As a coffee aficionado, you know that there is more to making excellent coffee than simply brewing coffee You need to choose the highest quality beans to get the highest quality coffee.You also know that choosing the best gourmet coffee beans means that you need to look beyond the brand name on the packet. You have learned that you have your own unique preference, and have learned to look for coffee that suites your individual taste.
Instead of simply choosing from the options that are placed in front of you at your nearest Starbucks coffee shop, you have learned to shop around, choosing coffee beans by variety (most likely arabica coffee) and origin. You no longer are tied to any one coffee roaster, although you have learned to recognize good coffee roasters from bad or excellent. You may even have developed your taste to the point where you select your favorite gourmet coffee beans by estate or plantation.
But to take your appreciation of gourmet coffee beans to the next level, you will need to better understand the process that leads us from the freshly picked coffee cherry to the final product, the green beans, ready to be shipped to coffee roasters for roasting.
When coffee is picked, it is not so much a bean as a fruit. Called a coffee cherry, this fruit has a bitter skin, sweet grape flavored flesh, and a coffee bean at its heart. It is this bean that the farmer must extract to sell, but the process is very delicate. The process of extracting the bean is called milling.
There are two different types of milling that a farmer can use. The first is dry milling. What this means is that the farmer dries out the coffee cherry to extract the dried bean. There are two ways he can do this, by machine or using the sun. Both of these methods are very tricky and require a lot of care to prevent the coffee from spoiling.
Machine drying carries a high risk of spoiling the bean’s natural flavor. In this state, the beans are like sponges, soaking up the flavor of anything in their environment. This can be a problem when the machine is smoky or in poor repair. The fuel used to run the machine is diesel, and often this flavor can find its way into the bean, spoiling the gourmet coffee beans and also contaminating them. Worse yet, some machines run on oil or even old tires!
Natural drying via the sun can produce some truly exquisite gourmet coffee beans, with unique flavors that are rarely experienced in the west. But this method of milling can only be performed when the weather is dry enough (think drought conditions).
Also, it is very important to select the cherries and pick out the poorer quality ones. However, some of the farmers use this method to dry their low quality beans as it is cheaper than using a machine, producing a very inferior coffee that is usually only sold to the domestic market. If you do want to buy sun milled coffee, you should go for the very high end product, as it is more likely to be from a high quality gourmet coffee beans from a good crop.
The other coffee milling process that can be used is wet milling. This process is more expensive, more complex, and routinely turns out better quality gourmet coffee beans. It involves seven stages, and used a lot of water. As a result, there are concerns that this method can pose an environmental risk, as pollutants are washed out into the water supply. However, there are ways to process the water to remove these contaminants and so save the environment. This is where choosing an organic coffee is important, as farmers are made to comply with environmental guidelines.
Once this milling process is finished, the premium coffee beans are green (more of a blue green, actually). Darker beans are discarded at this stage, as are whitish beans. By selecting these top quality coffee beans, it is possible to guarantee the highest quality roast coffee, which means that the ground coffee will be at its best. This process leads eventually to the final product, the cup of coffee that you will be drinking!