All About Coffee
The Wild Foods Guide to Coffee - Did you know that coffee isn't actually a bean? Hint: it's a seed!
All about Coffee
“It is inhumane, in my opinion, to force people who have a genuine medical need for coffee to wait in line behind people who apparently view it as some kind of recreational activity.”
The word “coffee” is thought to be derived from the word “Qahwah,” Arabic for the coffee drink. Scholars tend to agree that the word found its way into European languages through the Italian word “caffe” derived from the Turkish pronunciation “kahveh.”
How the world refers to coffee:
- English: coffee
- French: cafè
- German: kaffee
- Dutch: koffie
- Danish: kaffe
- Polish: kawa
- Finnish: kahvi
- Croatian: kafa
- Servian: kava
- Russian: kophe
- Swedish: kaffe
- Italian: caffè
- Portugese: cafè
- Turkish: kahuè
- Chinese: kia-fey
- Japanese: kèhi
Types of Coffee
The two main types of coffee plants are the species arabica and robusta. While there are over a hundred species of the coffea plant, these two represent the bulk of the world’s coffee market.
As a general rule, you want arabica. Arabica is considered the better tasting coffee plant and accounts for the bulk of the specialty coffee industry. Arabica usually contains 60% or more coffee oils and double the amount of sugar compared to robusta, both contributing to a better brew.
When it comes to quality of coffee, how it’s grown and processed play a paramount role in the final product. Because arabica is a more fickle plant and requires more growing attention than robusta—e.g., arabica does not tolerate frost, low altitude climates and is susceptible to pests—most arabicas are grown with care, resulting in an overall better product.
Because robusta is cheaper to grow, it become the bean of choice for the mass-produced, “technified” coffee you find on supermarket shelves. On the flip side, higher quality coffees known as “specialty coffee,” often organic and single-origin and sold as whole beans, are almost always 100% arabica beans.
A few differences between arabica and robusta:
- Arabica is generally better tasting and sweeter than robusta, including more than double the amount of sugar content and up to 60% more coffee oil.
- Arabica contains about half the amount of caffeine. Since caffeine is bitter, this contributes to why arabica generally tastes better than robusta.
- Arabica is less tolerant to growing conditions--pests, altitude, soil--than robusta.
- Robusta beans are typically half the price of arabica.
- Arabica beans are typically oval while robusta are typically circular.
Of course, not all robusta is “bad” coffee. Some robusta beans are prized for espresso due to the thick crema they produce, which is why you find robusta often in espresso blends. Our advice is to stick with 100% arabica unless you know what you are looking for in a robusta.
COFFEA ARABICA and the Coffee Cherry
Coffea Arabica is the the species of coffea plant responsible for about 70% of the world’s coffee production. Arabica is more a shrub than a tree, and while it can grow taller than 10 feet, it is usually trimmed down to allow pickers better access to cherries.
The coffee cherry is said to taste like a combination of watermelon and hibiscus. Unlike actual cherries, coffee cherries have little flesh between the outer skin and the coffee seeds inside, which are not edible until roasted. So be careful should you find yourself biting into a coffee cherry.
Coffee cherries start out green then turn cranberry red when they are ready for harvest. The main coffee harvest usually takes place once a year and is done by hand—in the case of quality coffee that is. It takes a single coffee plant an entire year to produce about two pounds of green coffee beans. Remember that the next time you buy your supply of coffee beans! (And don’t ever ever waste good coffee!)
Breakdown of the coffee cherry:
- Skin (Exocarp) - Tough and bitter.
- Pulp - Fruit beneath the skin. Sweet with a grape-like texture.
- Parchment (Mucilage) - Slimly layer which helps protect the seeds. Removed during processing using dry process, wet process, honey process, pulped natural process
- Silverskin - Thinner layer of parchment removed during roasting process
- Seed (beans) - The wonderful price we are after - Usually consisting of two seeds
Did you know?
Here's a fun coffee fact you can use to impress friends: Coffee is the seed of the coffee plant and not actually a "bean." A single coffee seed contains two “beans” when separated. A small percentage of coffee cherries contain a single bean called a “peaberry.”