Going deeper into the mysterious world of coffee, what you drink in your cup travels a long way to get there. Coffee beans were cherries once. And instant coffee was may be coffee once. Not sure.
Not going in great detail, the coffee plants bear cherries, which are picked between the season of December to February. The plants are mainly of Arabica and Robusta varieties. The cherries ripe naturally and are easy to pick at this stage. If this doesn’t happen, they are plucked at the end of the season and processed manually. Sometimes the cherries fall naturally and are collected the next morning by the coffee pickers/farmers.
The further processing mainly involves washing, drying and fermentation. The time and effort spent on each of these activities, and the region that this happens in deeply impacts the characteristics of your cup. While Latin American and African regions are known to have a signature earthy and herbal character in the coffee due to high altitudes, the ones in South Asian countries like Indonesia attain a better character on longer roasting.
The washing of coffee beans depends on the economic conditions of the countries that they grow in, the prevalent farmer practices, and to a certain extent, historical and cultural factors. While in regions like Sumatra, where coffee grows practically in every backyard, the coffee cherries are washed twice and dried in between and the fermentation process(which lends acidity) is almost absent, regions like Ethiopia and Kenya work to lend a medium roasted bean with medium acidity.
Bean There : From Farm to Cup
When the finished coffee beans(plucked, washed, dried, fermented, roasted) reach the tasters and buyers, the selection largely depends on the main characters of the cup- aroma, palette, mouthfeel, body, acidity. The tasters go through hundreds of cup and through this intensive exercise few larger patterns emerge that decide the selection of the batch. Large commercial brands like Starbucks and Illy have high selection criteria, that touch only the finest beans coming from farms that pass this acid test of authenticity, quality, fair practices and environmental harmony. Starbucks only buys Arabica beans from select regions like Sumatra, Kenya, Ethiopia, Costa Rica, Panama etc. Their Indian stores use the India Estate Blend which is from the three regions of Coorg, Chikmagalur and Hassan. The roasting of the Indian blends is a French dark roast good for espressos, and provides a strong base of all their more frothy and creamy beverages.
Coming to the categories of coffee beans per se in the sense of consumption, quality, and appreciation, you can broadly divide them in regular coffee, blends/house blends, single origin, and premium coffees. What also affects the flavor of the finished cup is the brewing method, which could be espresso, French press, pour over, chemex, siphon or aeropress. The coffee that you universally get in stores is the one from the quintessential Italian espresso machines. The other methods vary as per the brands of cafes.
If you really want to get in the maze of matching coffee blends and roasts with brewing methods, a world awaits you…