Coffee Nerds 101: 7 basic facts about the little brown bean that all genuine coffee nerds should know
Introducing the first instalment of our post series, ‘Coffee Nerds 101,’ a series of posts where we’ll be taking big slurps at the science and art of coffee from every possible angle.
If you’re a person that not only drinks coffee, but philosophises, obsesses, reads obscure books about it – we hope you feel at home here while consuming facts about your life’s muse, hopefully learn a few new things, and perhaps at some point write a long and involved comment to us on socials about your nerdy coffee knowledge.
In this post, we’ve harvested seven basic facts about the brown bean (if that is even its REAL name – see fact number 1) that every coffee nerd should know.
1. Coffee beans aren’t actually beans
Yep, it’s the truth. A coffee ‘bean’ is actually the seed to be found inside coffee cherries that grow on the Coffea plant. Mind blown, right?
If you plant a green coffee bean (meaning a raw bean that hasn’t been processed) in the right conditions, it will likely grow into a whole new coffee plant.
2. Technically speaking, coffee is a fruit
Yeah, we know – now we sound like that super nerdy friend of yours who brings up random facts at parties, but when it comes to coffee, we ARE nerds in the truest sense of the word.
As we mentioned above, in fact numero uno, coffee beans are the seeds plucked out of purple or red fruits (that can turn yellow or orange when ripe) that grow on the Coffea plant and, just like normal cherries, the coffee fruit is a so-called stone fruit.
So the next time somebody makes a comment about how much coffee you drink, you can reply with a cheeky remark pointing out that at least you're consuming plenty of fruit...yep, just like that super nerdy friend who brings up random facts at parties would do. And yes, we are joking here – you’re not actually consuming any of the fruit from which the bean is sourced.
3. There are roughly 80 to 120 different kinds of coffee plants, but only 4 of them are currently used to make the drink we all love
The two dominant species of coffee used include the Coffea Arabica aka. Arabica coffee – which accounts for about 60 percent of world production – and the Coffea Canephora, also known as Robusta coffee.
Coffea Liberica (Liberica coffee) and Coffea Dewevrei (Excelsa coffee) are two other species grown on a much smaller scale mainly because demand for them is low (it’s mostly a flavour thing, and sometimes a question of how easy they are to cultivate and harvest).
4. Coffee goes through a LOOONG journey made up of many stages to go from seed to cup
It all begins with a seed being planted in large garden beds in shaded nurseries. Depending on the variety, it normally takes 2 to 4 years for the coffee plant to bear fruit, at which point, it is harvested. Once the coffee is picked, processing begins as quickly as possible to prevent fruit spoilage. Then the beans are dried before they are milled and stripped of their dried husk layer. They are then sorted by size, packed into bags and exported.
Then, the beans typically go through a tasting process called cupping (and no, this is not like spooning for coffee beans) during which they are tested for quality. Then the transformation of the green coffee begins as they’re roasted. This is when they become the delightfully aromatic brown beans that most of us are familiar with. Then we grind and brew.
Knowing how involved the coffee production process is makes you appreciate these little beans even more, right?
5. If you love them like you claim you do, store your beans in a dark and cool location
Sounds like a contradictory thing to do with something you love, but if you want to keep those glorious smells and flavours that come to life in the roasting process, store your beans in a container that protects them from light and is air-tight. Their archenemies are light, moisture, heat and oxygen.
6. Coffee beans are most commonly processed in three ways
The processing of the beans – separating the fruit from the seed aka. bean – is one of the most crucial steps in the production of coffee and can have a dramatic effect on the flavours of the end product. It’s most often done in three ways, which we’ve described briefly below:
The old school dry (natural) method: this is the old school and simple method. This sees the cherries spread out in a thin layer on a surface where they’re exposed to the sun. This is common in coffee growing regions that don’t have an abundance of water on offer.
The wet process: the most common version of this process sees the beans stripped of their coffee cherry flesh by a machine known as a depulper. After the depulper has had its way with the beans, they are put into a water tank where fermentation takes care of the remaining fruit flesh.
The pulped natural (honey) process: this is a popular method in Central America. This process also involves a depulper machine. After the beans pass through here, they go straight to drying tables, or patios, to dry. This method leads to a certain sweet, juicy and acidic flavour coming out in the final cup thanks to the remaining flesh left on the beans.
7. The flavour that a coffee bean holds is created by a variety of factors coming together in magnificent harmony
The coffee bean is the perfect example of how mother nature is an incredibly talented creator. This may sound kitsch, but it’s true. A number of conditions need to be orchestrated in nature for every bean to grow up to become delicious coffee one day.
Everything from the variety of the coffee plant, the soil's chemistry, the amount of rain and sun, and even the altitude at which the coffee grows can affect the taste of the final product. In our opinion, this is what makes coffee such a beautiful and fascinating thing – it’s a science which nature conducts that leads to no two batches of coffee ever being the same.