My buddy, the Bean

February 13, 2007|by FEDORA COPLEY

I hated coffee when I was younger. Later, I could only stand it with lots of milk and sugar. But that was before my family bought an espresso machine.

When my mom and I came home from summer camp, we found my dad and brother congregating around a newly purchased metal contraption. Here was the actual source of the delicious espresso drinks I had by now come to love.

The first time I'd ever drunk espresso drinks was in Italy in November 2005. My family would wake up and head to a small caf in whatever Italian city we were staying to enjoy espresso and pastries. When I came back to the States, I nurtured my love of espresso drinks by getting lattes at local coffee shops. But even then, I only liked them sweet and with a lot of steamed milk.

When my family got our very own espresso machine, I figuratively got down on my knees to worship its goodness.


Now, months into a steady relationship with The Bean, I feel the need to learn about coffee and its components.

The coffee plant, according to, is a woody perennial with waxy, dark green leaves. Plants produce small, red fruits called cherries. Inside the cherry is the seed, which is processed to produce coffee.

Two species of the coffee plant produce most of the beverage enjoyed by coffee-drinkers. Coffea arabica, which we refer to as arabica coffee, makes up 75 to 80 percent of all coffee production in the world. The other species is Coffea canephora, or robusta coffee. It has a higher caffeine level and (to some) an inferior flavor to the more commonly seen arabica.

Coffee plants growing in equatorial regions experience a lot of rain and have two seasons of harvest. They need higher altitudes to thrive - 3,600 to 6,300 feet above sea level. Subtropical coffee plants - in Mexico, Zimbabwe, Jamaica - grow at lower altitudes. These plants need distinct seasons of rain and no rain to fully develop.

When we think of coffee, we think dark brown bean. But when the cherries are harvested, the bean in the middle is green. After harvesting, the cherries are stripped of their meat and the beans are left to ferment in a large container. This stops the seeds from germinating. Then they are dried in the sun.

The details of this lengthy process go over my head, but you get the general idea. Now comes the fun part - roasting. This is the time when the details of the flavor are decided. Flavors are added, enhanced or balanced. This is the time when the color of the bean changes from green to yellow and eventually to light or dark brown.

After all that processing, the coffee finally ends up in coffee shops and stores, to be sold to anyone craving a tasty drink.

Next time that person is you, look into your cup of steaming goodness and think about the epic journey it has taken to nurture your body and mind.

Knowing its background, I can enjoy a latte on a whole new level.

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