There are global initiatives that work to keep the supply of coffee sustainable, while delivering great taste in the final product. Coffee bean suppliers take extraordinary measures to ensure that each roasted batch is high quality and delivered to customers while still at its freshness peak. The process is long and involved and starts at the coffee farm.
Coffee grows best in tropical climates with good soil. The best beans are found at higher elevations. These optimal conditions limit the number of countries that are able to grow the high quality beans sought by coffee drinkers worldwide.
The best beans flourish in countries located near the equator. North American beans grown in Mexico compete with the African blends from Ethiopia in Africa. Vietnamese coffee plantations go head to head with Yemeni coffee, the first nation to enter the commercial coffee market. Coffee buyers travel the world to locate farmers able to create produce that can be systematically packaged for full-bodied, flavourful coffee drinks.
Coffee beans enter the market when they are still green on the bush. Experts sent from coffee bean suppliers visit the farms to evaluate the crop which is inspected for defects. Defects include colors, number of broken beans in a batch and the inclusion of foreign odors.
Buyers look for blue-green, bluish-green and green colors. If orange or orange-red is found, those beans are graded below standard. If a reddish color is only on the skin, the beans may still pass muster if the skin can be easily removed from the beans.
Coffee evaluators collect a series of small samples and count the number of broken beans within the group. Batches with beans that are largely intact are rated higher than batches with a high concentration of damaged beans. When too many beans are broken, this indicates that the bean is too mature and past the time when it can be roasted for best effect.
The final test is done with the nose. Ripe coffee beans have a characteristic odor. If this odor is not present or if foreign odors are mingled in, then the coffee is downgraded. Only the most expert evaluators are trusted with this critical test.
Commercial roasters watch the cracking process. The first crack is exothermic which means that heat is being expelled from within the bean. If heat is not maintained at this point, the coffee will bake rather than roast. Caramelization of the bean is vital to extract the best flavours.
Coffee bean suppliers understand the difference between aging which creates complex additions to overall flavours and the staling process. Roasting is a transformative process that continues in the presence of sufficient quantities of carbon dioxide and degrades when too much oxygen is included in the mix. This places a time limit on coffee storage. Most beans are optimal between three and five days after a full roast.
This is no simple process and is akin to wine makers looking for the best grapes for their drink. Coffee tasters and testing is an art form in itself. The best coffee bean suppliers put a lot of time, money and effort to ensure that only the freshest and tastiest coffee makes its way to the consumer.