No joke! The part you would normally spit out is the original form of our coffee bean – the stone of a fruit. More precisely, a cherry stone. Let’s take a closer look.
Coffee is a gourmet product, has more flavours than wine and enjoys a bigger following than almost any other beverage in the world. And all this despite being the bit we would normally throw away – a fruit stone. But how to transform it into an aromatic coffee?
No blossom, no cherries – and no cherries, no coffee
Let’s first take a look at the coffee plant, or rather the coffee tree. Cultivation and care can take between three and five years from seed to maturity – depending on the country and variety. The all-important flowering will begin at some point during this period – and this blossom is essential for the development of the coffee cherry, whose seeds are needed for our favourite daily beverage.
The flowering period of the trees can vary greatly depending on the variety and rain levels. Not every variety, for example, flowers equally quickly. Once it has rained enough to encourage the white cherry blossoms to appear, they exude a sweet scent that is somewhat reminiscent of jasmine. As with all trees, the flowers need to be pollinated if the fruits are to develop. The Coffea arabica variety is a self-pollinator, and manages this with very little help, while in the case of Coffea canephora plants, more commonly known as Robusta, insects such as bees are needed to perform cross-pollination. Whichever way the flowers are pollinated, what is important is the final result – the coffee cherry itself.
Green means stop, red means go
The cherries rarely develop in isolation, as they grow in clusters in a similar way to grapes. An Arabica cluster consists of 10 to 20 large round coffee cherries, a Canephora cluster of 40 to 50 small ones. The ripening process is the same for both while the duration tends to vary, with factors such as wind, rain and sun playing a major role. Just as many blond children develop darker hair in their first years of life, the cherry also changes colour during the ripening process. The unripe fruit is green, small and hard at first, but as soon as it slowly starts to ripen, it takes on an orange tinge and becomes softer. Once the cherry is deep red in colour, it is finally ripe for harvest. If the fruits become blackish red, however, this is a sign that they are overripe. They might be extremely sweet, but they will soon spoil during processing.
When the coffee cherry gives up its treasure
Depending on the country where the coffee is grown, the harvest can vary according to the weather conditions – it can be an intensely short period, or spread over the entire year. The coffee cherries are picked individually by hand, or stripped by machine, but regardless of the method, the next step is processing. Here too, the approach varies and determines when and how quickly the cherries shed their outer layers.
The coffee cherry can be divided roughly into three layers. The outer skin with its sweet flesh is also referred to as the pulp. This is the source of the sugar that is so vital for the later roasting of the beans. Then comes the parchment, the natural protective skin of the seed and the silver skin – the final, very thin layer around the seed. And the seed? That’s the bean itself. Or more precisely, two beans. Practically every cherry consists of two seeds that face each other on their flat sides. Born as a pair, they are separated during processing. Almost a little tragic, really.
No parchment, no flavour
A distinction is made between wet, dry and semi-dry processing. In dry processing, the complete cherries are laid out on a sun bed, where they shrink and take on a brownish colour, reminiscent of a raisin. In semi-dry processing, the cherry’s outer skin is removed, while some of the pulp remains intact. Now the drying can begin. What remains is a bean with its parchment layer, which, however, still has brownish-reddish sections of pulp. Wet processing, in contrast, involves removing the entire pulp and drying the coffee bean with its parchment layer only. This appropriately named parchment coffee is extremely clean, and has a uniform light beige colour.
The various forms of processing each have a different effect on flavour. If the beans dry together with the pulp, the sweet layer lends them more body and gives them a darker taste, generally with less acidity. If they are washed and laid in the sun almost naked, on the other hand, they tend to develop citrus, floral notes with greater acidity. Whatever the approach, what is important is that the parchment remains intact. It protects the beans from absorbing water, and losing quality as a result. The final layers are not removed until the drying process is over, and what remains is a greeny-beige raw coffee that is ready for roasting.
Using the pulp for tea
But what happens with all that pulp? For many, this is no longer of any use – which is a real shame as far as we are concerned. One alternative is to use the sweet leftovers to fertilise the coffee trees. They can, however, also be used to make a completely new product. Our Cascara Ice Tea, for example, is just one way to make use of the pulp, and its mild sweetness and natural caffeine content make it a refreshing addition to our range. This approach allows us to make use of every part of the cherry – not just the sought-after stone.