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How is Coffee Made? – Step by Step Explanation

Where does a good cup of coffee come from?

Coffee is found and enjoyed almost anywhere in the world. It is one of the essential pleasures of life, but very few people know very much about it. There are many steps involved to process and prepare coffee beans before they can undergo brewing. In this article, we will discuss how coffee goes from the farm to your cup! 

The steps involved in making coffee are:

  1. Harvesting 
  2. Processing & Drying
  3. Milling
  4. Exporting
  5. Roasting
  6. Grinding
  7. Brewing
  8. Enjoying!

 

Step 1: Harvesting 

Did you know? The coffee bean isn’t actually a bean. It is the seed of the berry/fruit belonging to the Coffea plant. Coffee beans are referred to as “beans” because of their resemblance to true beans. They are produced all around the world, with the major producers in Brazil, Vietnam, Columbia and Indonesia. Coffee from different countries taste different. For example, Arabica beans produced in Laos are known for their medium body and a combination of mild citrus and floral tones.  

Berries on a coffee tree

When the berries of the coffee tree ripen, workers begin to pick the berries. Ripe berries are traditionally picked by hand. Although a labor-intensive method, this allows for selective picking – selection of berries only at the peak of ripeness. Today, crops are more commonly strip picked, where all berries are harvested simultaneously regardless of ripeness.

 

Step 2: Processing & Drying

After picking, the coffee fruit is usually processed by one of two methods: the dry-method or the wet-method. The dry-method, simpler and less labour-intensive, leaves the berries out in the sun to dry for around 2 weeks. Wet-method is the modern way of processing. The pulp is removed from the coffee berry after harvesting so the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on. This process involves bean washing and bean fermentation, after which, they are ready for drying. The beans must be dried to a water content of about 10% before they are stable.

Semi-dry is a hybrid process of drying that is used in Indonesia and Brazil. The process is also called “wet-hulled” or “semi-washed”. Semi-drying is said to reduce acidity and increase body(components of taste), which we’ll cover more on coffee tasting below!

 

Step 3: Milling

Next, the final steps in coffee production involves the removal the last layers of dry skin and remaining fruit residue from the now-dried coffee, then cleaning and sorting it. This is collectively called milling. The steps involved are:

  • Hulling – removal of what is left of the fruit from the bean(parchment layer or entire dry husk)
  • Polishing – optional process in which any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed in a polishing machine
  • Cleaning and sorting – Most fine coffee goes through a battery of machines that sort the coffee by density of bean and by bean size, all the while removing sticks, rocks, nails, and miscellaneous debris that may have become mixed with the coffee during drying. This ends with colour sorting, which is the separation of defective beans from sound beans on the basis of colour only. This is done by hand.
  • Grading – categorising coffee beans based on various criteria such as size bean size, the manner it was prepared and picked, location of cultivation(country, altitude etc), and how they taste

 

Step 4: Exporting

Once graded it’s all about getting coffee to where demand is. Milled beans, now referred to as green coffee, are distributed to different coffee traders until it reaches your local roastery. 

What is decaffeinated coffee?

At this point of time, coffee beans in the unroasted state are decaffeinated. Before they undergo roasting, caffeine can be extracted through solvent-based and non-solvent-based processes. Solvent based processes are those in which the caffeine is removed from the beans with the help of a chemical solvent. They can be further divided into the direct and indirect processes. On the other hand, two non-solvent methods available today are the Swiss Water Process and the Carbon Dioxide method.

 

Step 5: Roasting

We have arrived at the roasting stage! Green coffee beans are roasted to develop the wonderful aroma, flavour and body. The powerful and distinct aroma, diffused into the air never fails to grab the attention of passersby. This is the essential step that transforms green coffee into the fragrant brown beans that we purchase in our local cafés. During roasting, the fragrant oil inside the beans (caffeol) begin to come out and is what ultimately gives the coffee its flavour and aroma. Roasting is generally performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible. Different types of roasts results in different flavours.

During roasting, as the coffee absorbs heat, the colour shifts to yellow and then to increasingly darker shades of brown. This has led to the most popular, but probably the least accurate, method of determining the degree of roast – to judge the bean’s colour by eye.

Conversely, sound is a good indicator of temperature during roasting. There are two temperature thresholds called “cracks” that roasters listen for. When the coffee reaches approximately 196 °C (385 °F), it will emit a cracking sound known as “first crack.” This marks the beginnings of a “light roast”. At approximately 224 °C (435 °F), it emits a “second crack”, which represents the structure of the coffee starting to collapse. No more roasting should take place! Colour should be complemented by the audible cues (first and second crack) and the aromas of the roast process to provide credible information.

A coffee roaster

Today, there are 5 types of roasts that are generally recognized:

  • Light brown (also called Light or Cinnamon)
  • Medium brown (also called American or Regular)
  • Dark brown (also called Viennese or Continental)
  • Very dark brown (called Italian or Espresso)
  • Black brown (also called Dark French)

 

Step 6: Grinding

Before they are used for brewing, the whole beans have to be grounded. You can purchase both whole beans and ground beans at coffee shops, but we recommend purchasing them whole. This is because whole beans contain more flavour and produce that “fresh” quality everyone looks for in a delicious cup of coffee. Ground beans, on the other hand, are prone to losing fragrance and flavour. The sooner you use coffee after grinding it, the more of the original intended flavours there will be. Many coffee drinkers grind the beans themselves immediately before brewing.

The degree of fineness depends on the brewing method and length of brewing cycle. When the grind is finer, more coffee is exposed to the water – resulting in greater yield and thus a shorter brewing cycle.

Grind size:Suitable for brewing method:Size of ground similar to:
Extra fineTurkish Coffeeflour, powder
FineEspresso, Moka Potcornmeal
MediumDrip, Pour overgranulated sugar
CoarseFrench press, Vacuum coffee maker, Percolatorcoarse salt
Extra coarseCold brew, Cold dripground peppercorns

 

Watch this video for a guide on grind size:

 

Step 7: Brewing

The final step before consumption is brewing.. Coffee can be brewed in several different ways, and these methods are dependent on how water is introduced to the coffee ground.

Some of the common brewing methods that are used today include:

  • Pour over
  • Aeropress
  • Frenchpress
  • Espresso (commonly found in cafes)
  • Cold brew
  • Percolate
  • Drip Coffee

You can find out more about brewing techniques here.

Also read: French Press vs Pour Over

Espresso brewing into a shot glass

 

Step 8: Enjoying!

After your coffee is ready… It’s time to enjoy! What constitutes great coffee?

 Connoisseurs often judge coffee on these criteria:

  • Sweetness: due to sugar content in the bean that caramelizes during roasting
  • Acidity: coffee low in acidity tastes smooth, soft and mellow, but some acidity adds sharpness and character
  • Bitterness: caused by decomposition products formed during roasting
  • Aroma: fragrance caused by aromatic oils
  • Body: quality characterized by thick, heavy and lingering feel

Coffee purists argue that one should not have coffee with sugar, as it hinders tasting the natural sweetness of coffee. In addition, decaffeinated coffee is also less preferred as the decaffeination process reduces flavour.

However, that doesn’t mean coffee cannot be complemented with other ingredients. All around the world, coffee is enjoyed in a variety of ways. All coffee drinks are based on either coffee or espresso, in different strengths; some drinks have milk or cream added, some use steamed milk, cream, plant based milk, or foamed milk. Some have flavourings or sweeteners, some have alcoholic liqueurs added, some are combinations of coffee with espresso or tea.

We all know how Starbucks is adored for its creative coffee drinks. Its unique menu items often incorporates various ingredients, surprising us from time to time with their creations. In Spain, Liqueur coffee is particularly popular. It is considered a traditional drink. Widely known as carajillo, it is made from a blend of coffee, sugar, and strong alcohol. I have not tried it myself!

 

How will you enjoy your coffee?

Is there a definitive rule-book on what makes good coffee? Or a universal consensus on what is legal and illegal to mix it with? I do not think so. I am sure that there are effective guidelines, but I believe that part of the beauty of coffee lies in its versatility; the diverse ways to prepare and enjoy it. As we have seen earlier, many factors contribute to determining the properties of the end product. From the kind of bean, to roast level, to brewing and preparation method,  many variables are involved.  

For me, my favourite coffee is the flat white. It is an espresso-based coffee drink consisting of espresso with micro-foam (steamed milk with small, fine bubbles with a glossy or velvety consistency). I enjoy it as I believe it has the right amount and right consistency of milk to go with the espresso without overpowering it. Writing this makes me want to have a cup right now…

How you enjoy your coffee is solely up to you! We hope that this guide helped you understand coffee more, and cultivated a greater appreciation of the drink. Go ahead and try different coffee beverages. If you make your own coffee, why not experiment with other beans and brewing methods!

Coffee Signature is offering fresh, quality Lao Arabica coffee beans. Get yours here!

Paksong Lao Coffee

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