffee, anyway?
Coffee is a delicious, aromatic beverage that aids in waking up and focusing. Coffee is a roasted seed-- and surprisingly to many, bears no relation to a bean! Coffee is the fruit that has that seed inside. And coffee is the name of the tropical plant (shrub, tree) that grows the fruit.
If you’re like most people, your understanding of coffee stops at that first sentence. And that’s okay! But if you’re interested in what makes one cup of coffee different from another and what you can look for in order to get more brews that you like, read on.
Coffee is… a tropical plant.
Grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn (or in other words, loosely equatorial locations,) coffee grows on plants that are not quite trees, but not quite shrubs. All the coffee we offer is a species called coffea arabica, and within that species there are many dozens of varieties. Some of the varieties are as different from each other as beefsteak and cherry tomatoes.
The other species of coffee that’s widely grown commercially is coffea canephora, commonly known as robusta. While there are fine and specialty grade robustas available on the market, their flavors tend to be more savory and powerful than arabica coffees, which tend to express more fruit, caramel, and delicate flavors. (We'll dive more deeply into why and how coffee tastes the ways that it can taste in a future post.)
As climate change progresses, expect to see new coffee species become more widely available, as well as coffees from unexpected growing regions.
Coffee is… a tropical fruit
The fruits of the aforementioned coffee plants are honestly really cute. Depending on the variety of arabica, they range in size from about the size of your pinky fingernail to the size of the tip of your thumb. The colors of the fruit may vary, also, (pink! Yellow! Striped!) but most are going to ripen to a beautiful purplish red color (pretty close to one of those purple-ish heirloom tomatoes.)
Coffee is (generally) picked by hand, and then the fruit is taken off the seed and discarded. There are several different methods for removing the fruit, but the main ones to know are natural process and washed process.
Natural processed coffee lets the whole coffee fruit dry onto the seed before it’s removed, resulting in coffees that taste boldly of fruit. Washed process removes the fruit and washes the pulp off before drying, yielding coffees that are subtler.
Then after processing, coffee is hulled, sent to the exporter, shipped to an importer, and bought by your favorite roaster. (wink wink)
Coffee is… a roasted seed
Upon receipt, the coffee is in its green state. So, literal green coffee seeds that could still germinate given the right conditions. They come bagged in jute or burlap bags, and are often double bagged with plastic or GrainPro for freshness.
Green coffee is hard, smells like grass, and is smaller than the roasted coffee you’re used to looking at.
Then, like a fairy godmother with a pumpkin and the careful application of heat– everything, EVERYTHING changes.
During roasting, the coffee expands a little bit like popcorn (it even cracks!) It changes color from green to yellow to tan to varying levels of brown. The flavors develop and become easy to access with hot water. The coffee gets lighter because it loses water, and it gets fragile so you can grind it.
Coffee is… a delicious beverage!
And this is where you or your favorite coffee shop come in. Once the coffee is roasted, it can be ground and brewed into the delicious wake-up juice you know and love.
Tune in next time as we dive more deeply into coffee and what it is!