Cherries, Goats, and History
Author: Cheyenne Pittman
With the rise in value of the beloved coffee industry to over 100 billion dollars world wide, it’s vital to return to this comforting yet essential drink’s origin. Specialty coffee has brought the actual beans into a new light and out of the dim and dusty light of the second wave coffee standard it was at before. Consumers and producers alike are actually taking the time to learn about the coffee bean and it’s roots more and more.
The small brown bean that you find in the bags on the shelf or nested in the hopper of an espresso grinder did not always look the way they do in their final stage that you are used to seeing. The original form is actually in a fruit state- called a cherry. This cherry has been through hours of work and many caring hands before it reaches the cup you have in the morning. This cherry has not always been used in the way that it is today. When ripe, it is a bright red and looks similar to a cranberry. Early on, this fruit was covered in animal fat and used as a protein rich snack, something that would probably be a sensation in the keto diet world. It was also used to make a wine-like drink by fermenting the fruit pulp. It is said that the very first coffee plants were grown and cultivated in Ethiopia and were soon brought over to Yemen. There are dozens of different stories about how the uses of coffee were discovered, one of them being the legend of the goat farmer named Kaldi. His goats kept eating the fruits and refused to go to sleep at night. He decided to dig a little deeper into these fruits in order to harness their power for humans. One tale says that he shared these fruits with a monk who thought of them as evil and threw them into a fire, thus creating the first roasted beans. Unfortunately, these stories don't have any physical evidence but who are we to say these goats aren’t the founders of this cherished drink.
From the cherries on the trees, to the freshly ground coffee in your filter, there are quite a few processes that the bean goes through. The cherries are processed in three different ways. The less expensive way is the dry or natural method. The cherries are dried out in the sun for about seven to ten days and turned periodically. Once their moisture level has dropped to 11% or less, their outer shells will turn brown and the bean inside will rattle around. During the wet or washed method, the pulp of the cherries is removed soon after harvesting, leaving just the beans. The beans are then put into a fermentation solution for 24-48 hours. The beans are then dried by machines or the sun. Once they are dried, their outer layers are removed in a process called hulling. The third process for preparing the cherries is called the honey process or pulped natural process. The cherry pulp is removed but the bean itself is not washed which leaves some of the pulp still on it. The remaining pulp left on the bean mimics the sticky, golden consistency of honey which is where it gets its name. This process allows for the use of less water than it would in the washed method and takes less time than the natural method. Once the dry and naked beans are done being processed and hulled, they will then be sent to a roaster. Each roaster has a different method, there are a multitude of different roasters and styles. Once the beans have their first crack, similar to the first popcorn kernel opening, all of the flavors, nuanciases, and notes are released.
Whether you drink coffee because it's the post- Boston Tea Party patriotic thing to do or because you just need a little pick me up, you can always count on this wondrous and historically rich drink to be there for you. The North Central College Coffee Lab has gone to the very source in order to serve you the most ethical and delicious coffee they could provide. The importance in knowing where your coffee comes from can make the world of a difference in a coffee farmer’s life.
Photo Credits to Bradley Thalmann
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