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Coffee Chemistry: The Beans Journey From Crop To Cup

Coffee Chemistry: The Beans Journey From Crop To Cup

The Humble Bean’s Epic Odyssey

Hold up, my friend – before you take another sip of that glorious elixir, do you have any idea what that little bean has been through to end up in your cup? Oh, it’s quite the journey, I tell you. A tale of adventure, discovery, and the tireless efforts of countless hands around the world.

You see, the story of coffee starts way back in the arid hills of Ethiopia, where legend has it a goatherd named Kaldi first noticed his flock getting a bit frisky after munching on some mysterious red berries. Curious Kaldi tried them himself and bam – the first coffee drinkers were born. From there, the craze spread like wildfire throughout the Middle East and eventually to Europe in the 16th century.

But it wasn’t until the 18th century that coffee cultivation really took off, thanks to the Dutch East India Company introducing those precious plants to Southeast Asia and the Americas. And let me tell you, getting those little guys from crop to cup is no easy feat. It’s a labor-intensive process involving everything from planting and pruning to harvesting and processing. In some regions, they’re still picked by hand, while others use high-tech machines to strip the beans from the branches.

Once harvested, the coffee cherries (yep, they start out as cherries!) undergo a series of processing steps to remove the outer layers and get them ready for roasting. From there, they make their way to coffee shops and homes around the world, where they’re ground and brewed into that beloved beverage that gives us our morning boost.

So the next time you savor that first sip, take a moment to appreciate the journey your coffee has taken to reach your cup. It’s a tale worthy of an epic poem, if you ask me. Let’s dive in and uncover the secrets of coffee’s captivating odyssey, shall we?

The Elusive Arabica and the Hardy Robusta

Now, as you may know, there are two main species of coffee beans – arabica and robusta. And let me tell you, these two have quite the sibling rivalry going on.

The vast majority of the brewed coffee we drink in Australia comes from the arabica species, Coffea arabica, despite 30% of world coffee production being the robusta variety, Coffea canephora. Connoisseurs will tell you that arabica produces a superior cup of coffee – it’s more delicate and nuanced, with a sweeter, less bitter flavor. Robusta, on the other hand, is…well, a bit rougher around the edges. More bitter and grainy in taste, but packing a higher caffeine punch.

And as the name suggests, robusta is a much hardier plant than its delicate arabica cousin. It’s less susceptible to insect pests and fungal infections, thanks to its higher caffeine content, and it can grow in a wider range of environmental conditions. That means it’s cheaper to produce and buy, too. On the open market, green arabica beans sell for around A$5 per kilogram, while robusta beans retail for approximately A$2.50 per kilogram.

But here in Australia, we’re all about that arabica life. Our cool climate and lack of pesky insects and fungi create the perfect growing conditions for those delicate beans. And let me tell you, the flowering and harvesting process is quite the sight to behold.

Blooming Beauties and Mechanical Marvels

Imagine the scene – it’s springtime, and the coffee plants burst into a sea of tiny white blossoms, filling the air with their intoxicating fragrance. This floral frenzy only lasts for a couple of days, usually sometime between October and December, depending on the rainfall. Then, the coffee cherries begin to ripen in June and are harvested three to four months later.

Now, some coffee producers in Australia still rely on good old-fashioned hand-picking, but I’ve got to say, the mechanical harvesters are a sight to behold. These babies straddle the rows of coffee plants, employing oscillating nylon fingers to gently shake the branches and dislodge the ripe cherries. The fallen beans then get whisked away on a conveyor belt to a collection hopper – talk about efficiency!

But the real magic happens once those cherries arrive at the processing plant. It’s basically a giant cheese grater, folks – the coffee fruit is fed into the top, and the rotating mechanism strips the fleshy pulp right off those precious beans. The de-pulped beans then get dried down to about 12% moisture, either in the sun or with mechanical dryers, before being stored and patiently awaiting their turn in the roaster.

Roasting Revelations and Instant Intrigue

Now, you’d think the hard part is over, but oh no – the roasters have their own magic to work. See, those green beans might look innocent enough, but once they hit those scorching hot drums, all sorts of chemical reactions start happening. The difference between a light roast and a dark roast is only about 10°C, but that subtle temperature shift can mean the difference between a delicate, nuanced cup and a bold, full-bodied brew.

And let’s not forget the invention of instant coffee, which has its own fascinating history. Back in 1890, a chap named David Strang in Invercargill, New Zealand, patented the very first instant coffee, using a spray-drying process. These days, most instant coffee is made through freeze-drying, which removes the water through sublimation and, unfortunately, a good chunk of those delicious volatile compounds that give coffee its depth of flavor.

But don’t you worry, my friend – when you compare the gas chromatograms of instant coffee and freshly roasted beans, the difference is clear as day. The roast coffee’s profile is much more complex, with all sorts of wonderful volatile compounds that just can’t be replicated in the instant stuff. It’s like the difference between a fine wine and a cheap supermarket knockoff – the real deal just has that je ne sais quoi.

Bringing It All Back Home

Alright, now that we’ve followed the coffee bean’s epic odyssey from crop to cup, let’s take a moment to appreciate the folks who make it all happen. Because let me tell you, it takes a village – or in this case, a global network of dedicated farmers, processors, roasters, and baristas – to bring that perfect cup of joe to your lips.

I mean, just think about the relationships and connections that go into sourcing those beans. Roasters like my friends at Dynamite Roasting Company travel to the same farms year after year, forging personal bonds with the growers and even bringing their kids along to see where the magic happens. It’s not just a transaction, it’s a collaboration, with each party working to bring out the best in those precious beans.

And of course, once those beans make it to the roastery, the real artistry begins. The folks at Dynamite don’t just turn up the heat and hope for the best – they meticulously develop their own roasting formulas, tasting and tweaking until they’ve coaxed out every last bit of flavor. It’s a delicate dance of science and intuition, with the entire team, from the delivery guy to the roasters, weighing in on the perfect profile.

But the story doesn’t end there. Dynamite is deeply rooted in its local community, supporting everything from the LEAF Festival to the community radio station WNCW. They give back their spent coffee grounds to the local garden, donate excess beans to Bounty and Soul, and even make special teacher appreciation blends. It’s all part of this beautiful cycle of connection and collaboration.

So the next time you savor that first sip of your morning brew, take a moment to appreciate all the hands that went into bringing that bean to your cup. From the Ethiopian hills to the Asheville roastery, it’s a journey filled with passion, purpose, and a whole lot of heart. And here at Brooklyn’s Georgian Coffee House, we’re proud to be a part of that story, serving up the very best of what the coffee world has to offer.

Shall we raise our mugs to the mighty coffee bean and all the incredible people who make our daily ritual possible? Cheers, my friends – may your cup runneth over with the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods.

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