What Is Coffee?
The Revered Ancient Plant
Coffee is a small evergreen that is botanically classified as a bush, though most call it a tree. Coffee trees bloom annually with fragrant white flowers that mature into fruits.
The word “coffee” also refers to the pit of the plant’s cherry (fruit), which shelters within it the prized coffee bean.
The thick and bitter outer skin of the cherry encases the sweet fruit which is much like a grape. Within the fruit is a slippery thin layer of skin that protects the small, hard bean.
A coffee tree matures after about four to five years and then yields about one pound of coffee per year for about 15-20 years.
A plant’s coffee berries will ripen at various times, requiring pickers to select only the ripest berries and leave the unripe berries for later. This hand picking is highly preferred so that unripe berries are not mixed in with the perfectly ripe berries, as occurs with machine picking.
Arabica vs. Robusta Beans
What’s the Difference?
The main commercial coffee beans are Arabica (Coffea Arabica) and Robusta (Coffea Robusta).
Arabica plants are more sensitive to temperature and handling, and also more vulnerable to pests.
- Seventy percent of all coffee beans grown are Arabica, which grows best at higher elevations in tropical or sub-tropical climates.
- Arabica beans (before roasting) are said to smell of blueberries, giving the roasted beans a sweet smell.
- Arabica beans are generally more flavorful than Robusta, though not all premium gourmet coffee beans are Arabica.
Robusta are hardier plants, tolerating lower elevations and less favorable climate and soil conditions. Robust are grown primarily in Southeast Asia and Africa.
- Robusta beans are used for most everyday and instant coffees, and have about twice as much caffeine as Arabica beans.
- Robusta beans (before roasting) are said to conjure smells of oats or peanuts, with a grainy and nutty fragrance.
- Robusta beans may smell burnt even if roasted properly. Some people compare the smell to burnt plastic or rubber.
Light vs. Darker Roasts
Lighter roasts retain more of the gourmet coffee’s “origin flavors”—which are the natural flavors produced the climate and soil of the region where the coffee was grown, as well as the coffee plant variety. In darker roasts these origin flavors are eclipsed by the roasting process itself, with the roast flavor dominating the taste and masking the natural flavor of the beans.
A coffee blend is a mix of different coffees. The intent of preparing a gourmet coffee blend is to create a coffee that has a pleasing combination of taste with just the right acidity, body, finish, and aroma.
Some coffees shops have their own signature blends—perhaps you would even like to create your own! Choose a combination of premium gourmet coffees and see if you can achieve a unique balance revealing flavors that you enjoy!
Many people prefer flavored coffees in which non-coffee flavors are infused into the roasted beans.
Some of the most popular coffee flavors include almond, vanilla, chocolate, and hazelnut with many other flavors available also including caramel, cinnamon, amaretto, rum, bourbon, apple, pumpkin spice, Irish crème, peppermint, and butter rum.
After the beans are roasted they are allowed to cool down to about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and then the flavor is added. At this time the pores of the beans are still open and very receptive to flavor absorption.
Just the Numbers Please
China's current coffee consumption: 4 cups per capita (compare to other countries MAP)
Number of coffee beans required for one espresso: 42
Coffee beans required to make one pound of roasted coffee: 4,000
Number of beans required to fill one sack of coffee: 600,000
Approximate weight of one sack of coffee: 132 pounds
Pounds of coffee imported to the U.S. annually: 2.5 million
Total coffee production worldwide from October, 2006 through September, 2007: 16 billion pounds
Money generated annually by the coffee industry worldwide: $70 billion
Number of coffee trade workers in Brazil: 5 million
Number of coffee plants in Brazil: 3 billion
Number of coffee farmers worldwide: 25 million
Average yield of a coffee tree per year: 1 pound
Time for a coffee tree to mature: 5 years
Percentage of coffee drinkers who take it black: 37%
Percentage of coffee drinkers who add a sweetener: 63%
Percentage of coffee consumed that is instant coffee: 13%
Percentage of coffee consumed at breakfast: 34%
Cups of coffee consumed in the world each year: 400 billion
Percentage of U.S. adults who start their day with coffee: 50%
Cups of coffee consumed in the U.S. daily: 300 million
Percentage of world’s coffee supply grown in the Americas: 67%
Value of the premium gourmet coffee industry annually: $1.5 billion
Total number of people employed in the coffee industry: 25 million
Percentage of coffee drinkers in U.S. who brew their coffee at home: 75%
Maximum amount of caffeine absorbed by the body: 300 milligrams
Milligrams of coffee in one cup: 150
Amount of caffeine the body dissipates each hour: 20%
Percentage of fat in espresso: 2.5%
Percentage of fat in filter coffee: 0.6%
Number of U.S. retailers who roast coffee on premises: 2,000