Did you know that coffee beans are not actually beans, they are cherry seeds from coffee trees? Coffee trees grow in subtropical climates from sea level to around 6000 feet. Because the cherries of the coffee trees ripen at different times, they must be hand picked. There are about 4000 coffee beans or 2000 cherries per pound of coffee (there are two beans per cherry), and the average coffee tree yields only about 2 pounds of roasted coffee per year. There are only two varieties of coffee beans: Coffea Arabica and Coffea Canephora.
Coffea Arabica, or simply Arabica, makes up 70% of the world consumption. This is considered the high grade coffee, and consists of stricter growing conditions-- altitudes of at least a thousand meters and temperatures that cannot go beyond 20 degrees Celsius. Most people refer to Arabica as gourmet coffee. It contains about half the caffeine of Robusta and has more desirable flavors and aromatic properties.
Blue Mountain, Kenya AA and Kona coffee are all Arabica beans. What differentiates them is the locality in which they are being grown. It is more of a brand than a type. The cool and misty climate of the Jamaican Blue Mountains, for example, produces coffee beans with a mild flavor and a non-bitter taste.
Coffea Canephora, or Robusta, makes up the 30% of the coffee consumption. It can be grown in temperatures as high as 27 degrees Celsius and on almost any type of soil. It is very hardy, but is also bitterer than Arabica. These beans are usually blended together; rarely do you see either type of bean by itself. Other ways coffee beans are identified is by their geographic location, blending and roasting method.
Each method of coffee brewing—drip, espresso, French press—requires specific methods of blending. Filter coffees may be blended for complexity or for balance, while an espresso blend should be blended for balance. In other words, qualities that may be favorable for filter coffee brew may overwhelm the espresso extract. Espresso blends may include some African coffees for a winey acidity or flowery/fruitiness. When a cleaner acidity is desired, high grown Central American beans may be used. Most espresso blends are based on one or several high quality Brazil Arabica beans. These include both washed and dry-processed roasted beans.
The Drying Process
The dry process involves drying the cherries in the sun or in dryers, and then using machines to strip the dried fruit off the coffee beans. With the wet process, the cherries are soaked to make the fruit come off. The coffee produced by this method is referred to as washed coffee. Dry processed coffees are responsible for the golden crema, along with other factors in the extraction process. Wet-processed Central Americans contribute the positive aromatic qualities. Robusta beans are used in cheaper blends to increase body and in some blends to produce crema.
So now you know beans! Check out the following articles to know more about coffee beans and tasting.
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