The journey of coffee from bean to cup is one that many people don't bother to think about as long as they can go to the store and grab a can off the shelf or custom order a drink from Starbucks.  That cup of java travelled further than you know and likely started off in a way you wouldn't have guessed.  Whether you're reading this out of genuine curiosity or are looking to handle as much of the process yourself as you can than you will find the information to answer your questions and get you on your way to a better understood cup of coffee.

Humble Origins

When you say the word coffee bean you likely don't think of a cherry.  In actuality, the coffee bean is the pit of a cherry off the coffea bush.  These bushes tend to grow in areas along the equator and are grouped into two categories: Arabica and Robusto.  The gathering process is exceptionally manual as the cherries must be picked by hand to avoid both damaging the bush and to avoid cherries that are not yet ripe.  There is only one to two harvests a year depending on the type of coffea bush and the bushes have an average life of 25 years.

Coffee From Bean to Cup: On the BranchCredit: Wikimedia.orgOnce the cherries have been picked there are two methods to separating the seed, or coffee bean, from the pulp of cherry.  The first is the natural method.  This process involves laying the picked red cherries in the sun for up to a month.  The heat of the sun will cause the flesh of the cherry to wither and shrink much like a grape turning to a raisen.  When the cherry reaches this point the seed can easily be removed.  The other process is called the washed method.  This is a more industrial method and is roughly the reverse of the natural method.  The cherries are put through a pulping machine immediately after being picked.  They are then pulled aside to be fermented for up to three days followed by a final removal of the pulp.  The green seeds are then placed in the sun for two weeks to thoroughly dry.  The natural method results in a more mild aroma than the washed method.

For those of you looking to take on as much of the coffee making process as possible I would strongly suggest skipping this step.  Coffea bushes are very climate specific and take a number of years before producing any usable fruit.  It isn't impossible but the effort is extremely daunting.

Roasting the Beans

While the source and pulping method of the coffee beans matters a great deal to the end product Coffee from Bean to Cup: RoastingCredit: Wikimedia.orgthere is no step in the coffee-making process that has as much input as the roasting process.  Coffee roasting could be defined as an art form as the success of a batch can be measured in seconds.  Roasting beans is a matter of knowing how long to apply heat to the green coffee beans.  In the roasting process the beans will darken in color, lose weight, and increase in size.  Roasters will work off of experience and aroma to determine when a batch is finished.  The same type of beans are roasted different amounts based on the intended characteristics.

For those who are very determined to be hands on with their coffee you can roast your own at home.  The most basic method is on your stove in a pan but there are home appliances made especially for this.  Home roasting is done in small batches and there will be a learning curve in place. However, the best things in life tend to be those we make with our own hands.

The Grind and the Brew

The thing about coffee beans is that they are on a timer the moment you pull them off the bush.  Roasting them accelerates this process and grinding even more so.  Since most people will not be roasting their own beans the best course of action for a more serious cup of coffee is to grind your own beans.  Vacuum sealed bags of whole, roasted beans can be good for up to six months before they start to lose flavor.  Once a bag is opened you are looking at a month.  Keep these dates in mind if you are just getting started with grinding your own beans.  It would also be in your best interest to buy from a store that specializes in coffee beans as their storage methods will likely be the best.

So now that you have your roasted coffee beans we come to the grind.  There are two types of grinders: blade and burr.  Blade is just what it sounds like.  Spinning blades cut the beans up like a blender would.  The downside of this grinder is that you have little control over the size of the grind which is an important factor depending on your type of brewing.  While a drip coffee might not matter so much a fine grind is needed for things like espresso.  A burr grinder is kind of like an edged flour mill.  You can control the size of the grind by adjusting the spacing between the two burrs.

From Bean to Cup Coffee BrewersCredit: AmazonIf you like the idea of fresh ground coffee beans but really enjoy the convenience of your Keurig or automatic coffee machine, than you can still have the best of both worlds.  While they are on the upper end of the coffee machine market there are bean to cup coffee makers.  You simply load up the machine with whole beans and water and select the coffee of your choice.  In minutes you will have a cup of coffee made from freshly ground beans without the cleanup or hassle of grinding it manually.

Coffee comes a long way to wake us up every morning.  The rich aroma pulls us from our slumber and helps us look at the new day with a smile.  So whether you just needed to scratch that curious itch or wanted to grow a coffee farm in you backyard you are hopefully now on better terms with coffee from bean to cup.