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Three Waves of Coffee: The History of Coffee Processing and Making. Part 1

Coffee has become an essential morning beverage for millions of people. According to statistics, more than 2.25 billion cups of coffee are drunk daily, which amounts to almost one trillion cups per year. In the majority of countries, coffee is first in consumption, leaving tea, juices, and sodas behind. 

Everyone chooses coffee according to their preferences, looking at different types of packaging, roast grades, and exporting countries:

  • some customers prefer environmentally friendly compostable coffee pods;
  • others set the grinding level in the coffee machine themselves;
  • there are those who rely on professional baristas. 

Few people give much thought to how coffee beans are processed long before they are roasted. As it turns out, this process is no less important than the variety, the degree of roasting and grinding, and the region of cultivation.

First Coffee Wave: The Discovery of Coffee Fruits

Bedouin drinking coffee in the desert

Before coffee reached the tables of European nobility, it had been popular in Arab and African countries for a thousand years. Shepherds noticed that goats became more energetic after eating the berries from coffee trees and bushes and began to use them as a drink. No processing was involved at that time. The berries were simply boiled and drunk to get the desired effect.

A little later, the fruit was dried to get rid of the berry skin and pulp. They were peeled by hand and beans were brewed in jezves on the sand. This tradition was adopted by European society in the 16th and 17th centuries. They used to refer to coffee as Arab wine. However, the reason for drinking coffee was the same - to get more energy and reduce fatigue. That's why they did their best to brew it stronger, regardless of its taste.

After coffee became common in Europe and America, consumer demand grew. Since most of the countries where coffee trees and bushes grew were colonies, European and American business owners looked for a way to increase imports on an industrial scale.

However, drying took a long time, and the humid climate of Indonesia and Cuba excluded such a possibility altogether. So the beans were covered with mold and did not dry out completely. Thus, a new method, washing, was invented in Jamaica in the 19th century. The idea was to demucilage the beans in a simpler and quicker way. For this purpose, the berries are placed in water. Unripe and overripe fruits float up. This is a quick way to sort them. Next, the fruits are peeled from the skin, leaving only the pulp. After that, the product is placed in special containers - tanks filled with water. The fermentation process begins when bacteria and yeast degrade the pulp. When the gluten degraded, the beans were thoroughly washed. Next, the product was dried for 12-20 days. 

This technology makes the coffee flavor more stable and understandable to most consumers. At that time, though, the flavor was not yet established in society and people accepted what was offered to them. It is important to mention the roasting, which was too intense. The drink was thick, bitter, and slightly sour.

By the way, it was John Arbuckle who invented the technology of roasting coffee on a commercial scale. He set up production and organized large supplies of roasted beans all over the world. It was a real breakthrough but soon the market became filled with roasted beans. The demand exceeded the supply of green beans for roasting. 

This period was also marked by several important breakthroughs that enabled the scaling up of coffee shipments to other countries. One of these was vacuum packaging, invented by the founders of Hills Bros. Coffee. Thanks to the new technology, beans could be transported from their countries of origin to more distant regions where demand for the beverage was on the rise. This type of packaging protected the beans from external impact. They remained fresh longer and preserved their flavor. Trade networks started to develop, and such a phenomenon as the coffee business emerged. 

The second important discovery dates back to 1890. It was the year David Strang first invented and patented instant coffee. It quickly gained popularity because no brewing technology or equipment was required. So making coffee at home became easy. It was even supplied to the soldiers of the First World War as an official part of their rations. Shortly after that, Nestle launched the Nescafe brand. It is still active around the world and many people associate it with coffee.

During this period, the beans were dark roasted to brew a bitter beverage. It was the bitterness that was considered a sign of appropriate flavor back then. Coffee consumption was advertised and promoted by businessmen who pioneered this industry, for instance, Joel Cheek, owner of Maxwell House.

Natural Processing

Coffee beans dried on the ground

The arid climates of Africa and Asia allow berries to be processed in a dry (natural) way. They are harvested and placed on concrete or mesh platforms. Then, there is a time when the skin and pulp dry out completely naturally. This usually takes several weeks.

Such an organic method has its advantages and disadvantages. The advantages are as follows:

  • natural drying enables the pulp to give its properties to the beans, resulting in a slightly sweet, almost honeyed caramel flavor;
  • no major investment is required, which increases the profitability of coffee. At the time when the first processing of beans was invented, there was no possibility of large-scale financing;
  • it is earth friendly and does not contaminate the environment. If you compare it with the other method - washing, natural processing does not contaminate nature with waste after fermented berries are washed.

The disadvantages include:

  • dependence on weather conditions;
  • manual separation of unripe berries. 

To this day, Ethiopia and Yemen use this affordable, but a labor-intensive method. 

Second Coffee Wave: Commerce

Drinking coffee 19th century

The popularity of coffee was growing, which was accompanied by increasing customers' dissatisfaction with the quality of the beverage. At the end of the 20th century, as coffee drinking culture was taking root, such terms as "varieties", "producer", and "coffee cocktail" were introduced. The business was booming, which facilitated the competition and development of a variety of coffee beverages. 

Now it was not just coffee but a certain brand. The packages showed information about the country where the beans had been grown. Soon such cocktails as "espresso", "latte", etc. were offered. A variety of ingredients were experimented with and added to the coffee. Coffee shops became available to the majority of the population. Their owners attempted to stand out from their competitors by meeting their customers' expectations:

  • they created a special atmosphere in the establishments;
  • they actively advertised the product;
  • complex cocktails, for example, with a flavoring or syrup, were introduced to customers.

However, the trend toward dark roasting remained. The bitter flavor of the coffee was one of the most important features. At the same time, many business owners focused on improving the quality of roasting through innovation.

Barista was a profession that came into being. It was a specially trained person who was engaged in coffee brewing. Nevertheless, back then, baristas were hardly qualified professionals or even coffee connoisseurs. 

In the 1990s, more and more chain coffee shops appeared. Starbucks was one of the most well-known entities, and it has remained popular up to the present day. Consumers began to recognize coffee varieties. They got an understanding of Arabica and Robusta and showed interest in the countries where the berries were grown and the methods of their processing. 

Another important event of the second wave was the introduction of raf coffee. It came about by accident when one of the coffee shop customers did not want to order espresso again but asked for something special. Cream and vanilla sugar were added to his coffee, which gave the coffee a new, pleasant taste of crème brûlée.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Strong Roasting

Coffee beans and cup on the table

Since the business owners did not care much about the taste of coffee, they roasted the beans too much, not knowing all the information about the roasting levels. The result was a dark brown bean, which at the time was considered a sign of quality. This approach has its advantages:

  • The flavor is full and deep with nutty-chocolate notes;
  • The volume of oxides is minimized, and the sour note disappears.

The disadvantages are as follows:

  • If the temperature is excessive, a burnt aftertaste appears;
  • The caffeine content is reduced, which affects the effect of the drink.

At the end of the second wave, there were more and more coffee gourmets who sought flavor, not just an invigorating effect. Hence the next phase came, which continues today.

To be continued...




Illustration made with neuronet Midjourney

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