Who doesn’t love to start their day with a steaming hot cup of coffee? With Americans consuming over 400 million cups of coffee every single day, the coffee bean is an important part of daily life for many people. So important that the United States imports more than $4 billion dollars of coffee beans a year. The roasting and processing of these beans is an art and a science and as any coffee drinker will tell you, there is nothing worse than a cup of burnt, bitter coffee.
What are the steps of coffee bean processing?
First you need the coffee tree, which takes four years before it even begins producing the cherry fruits that contain the coffee beans. Often these coffee cherries are hand picked when they are ripe, ensuring the bean inside is the most flavorful and not bitter.
The picked and sorted cherries can go through one of two processes next- dry processing or wet processing.
In dry processing, the cherries are spread in a thin layer on the ground and allowed to dry in the sun. On large farms, they will use drying equipment to speed this process and ensure consistency.
The wet drying process soaks the cherries in water and then pressing them through a screen to remove the majority of the cherry pulp, leaving the beans behind. Enzymes are then added to ferment away any remaining pulp. Modern equipment uses mechanical scrubbers instead of fermentation to remove the pulp from the coffee bean. The wet beans are then dried, typically in an industrial dryer, to bring moisture levels down to where it will be stable for storage.
These dried beans then move on to more processing, where they go through hulling to remove the beans from any leftover shell from the cherry. Next they are polished and cleaned to remove any chaff.
Finally, the beans are sent through screeners to to remove any debris that was mixed in and to sort the beans by sizes and densities for grading.
These beans are still ‘green’ and are not usable for the final coffee product though, and must be roasted to bring out the flavors that the millions of coffee drinkers look forward to every morning. Industrial coffee roasters are either a hot air fluid bed or a rotary drum dryer. Both of these methods lift and move the beans to ensure even and consistent roasting over the entirety of the beans.