June 15, 2011

...Dark Roast

The Dominican Republic is known for their coffee. As it very should be! It is delicious! When I go back to the United States, I am going to be soooo spoiled. After all, for the past four years, I've lived in college residence halls, where the basically the only readily available and easily accessable coffee was the burnt-sludge you'd choked down in order to get through those morning (or afternoon...orevening...) classes and late-night cram sessions.

My only complaint about the coffee here is how it is served. Coffee is presented in what I call a shot-glass mug. It absolutely cracks the locals up to see Kristen and myself drinking out of an actual mug filled with coffee. They think we are crazy. They also can´t understand how people could possibly drink coffee without about a cup of sugar per each ounce of liquid. Sometimes when Kristen and I are being served the beverage,we have to resist the temptation to ask if we could please have a little more coffee with our sugar.

I have always enjoyed the taste of coffee. Even as a kid, I would sneak sips from my mom´s mug (Sorry mom!). But after living in the DR for almost five months, I have witnessed the incredible amount of labor that needs to occur before I indulge in this daily habit of coffee drinking.

The entire process of making coffee is a much more complex process than I have ever imagined. It is difficult for me to believe my own ignorance about where coffee comes from has lasted this long.

 A coffee bean is actually the seeds of a cherry-like fruit. Coffee trees produce berries, called coffee cherries, that turn bright red when they are ripe and ready to pick. Coffee is harvested each year during the dry season. During this time, the coffee cherries are bright red, glossy, and firm. The first step in the process is carefully picking each cherry. The ripe cherries are harvested by hand. If the cherry is picked up to early it will lack of essential sweetness, but if the cherry is picked up to late it will be sour, thus, the picking of the cherries needs to be done carefully and selectively.

Immediately after being picked, the it is time for processing. This can be done in one of two ways. The first way is by the Dry method, where the cherries are spread out and left to dry by sunlight. The drying process lasts typically 7-10 days. During this time, the outer shell of the cherries turns brown and the beans rattle around inside.

The second method used is called the wet method. With this method, a pulping machine washes away the skin and pulp. The beans are put in fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours while the coffee to release all the honey remaining from the pulp. The beans are then dried, either by the sun or by mechanical dryers.

After using one of these two methods, the third step is washing the coffee beans. The beans are placed in large tanks filled with water pressure, which leaves the beans with no honey leftovers. It also separates the coffee beans by quality, the beans that float are the low quality beans and the ones that are in the bottom of the tank are the good quality beans. The beans are sorted by size, then by density. The different beans are either sorted by hand as they pass by on a conveyer belt or by an air jet that separates lighter (inferior) beans from heavier ones.

The last step roasting the coffee. In this process is where the roaster will decide the taste of the batch of coffee being roasted. The beans are heated in large, rotating drums using temperatures of about 550 F The beans first turn a yellowish color. After about 8 minutes, the beans "pop" and double in size. The beans then begin to brown as the oils within them start to emerge. This oil is called coffee essence or caffeol. The chemical reaction of the heat and coffee essence is called pyrolysis, and is what produces the flavor and aroma of coffee. A second "pop" occurs about three to five minutes later and signals that the bean is fully roasted.

There is truly an art to coffee roasting. Sound, sight and smell are all used to determine when the beans are roasted to perfection. Timing is crucial, as it affects the color and flavor of the final brew, so the length of the roasting period depends on the type of coffee desired. For American brew, the roasting process is shorter. For expresso, longer.  All of this needs to be done before the coffee beans are finally ground.
Ísn´t it amazing? How all of these steps are nessesary to follow before the coffee can be consumed. So the next time you drag yourself out of bed to the coffee machine or drive to the nearest Starbucks for a pick me up, please remember all those who labor for this taken for granted luxury.

 Information gathered by first hard experience, HowStuffWorks.com and CoffeeResearch.org

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