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The Life and Times of the Coffee Bean – Pt 3: From Roasting to Coffee Cup

By Peter Brooks

At Office Beverages we’re not only enthusiastic about drinking coffee we’re enthusiastic to learning all there is to know about it. So when one of our delivery drivers came to tell us how he had been quizzed by a customer about the origins of coffee, admitting to them that he really had no idea, we were inspired to write this three part history and spill the beans to everyone.

So here it is, concluding our tale of the coffee bean, it’s history and it’s life, from cultivation to coffee cup, we’d like to present to you a rundown of the final stages in the life and times of this most ubiquitous of beverages.

Roasting is arguably the most important process in the production of coffee and is what infuses the coffee bean with its distinctive flavour and aroma. When a roastery receives the green beans from a coffee plantation they have already been through the process of depulping, fermentation (the removal of the ‘mucilage’ around the bean) and finally drying. See part 2 of this Office Beverage info series for more details on this process.

Almost all coffee is sold in a roasted state, which alters the chemical and physical properties of the bean by decreasing weight as moisture is lost and increasing volume as the bean expands. During this process, as temperatures rise to 200 degrees Celsius, caramelisation occurs as starches break down inside the coffee bean, converting them to simple sugars which then brown. It is this that gives the beans their deep brown colour. As aromatic oils and acids begin to weaken different oils begin to develop inside the bean as it takes on its distinctive new flavour. Sucrose is lost during this process as well and can disappear entirely in darker roasts.

Light and dark roasts are achieved by modest differences in temperature and time spent in the roaster. The differences in the flavour and appeal of a lighter and darker roast coffee bean could easily take up another post entirely (watch this space) but suffice to say that light roasts tend to have less body than dark roasts which contain less fibre and are slightly sweeter to the palette.

Once roasted to perfection the coffee beans are then graded, usually by eye, according to their lightness or darkness and divided appropriately. A more technical and accurate method for dividing the beans can be achieved using spectroscopy which precisely measures the colour reflected by the coffee bean when it is illuminated a near infra red light source.

Coffee is consumed once the roasted beans have been ground and brewed with hot water. The grounding process can take place at a roastery but it is not uncommon for them to be sold to market unground. There are several different finesses of grind produced and many methods for extracting the spent grounds from the hot water but however it is done and whatever you decide to add to it afterwards (milk, cream, sugar, etc), the humble coffee bean has ended its long journey in your coffee cup. All there is left for it to do now is to be appreciated and salivated over by you. Bottoms up!

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