Coffee Beans

Written by Linda Alexander
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Coffee beans are actually seeds that come from a cherry-like coffee fruit. Coffeea trees produce berries known as coffee cherries. They are generally hand-picked and harvested once a year when ripe. After picking, the beans must be processed right away. They are either spread out to dry in sunlight for seven to ten days, or are hulled and dried using enzymes.

There are several species of coffeea trees that can be grown to make coffee. However, the arabica species is considered to have the best quality, and the robusta species is grown where arabica cannot thrive. Arabica beans are used in gourmet coffees, while robusta coffee beans are usually used by large coffee companies, and mixed to produce cheaper coffee. Instant coffee usually comes from the liberica species and can have robusta as a base.

Processing Coffee Beans

Once the coffee beans are dried, they are hulled. They layers of the berries are removed to reveal the seeds, which are then graded and sorted by size and density. The unroasted, or green, coffee, is then shipped in burlap bags. It is known then as milled coffee.

Coffee beans get their flavor during the roasting process. Some people roast them at home, but most of it is done commercially. Roasting the beans turns the raw beans into the dark, aromatic beans you are used to using in your coffee maker.

They are roasted at about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, which alters the internal chemistry of the beans and affects their flavor. The beans pop like popcorn and double in size, then begin to brown. The oils within them begin to emerge and the chemical reaction of the heat and oils produces the flavor and aroma of coffee.

Roasting Coffee Beans Produces Different Types of Coffee

When roasting coffee beans, timing is everything. The amount of the roast will affect the final flavor of the coffee. The roasting time is different for different types of coffee. "Regular" American coffee is roasted for a shorter period of time, while espresso is roasted longer. The beans are darker and more oily-looking than a lightly roasted American coffee.

Coffee beans are grown and harvested in about 80 countries. In some areas, they are a major export crop. Coffee is one of the world's largest commodities and is heavily traded around the world, although it can only be grown in tropical climates.

After coffee beans are roasted, they should be stored in airtight containers so that they do not lose their flavor. Coffee begins to lose flavor within an hour of being ground, due to the oils evaporating. You should only grid the quantities you need immediately or for the next few days. To keep it from going stale, you can refrigerate coffee for up to two weeks.

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