The Truth About Quality Coffee
Researching for a simple "list of coffee facts" took an unexpected turn. For the worst or for the better, I'm not really sure. One thing is certain: my "quality" coffee will never taste the same again!
I fancied myself a coffee expert: get the more expensive coffees, get the whole beans for better flavor, and use a French Press if you want to get the maxim health benefits. If you really want to go all out, try an organic brand.
I thought I knew how to make a good cup of coffee. The truth shocked me.
Here is the truth about real quality coffee that nearly turned my whole morning routine upside down.
First, we'll briefly dive into where coffee comes from and how it goes from seed to your cup. Then we will discover the benefits and hazards of those processes, and why they matter.
From Seed to Cup: the Basics of Coffee
Coffee is the seed of a fruit, called a coffee cherry.
Coffee and chocolate are sometimes grown together because the chocolate trees shade the coffee. They are often harvested at the same time.
Coffee plants take 3-4 years before they will make cherries. I thought of growing my own coffee plant until I found this out. I don’t know if I could be that patient!
They are harvested by hand or by machine. The best method is picking only the best ripe beans one at a time by hand. A fast method is stripping each branch of beans, either by hand or machine.
The next step is processing. There are two ways to do this: wet or dry. In the dry method, the coffee cherries are simply spread out to dry. In the wet method, the cherries are separated mechanically from the bean and then fermented in water.
After being rinsed and dried, they are put through hulling machinery to remove everything left of the cherry off of the beans. Then a polishing machine ensures that they are clean and shiny for the next step: grading and sorting.
Some coffee producers are pickier than others when separating the bad beans from the good beans. Some do it by machine, some by hand, some both.
The best beans are then shipped to Tasters (you can actually taste coffee for a living!!). The Tasters receive a sample of a few of the roasted beans and carefully judge it for quality and—of course—taste. They just try coffee all day long. Sign me up!
Now for my favorite part of the process: roasting. The beans arrive green and come out as that dark brown coffee bean we know and love. And the smell! I’ve heard just the smell of freshly roasted coffee is to die for!
When I researched all of this, at first I just shrugged. Okay, that's cool. So what? But the more I dug, the more I realized that HOW the coffee gets to my cup matters tremendously!
To save some time, I'll skip to the good stuff.
Here's the secret behind healthy, quality coffee:
Organic: No chemicals!
Small batch, carefully roasted
Why are these important?
Many countries have to apply these chemicals by hand, causing a major health hazard to the workers. Some workers are not aware of or do not have the resources to wear protective gear.
Besides—coffee is the third most sprayed crop in the world! I don't want to imagine what those chemicals in my coffee could do to my body. Yuck!
Organic is the best place to get quality coffee. Not only does it taste so much better, but the peace of mind alone is so worth it!
In order to have a sun-grown coffee crop, much land has to be stripped to make room for it. Coffee plants are best grown along with other native plants, such as bananas or chocolate.
It also requires fewer pesticides and fertilizers, because those services are provided by Mother Nature in a healthy, environmentally friendly way:
“Artificial fertilizers aren’t as necessary because decaying leaf litter recycles nutrients to feed the coffee plants. Pesticides aren’t needed because more birds are around to eat insect pests. Many tasters find this rustic coffee yields a higher quality brew that tastes richer. This is partly because forest coffee isn’t machine harvested but picked by hand, allowing people to choose only the ripe coffee berries.” Can Coffee Help or Harm Birds?
Contrast this to the higher-yielding, environmentally stripped, chemical-laden, machine-ravaged crops!
Rotting beans, unripe beans, bad beans—they exist in every crop. Machines can never love coffee the way humans do. Some things have to be left for loving hands to sort out.
The bonus of hand-picked beans is that it likely is done by a company that wants to go the extra mile to get you quality coffee, not just looking to make another buck.
The wet method requires a LOT of water, more than some countries can afford. Afterward, all that water is thrown out and harms the environment.
The wet method is an easy way of separating the quality coffee beans from the bad, but at what cost?
Carefully small-batch roasted
Roasting is a delicate process. Much of the acidity of the coffee beans is determined by how they were roasted. Many of the brands you find at the store are highly acidic.
Low acidity is so worth it! The coffee itself is healthy, but high acidity upsets my stomach and makes me feel sick. I love my coffee now!
After coffee beans are roasted, they release carbon dioxide and take in oxygen, which is called degassing.
Basically, the bean is dying. It slowly loses its health benefits, vitality, and taste. Pre-grinding the coffee beans will speed up this process, guaranteeing that your beans will be dead long before you brew them. It is best to grind whole beans right before you brew them.
Coffee degasses the most within the first week after roasting. Already it has lost much of its taste and nutrients as its very chemical makeup changes.
Depending on your preference, the beans are best brewed from 4 days to 2 weeks after roasting.
The bad news is: the coffee sold at the store won’t even reach the shelf until months after roasting. Basically: if you are looking for quality coffee, skip that aisle altogether.
“95% of the roasted coffee in the world is 100% old, stale, and dead.” What you didn't know about coffee: Asher Yaron at TEDxUbud
If you would like to try the freshly roasted, quality coffee and experience the life-changing difference as I did, you can buy some online or check out your local roasters.
What is your favorite coffee routine? When was your very first cup of coffee? I'd love to hear your story!