Looking for that unique coffee experience, organically grown by a 100% locally owned and managed plantation? How about trying the ultimate cup of slavery-free, fair traded coffee by doing everything — growing, harvesting, roasting — yourself!
By Stuart Hill
From its ancient origins in the Middle East, to its rapid proliferation by European colonial powers into a globally traded commodity, coffee has become one of the most ubiquitous beverages available today.
Unfortunately now that everyone does coffee, the mystique, romance, and the sophistication of drinking it has gradually been diluted down to its weakest concentration possible.
Now’s the time to bring the magic back, with a step-by-step explanation of how to become your own coffee producer.
First of all, you will need a coffee tree. Secondly, make sure you grow it in a sunny position and keep it watered regularly, in reasonably fertile soil. Thirdly, you’ll need lots of patience waiting for it to grow.
That said, the following instructions should help you on your way to producing your first cup of home-grown, home-roasted, home-ground, home-brewed coffee.
Step 1. Grow at Least 1 Coffee Plant and Look After It Well
The coffee tree usually takes 3-4 years before it will produce its first fruit, roughly starting when it reaches about 1 meter in height. Your first year might produce less than enough to create 1 cup of coffee. Your second year should produce just enough for 1 cup. You’ll obviously need hundreds of plants if you want to produce a regular supply. (Thus a word of advice: don’t annoy your usual coffee supplier; you may need him/her pretty soon.)
Step 2. Harvest Your Coffee Fruit
The coffee fruit will start to appear after flowering. You might start with 1-2 green fruit, but eventually each plant should be able to produce 50 or more little berries. As they don’t all appear at once, the fruit also don’t ripen at once. You’ll need to pick the fruit gradually throughout the season. Just don’t leave it too long before moving to Step 2 below, as the skins begin to deteriorate and grow moldy.
You’ll know when the berries turn a bright solid red that they are ready for picking. This is a sign to start harvesting. And don’t leave the ripe berries on the tree too long either, as you may find that birds will start stealing your extremely attractive crop.
Step 3. Remove (Shell) the Skins of Your Coffee Fruit
The coffee bean resembles a small peanut-shaped nut encased in a bright red skin. You need to remove this shell before storage and roasting. After harvesting your fruit, let the berries dry out for several days. The skins will begin to shrivel and can eventually be peeled off by hand. This process is highly therapeutic if you are into repetitive labor-intensive activities, and very time-consuming. So enjoy the process.
If you are working with a large crop, it is going to be worth getting professional equipment to remove the skins–typically through a washing and fermentation processor.
Step 4. Wash and Let to Dry
Assuming you are doing everything manually, and in small quantities, you should now have a hand-full of moist coffee beans removed from their skins. Wash your beans thoroughly and then lay them out on a dish to dry in the shade for about 7-10 days.
Note: Check to see if you can remove an outer layer of soft husk from your beans. If you have removed your skins by machine, the husks have probably already been removed. It is important to remove them as they will bake into a hardened crust during the roasting process otherwise.
Step 5. Store or Roast
This is not so much a step as a HUGE leap: keep your beans dry and in storage or roast them for grinding and brewing.
Let’s assume you are close on desperate to having a drink. Now the real fun begins. Before you can drink your coffee you will need to roast your beans. This step is really designed to separate the farmers from the roasters.
For centuries, people actually did their own roasting at home, with fairly basic implements, in small quantities as they needed them. You don’t want to roast your beans too soon before grinding them. So like many coffee lovers before you, simply roast the amount you are likely to use in the immediate future.
As a rough rule to go by, green coffee beans stay fresh (in the right conditions) for about 2 years, roasted beans star fresh for 2 weeks, ground coffee 2 days. This all depends on the storage environment. The experts say you should roast, grind and brew coffee ONLY when you intend to drink it.
That’s exactly why you would want to roast your own beans, to ensure they remain as fresh as possible.
Yet roasting offers its own challenges. This is where coffee production switches dramatically from a simple trade to a subtle art form. The flavor of coffee is influenced by many things, including weather, soil fertility, location, but perhaps the most influential is the roasting process itself.
There is a whole list of names for the different stages of roasting (ie Cinnamon Roast, New England Roast, American Roast, City Roast, Vienna Roast, Italian Roast, etc) which relates to the length of time spent roasting and is used to define their flavors. As the beans cook they begin to lose water and oil and eventually crack.
In fact the point at which the beans begin cracking is a turning point in the roasting, and is used as a milestone for estimating the flavor brought out by the cooking process.
Theoretically, the beans will endure a second crack before being converted into “dark roast” espresso beans. At this point the beans have a heavier smokey, but less individual, flavor. You can experiment with the nuances of each coffee batch, but reducing the length of time you spend roasting.