Introduction: What is Coffee?
Specialty coffee is a multicultural, transoceanic,
culinary work-in-progress. By the time coffee is consumed, it
has been subject to at least seven momentous processes carried
out by seven potentially unrelated parties resident in anywhere
from two to four parts of the world. Unlike fine wines, which
are often bottled by the same people who grow the grapes and produce
the wine, coffee is not bottled and is not just purchased, opened,
and enjoyed by the consumer.
The process of bringing coffee from the crop to
the cup is kicked off by someone who grows and picks the coffee
fruit. A second party (usually) buys the fruit and removes the
soft, fruity parts from the seeds, then dries the seeds (now called
beans), two steps together known as processing and both crucial
to the ultimate quality and character of the coffee.
The processor usually sells the dried beans to
a third party, the exporter. The exporter may blend beans from
different processing mills before bagging and shipping them.
A fourth party imports the coffee into the consuming
country, though in most cases he spares it any further manipulation,
confining himself to passing judgment on it and selling it to
At this point the coffee is subjected to perhaps
the single most influential act of all: roasting. The roaster
also may blend beans from a variety of crops and regions. The
retailer performs a simple but very significant service: handling
the coffee sensibly and selling it before it gets stale.
Finally, the consumer buys the coffee, grinds
it (usually), and finally produces an actual beverage. But we're
not even finished here. The consumer, before enjoying this meticulously
grown, processed, roasted, blended, and brewed coffee, may any
number of dairy products, sweeteners, or flavorings, all with
differing effects on the final beverage.