It All Starts With The Bean


Today coffee is the world's second largest industry (after petroleum), but its origins - the coffee plant - go back centuries.

The tropical ever-green coffee plant was first discovered in Abyssinia, now called Ethiopia. It's a perfect climate for coffee plants, which enjoy moist climates, higher altitudes. Cool but not frosty temperatures and mineral-rich soil.

If you enjoy the complex flavours of a nice coffee then it's useful to know a little about the plant.

The coffee plant first produces clusters of white blossoms, very similar to jasmine in shape and scent. This is one of the delicate favours that you can discern in a good, strong, aromatic coffee.

The flowers last only a few days, replaced by round berries which start green and then ripen to yellow and then red. Each coffee berry contains two beans. The beans are covered by several layers, including a silver skin, parchment (pergamino), pulp, skin and a sweet mucilage. This mucilage, as well as the way in which the beans are removed from the berry, governs quite a lot of the flavour of the coffee.

The actual process of harvesting and preparing the coffee beans is very labour intensive. The berries are picked by hand because they ripen at different times, taking care not to pull off the delicate stems from the plant. They are then processed by one of two methods: either by drying the berries and removing the beans with a mechanical husker, or by removing, washing, drying, sorting and selecting the beans by hand.

Next time you're enjoying a top-class coffee like Indocafe or Robert Timms, appreciate not only the work that goes in to the harvest of each bean, but the fact that it takes approximately 5000 berries (or 10000 beans) to produce just one kilogram of coffee. It really is a special beverage.