Coffea Arabica is a tree native to the highlands of South Western Ethiopia. Once per year the mature plants yield fruit that we call “cherries”. Within each cherry are two seeds that, when processed and roasted properly can yield wonderful flavours.
The process begins in the nursery. It is generally accepted that all good coffee is of the Arabica species, however within this species there are thousands of varieties that have developed in the wild over millennia and in cross-breeding fields over recent centuries. Examples of common varieties include Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Catuai, Catimor and Mundo Novo. There are many others, each of them with subtle differences and each appropriate to particular growing conditions.
Coffee trees are transferred from a nursery to a farmer’s field after approximately one year. It takes another 2 to 4 years for them to fully mature into fruit-yielding trees that can be harvested.
A mature coffee tree will bloom with many white, jasmine-scented flowers following heavy rainfall. Once pollinated, these flowers will yield small, green “cherries” that will ripen into a deep red over a period of 6 to 9 months, depending on environmental conditions and the variety of coffee. During the ripening process the seeds inside the cherries are accumulating sugars, acids and other material that can be developed into flavour during roasting. Coffee trees grown at high altitude take much longer to mature due to cooler temperatures and they are generally more “dense” – more plant material (especially sugar) is packed into them over this added time, giving them a much greater potential for aroma and sweetness.
Once picked the coffee must be processed immediately to prepare it for export and to prevent mould and wild fermentation of the fruit. In the washed method of processing coffee, ripe cherries are immediately “depulped” to separate the fruit from the seeds. The seeds then ferment, often overnight, to loosen up the sticky, sugar dense mucilage gel that still surrounds the seeds after depulping. Once fermented these seeds are run through a trough full of fresh water to be completely cleaned. They are then set out to dry on large patios under the heat of the sun.
The natural processing method differs in that cherries are allowed to over-ripen on the trees until they reach a deep purple colour. These over-ripe cherries are then picked and laid out on drying patios without pulping. The coffee is fully dried within its fruit and only when this drying process has completed is the fruit removed in a “hulling” machine that uses friction to rub the fruit material away.
Dry coffee is prepared for export immediately after harvest to ensure the coffee is still fresh once it arrives at the roaster’s warehouse. Once sold, the coffee is transported by truck to the nearest port where it is loaded onto a cargo ship. Most coffee lands in North America at the ports of New York, Houston and Oakland, CA. From these ports coffee is distributed to roaster’s warehouses for all to enjoy!