INDIA. Coorg, Karnataka: The very mention of the word coffee ignites the urge to have a cup of a hot steaming beverage. The urge is instant just like the instant or the soluble muddy version.
Coffee is a brewed drink prepared from roasted coffee seeds (beans). Once ripe, coffee berries are picked, processed, and dried. Dried beans are roasted to varying degrees depending on the desired flavor. Roasted beans are ground and then brewed with boiling water to produce the beverage.
The origin is in the original coffee trees discovered in Ethiopia. The word “coffee” entered the English language in 1582 via the Dutch koffie, borrowed from the Ottoman Turkish kahve, borrowed in turn from the Arabic qahwah.
Coffee is darkly colored, bitter, and slightly acidic and has a stimulating effect primarily due to its caffeine content. It is one of the most popular drinks in the world and is usually served hot, while the iced/cold version is a popular alternative.
I recently took a Coffee Plantation tour at Coorg and got insights into the entire journey of a cup of coffee. Various aspects of the plantations, beans, drying, roasting, and grinding of the beans were all discussed and then practically demonstrated, and from the final product – Tasting was done.
Several species of shrub of the genus Coffea produce the berries from which coffee is extracted. The two main species commercially cultivated are Coffea canephora (known as ‘robusta’) and Coffea Arabica (known as Arabica). Arabica and Robusta represent and account for virtually the entire coffee production in the world. We also have a few less popular species like, C. liberica, C. stenophylla, C. mauritiana, and C. racemosa.
All coffee plants are classified in the large family Rubiaceae. They are evergreen shrubs or plants that grow 5 m tall. The leaves are dark green and glossy, usually 10–15 cm long and 6 cm wide, simple, entire, and opposite. The plantations depend on stringent climatic conditions related to temperature and rainfall. Temperatures in the range of 23 °C and 28 °C with rainfall in the range of 60–80 inches are quite ideal for the crop.
Arabica is the one which is the most sought after variety. But it is quite prone to serious infestation by coffee rust. To overcome this, an alternative robust species, appropriately named Robusta was developed. Today Arabica, accounts for 75-80 percent of the world’s production, whereas Robusta, accounts for about 20 percent. Robusta beans produce an inferior tasting beverage with higher caffeine content.
On the world market, Arabica beans bring the highest prices. Robusta is primarily used in blends and for instant coffees. The major difference between Arabica and Robusta are:
- Arabica is generally sweeter than Robusta.
- Arabica has more nuanced flavors than Robusta. Arabica is fruity, chocolaty, and nutty.
- Less Caffeine; Arabica has about half as much caffeine as Robusta.
- Robusta bean is slightly rounder and smaller than an Arabica bean.
- Arabica berries ripen in six to eight months, while robusta takes nine to eleven months.
It’s a delightful sight when coffee plantations are in full bloom. The entire area appears as if snow-covered with white flowers. The flowers are small; they smell like jasmine flowers, are sweet and pretty.
The flowers are followed by berries which are green in colour, and they ripen to yellow, then red or crimson, before turning black on drying. Each pea-berry usually contains two seeds called the coffee bean (about 5–10% of the berries have only one). The fruit is usually gathered by hand when it is fully ripe and red in colour.
The beans are then separated from the berry either through Dry method or Wet method and dried. Once dried, we get what is called Green Coffee.
The beans are then sent for Grading and Sorting, which is done by size and weight. Beans also pass through a review for color flaws and other imperfections and are then sized by being passed through a series of screens. They are then classified according to the size into P, AA, A, B, and C beans. AA beans are the top most quality and attract the best prices. Defective beans are removed and sent for use in making instant coffee.
The next step in coffee processing is roasting. Roasting brings out the flavours in coffee that everybody loves. Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase. At a pre-set temperature of 200 degrees Celcius, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, a fragrant oil locked inside the beans, begins to emerge. This process called pyrolysis is the heart of roasting as it produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee that we all love.
After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled either by air or water. And then the roasted beans are sent for grinding.
Coffee production in India:
Coffee in India is grown mostly in the southern states; in the hills of Karnataka (Kodagu, Chikkamagalur, and Hassan) accounting for 71%, Kerala (Malabar region) accounting for 21%, Tamil Nadu (Nilgiris District, Yercaud and Kodaikanal) accounting for 5%, and minimal quantities in Andhra Pradesh (Araku Valley). Indian coffee grown in the shade rather than direct sunlight is the finest coffee available anywhere in the world.
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