The Remarkable Journey of Coffee: From Cherry to Cup

Coffee. Its mere name can invoke thoughts of bustling cafés, lazy Sunday mornings, and the soothing ritual of brewing. Yet, this ubiquitous beverage has a history as rich as the brew itself. Let’s embark on the journey of coffee, from its humble origins to its standing as a global cultural phenomenon1.

The Legend of Kaldi: An Origin Shrouded in Myth

The story of coffee begins in the 11th century in Ethiopia. Legend has it that a young goatherd named Kaldi noticed his goats dancing joyfully after consuming red cherries from a peculiar tree. Intrigued, he decided to try them himself and found the cherries gave him a renewed sense of vitality. This legendary tale encapsulates the wonder and allure that coffee has held over the centuries2.

Spreading the Aroma: Coffee’s Global Journey

Kaldi’s cherries quickly gained recognition. The unique qualities of the coffee bean did not remain confined to Ethiopia for long. By the 15th century, the knowledge of coffee and its invigorating effects had traveled to Yemen and then across the Middle East, with Sufi monks utilizing it to aid their night-long prayer sessions.

The aromatic drink eventually arrived in Europe in the 17th century. Initially met with suspicion, coffee quickly won the Europeans over. It replaced the morning drink of choice—ale—and coffee houses proliferated, becoming centers of social activity3.

From Seed to Cherry: The Life of a Coffee Tree

The coffee journey truly begins with the planting of coffee seeds in large, carefully shaded beds. When the seedlings are robust enough, they are relocated to their permanent home in open fields. Here, nestled in the soil under canopies of shade, they grow into trees that start bearing fruit after three to four years.

The fruit, known as coffee cherries, ripens over several months. Harvesting is a meticulous process, with workers handpicking the cherries only when they’ve achieved a deep red coloration4.

Processing the Cherries: A Choice of Methods

Once harvested, the coffee cherries undergo processing to extract the beans. There are two main methods: the dry method and the wet method.

In the dry method, arguably the oldest technique, the freshly picked cherries are spread out in the sun to dry. They are frequently raked and turned to prevent spoilage, a process that can take up to four weeks5.

The wet method involves removing the pulp from the coffee cherry soon after harvesting so that the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on. This is a more labor-intensive and costly process, but it allows for the beans to retain a higher quality6.

Milling and Sorting: The Making of Green Coffee

The next stage is milling, where the dry cherries are hulled, a process that removes the dried husk of the cherries. Then, the beans are sorted and graded according to several criteria, including size and weight. This procedure, critical in determining coffee quality, results in what’s called green coffee7.

Roasting: The Birth of the Coffee We Know

Roasting is where green coffee beans are transformed into the aromatic brown beans we are familiar with. The beans are heated at temperatures of approximately 550 degrees Fahrenheit, undergoing several chemical changes. During the process, they change color from green to yellow to various shades of brown. Roasting demands careful control over temperature and time, as it significantly affects the taste of the coffee8.

Grinding and Brewing: The Final Steps

The penultimate stage involves grinding the roasted beans. The consistency of the grind depends largely on the brewing method—espresso requires a fine grind, while French press and cold brew call for a coarser grind9.

Brewing is the final step in our coffee’s journey. There are countless ways to brew coffee, from pour-over to espresso machines, each method yielding a unique flavor profile and richness.

Coffee: A Global Affair

Today, coffee is more than a beverage. It’s a global industry, a catalyst for socialization, a reason for breaks, and for some, a sheer lifeline. As you savor your next cup of coffee, remember the long journey it has taken, from the high-altitude coffee fields to your kitchen. And, remember to savor not just its taste, but also its rich, fascinating history