Coffee: Behind the Bean

Many of us enjoy a mug of piping hot coffee to begin the day, but do you know the lengthy process and the trip that coffee beans takes to get to your cup?


Coffee beans (called coffee cherries since they show their ripeness by turning from green to red) are found in the flowers of coffee plants. The flowers begin to bloom when the plant is 3-4 years old, with a good “cherry” harvest occurring about 8 months later.  Typically there is one harvest a year, however certain countries (such as Columbia) experience 2 different flowering seasons.

Once picked, the cherries are put through processing to remove the outer skin and pulp of the fruit, revealing the inner bean, and then left to dry out. Once dry, the beans are put through a milling process to “polish” the last outer layers of skin and fruit residue.

Once the beans are polished and sorted, they go through an optional aging process. Fun History Fact: When coffee was first introduced to Europe, it all came from the port of Mocha in (now modern-day) Yemen, traveling long open-sea-air voyages by boat. This long journey caused the beans to change in flavor. Once the travel time was cut down, the Europeans rejected the new taste of the younger beans, and began their own process of aging. While some coffee can be aged as long as 8 years, some favor younger beans as they contain large amounts of their essential oils at this point.


Once aged (or not aged), the coffee beans are roasted, giving them their characteristic flavor, aroma, and dark color. They also grow to nearly double their size, meanwhile their oils come out to the surface. The beans can be roasted for 3 to 30 minutes, at temperatures between 465-525 F. The “roast” of a bean comes from the heat and duration of the roasting period (a dark roast will have deeper, roaster flavors than a light roast, however there are many many different degrees between the two).


Once your coffee is roasted, it is time to grind for brewing. Not all grinds are equal. You should select how coarse or fine your grind will be depending on what type of brewing process you will using (french press, espresso machine, etc). The process of grinding will break down the roasted coffee bean to expose the interior to the water, therefore allowing more flavor and oils to be extracted. The more surface area contact (the finer the grind) the more intense the flavor will be. It is always best to grind your coffee as close to brewing time as possible.

We are lucky to have some great coffee roasters right here in Ann Arbor like Zingerman’s Coffee and Roos Roast

Now go forth and sip!


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