July 01, 2017 Posted by

Part of a Process, Chapter I: Coffee Cherry Anatomy


Here’s a fun fact: coffee starts out as a cherry! 

If you already knew that, this post might not have a lot of new information for you. If your mind is warped over that zinger of a fact, buckle up! We’re talking about the very basics of what coffee is. This is an introductory, brief, yet accurate article about the coffee cherry. Hopefully this basic knowledge can serve as a starting point for new coffee nerds, or will prove to be a little light information to put in your pocket for some oddly specific trivia night.

Let’s start with the fact that coffee begins life as a cherry. They grow on shrubs in groups right off the stem of the branch, are round or elliptoid, and are typically a kelly green at first, soften to a yellow-orange hue as they mature, and deepen to a bright red when ripe. The coffee shrubs and cherries are different depending on the varietal of the plant itself, and harvest seasons vary based on the hemisphere, country and micro-climate of each coffee farm. Things like precipitation, temperature, qualities of the soil, and altitude are all extremely important factors when it comes to how that cherry ripens and what flavors are present when all is said in done.

So now that we have the cherry, when does the coffee bean make an appearance? The cherry itself has several layers, the center of which are two coffee beans. These two beans mirror each other, like a sphere that has been cut down the middle. Moving from the inside out, it goes as follows: bean, silverskin, parchment, pectin layer, pulp, and the outside layer of the cherry.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

The cherry undergoes an intense process of soaking, de-pulping, fermenting, many other micro-steps. It is then dried, hulled, and sorted until we are left with a flaxen, hint-of-green bean that is not a far cry from what our finished product.

From this point, producers export bags of what is known as “green coffee,” roasters load it by the scoop into their respective roasting mechanisms (Metric uses a vintage cast iron Probat roaster from the 1960s), and 9-15 minutes later a chocolaty brown coffee bean emerges. 

We grind it, steep it in hot water, and enjoy a nice simple cup of coffee. 

At each step, there is opportunity for mistakes to occur, for something to compromise the quality of the final product. These are not simple processes, in case that hasn’t been made clear. In abbreviating these steps, we must add the note that there are hundreds of people working incredibly hard to make this nice and simple cup of coffee happen. Your cup of coffee is really and truly made by humans, made possible by their substantial efforts. To honor these people, keep supporting local roasteries that support and act upon direct trade ideals. Keep asking where your commodities are coming from, and keep enjoying what is good.