Where do coffee beans come from?
16 Mar 2021
Do you know your Arabica from your Robusta? And where does coffee grow best? Become a coffee expert today.
For us, coffee and chocolate is a no-brainer combination. In fact, we’ve even dedicated a blog post explaining why coffee and chocolate go together for those who are yet to be convinced. Not only do we combine coffee and cacao in our Coffee Chocolate; we also enjoy making our very own Coffee & Chocolate mixes for a hot beverage or warming tipple.
Although you may think of the cacao bean as being synonymous with Hotel Chocolat, we also like to think we know a thing or two about coffee beans. We’ve dived into the deep and wonderful world of coffee beans so that you can appreciate your next sip just that little bit more.
Where do coffee beans grow?
You might often hear people say that they can’t start their day without a cup of coffee – and it’s not just because of the delicious taste and aroma that it gives off. Coffee provides a much-needed caffeine boost to give us a bit of energy in the morning. In fact, coffee is so popular that in January 2021 alone, world coffee exports reached 10.21 million bags. That’s over 600 million kilos!
With all that demand, you can imagine a lot of space is needed to grow coffee beans. Coffee beans are grown all over the world, but Brazil has been the largest exporter of coffee since 1840. Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia follow closely behind as the largest coffee exporters in the world.
Other countries such as Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Ethiopia and more also export coffee beans. However, the Brazilian coffee bean continues to reign supreme, producing around 3 billion kilograms of coffee beans a year.
What is the process?
Originally, coffee beans begin their life in a coffee bean plant, which looks a bit like a bush or a shrub. Picture a berry bush or a grapevine: coffee plants have branches covered in green waxy leaves.
After around three to five years of growth, these branches will begin to sprout green coffee cherries, which ripen to look a bit like cranberries. Once these coffee cherries are ready to harvest, coffee workers pick them off the branch by hand, and select the best cherries for processing.
Next, the coffee is processed. How this is done depends on the location and local resources available.
The Dry Method remains the traditional method of processing coffee, and it is still used today in countries with a limited water supply. The coffee cherries are simply laid out in the sun to dry and covered at night to prevent any moisture spoiling them. Typically, this process can take up to several weeks for each batch, as the moisture content must drop to 0% before any further steps are taken.
The Wet Method removes the pulp from the coffee cherries after the beans have been harvested. Then, they are left to dry, but the prior processing means that only the parchment-like skin of the coffee cherries is left, so it doesn’t take as long.
The process is much more complex in comparison to the Dry Method. This is because producers need equipment such as a hydraulic press and water-filled fermentation tanks to help remove the pulp.
After the beans have been dried, they are processed in a hulling machine which removes the parchment layer from the wet processed coffee (if the coffee beans have come from the Wet Method). If, instead the beans have come from the Dry Method, then the hulling machine works in the same way, removing the entire dried husk from the dried beans.
Sometimes coffee makers polish the beans to remove any leftover silver skin that remains after hulling. However, there isn’t a huge difference between polished and unpolished beans so it’s not always necessary.
Finally, the beans are sorted through to make sure only the best ones are ready for exportation.
The four main types of coffee beans
Although you may be familiar with the brand and taste of your favourite coffee, do you know what type of coffee bean you prefer? There are four main types of coffee bean that we consume in the world, and you might be surprised at some of the differences…
This bean reigns supreme when it comes to winning a popularity contest. Arabica coffee is by far the most popular coffee option, comprising roughly 75 to 80 percent of world production.
Although Arabica coffee might be in high demand, this doesn’t mean that it is lower in quality. In fact, its popularity is due to it being one of the most flavourful beans out there. Famous for their deep and complex flavours and aromas, Arabica beans will provide you with a satisfying, rounded cup of java.
These beans aren’t just popular because of its delicious flavour: it is also relatively easy to grow – as long as you’re in the right climate. Arabica coffee plants need to be in a high altitude area that has steady rainfall and plenty of shade.
The runner up? The Robusta coffee bean comes in a strong second. This variety of coffee is the second most produced in the world, providing a real caffeine kick for those who prefer the stronger stuff. In fact, Robusta plans boast double the amount of caffeine compared to Arabica beans, meaning they’re the perfect choice if you need a bigger boost in the morning.
Because these beans have fewer sugar compounds, the Robusta coffee bean has a more savoury and earthy flavour profile. This means they are an ideal choice for those who prefer their coffee on the punchier side.
Just as the name suggests, Robusta coffee beans are robust when it comes to fighting off diseases. This means they are easier to cultivate than the Arabica coffee bean, lowering its overall price.
Don’t be disappointed in yourself if you didn’t guess this variety of coffee bean. In fact, Liberica coffee beans are one of the rarer coffee varieties. Unlike other coffee varieties, Liberica beans have a much larger shape and an irregular form.
Liberica beans are distinctive in their taste as much as appearance. This bean has a pretty complex flavour profile, evoking a mixture of smoky, fruity and floral notes.
Technically, Excelsa coffee is a member of the Liberica family. However, its distinctive flavour profile makes it a coffee type in its own right. Excelsa coffee is typically used to add an extra boost of flavour to other coffee blends, boasting smoky, tart and floral tastes. This coffee bean is much less circulated, accounting for only 7% of the world’s coffee consumption.
Popular coffee drinks
You may think that the only way to enjoy coffee is with a dash of milk and a sprinkle of sugar – or even just black. However countries around the world have their own way of enjoying this caffeinated beverage.
Finland – Kaffeost
This Finnish tradition – literally translated as coffee-cheese – involves pouring hot coffee over chunks of special Finnish “squeaky cheese”, called leipäjuusto, or bread cheese. The cheese absorbs the coffee and evolves into moist cheese sponges.
Turkey – Türk Kahvesi
Turkish coffee involves simmering finely ground coffee beans in a cezve (a brass or copper pot). Turkish coffee is different to coffee that we’re used to as you drink it unfiltered, so you’ll find the residual coffee grounds at the bottom of the cup.
Vietnam – Ca Phe Trung
This unique cup of coffee requires an egg. Don’t worry – it’s not some a combination of caffeine and scrambled egg. In fact, Vietnamese coffee couldn’t be further away from this image.
Whisk egg yolks with sweetened condensed milk to form a creamy and indulgent sort of mousse. Then, heap this mixture onto strong, short Vietnamese coffee to form a rich and decadent cup.
You might be a little more familiar with this blend. Combine hot coffee, Irish whiskey and sugar to form a sweet and tipsy coffee mix. For extra decadence, pour thick cream on top to finish with a creamy and smooth cup.
It goes without saying that us Brits love a good cup of coffee, and our location means we’re strongly influenced by Italian coffee traditions. Perhaps that’s why we like to try a variety of different coffee and milk combinations. Caffé Latte offers a milder tasting cup of coffee, containing around 150ml-300ml of steamed milk.
For something on the stronger side, a Flat White serves a shot of double espresso with lightly steamed milk in a smaller cup. Of course, you could just forgo the milk and get a real caffeine boost in a Double Espresso.
Some final brewing thoughts
It seems that coffee is a winner worldwide. Perhaps it’s no surprise that International Coffee Day exists: read our complete guide on how to celebrate this coffee-fuelled date here.
Making a cup of coffee can take a matter of minutes, but the process to get the coffee into your cupboard takes a lot more time and effort. Next time you take a sip of your favourite roast, remember to really appreciate the overall flavour profile of your coffee.