While you may reach for it every morning (sometimes twice), few ever reflect on the lengthy and involved process that goes into a cup of coffee. But behind each brew is a story full of artistry and science, all culminating in your daily dose of caffeine.
Coffee has played a significant role in many cultures since its invention. Or, as Dave Harper of Vittoria Coffee says, “Coffee, originally, is … a drink you have when you’re talking about issues in the community. It’s a community builder and driver.”
Although the history of coffee is shrouded in legend and myth, most agree that Ethiopia is the origin of the coffee bean.
“Ethiopia is the motherland of all coffee. It’s where coffee originated,” says Martin Diedrich, the owner of Kéan Coffee and formerly of Diedrich Coffee. “All of the Arabica varieties we have in the world now come from Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, there are still varieties of coffee growing in the wild that have never been commercialized. They possess … a big untapped gene pool of coffee that researchers are eager to get at.”
However, Arabia also has close ties to the popularization of coffee, and it is thought that the Middle Eastern region is where coffee beans were first roasted in the same way they are today.
While coffee’s exact beginnings may remain a mystery, it’s clear that crafting a perfect cup of joe always starts with growing the best beans.
Much of the world’s coffee is sourced from two continents: Africa and South America, due to their climates and soil quality. Or, as Craig Min, CEO of LaMill Coffee puts it, the Tropic of Cancer and the countries around this area are “the primary region where coffee is grown,” and where the company frequently travels to meet with coffee producers to build relationships and find the best beans.
Diedrich also sources much of his coffee from equatorial regions with high elevations. “The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperature,” he explains. “You can grow coffee all the way up to the frost zone in the tropics. The cooler climate slows down the metabolism of the coffee and thus the maturation of the fruit and the bean.” Diedrich adds: “The good thing is, at higher elevations, the coffee is less prone to diseases and there are less pests where it’s cooler.”
All three companies also agree on the dominance of the Arabica variety.
“We only use 100 percent Arabica coffee beans,” Harper says of Vittoria’s beans. “Arabica is the larger, juicier, less acidic type of bean. The Arabica bean is grown at altitudes above 800 meters [or 2,624 feet], therefore the growing regions are much better suited to equatorial regions such as Central and South America.”
Arabica is the most common type of coffee grown, due to its higher flavor quality in contrast to varieties like robusta, which produces a higher yield and contains more caffeine, but is thought to be of lower quality thanks to the often burnt taste it imparts (for reference, robusta is typically the bean used in instant coffees). Coffee plants are typically seeded in the wet season and take five years to mature. Once the plant begins to produce fruit, it will need about seven to nine months to ripen, although colder temperatures will slow down that process. It is also important that the plants be grown in climates without big swings between cold and hot weather.
“Coffee likes very stable environments, 20 to 30 degrees fluctuation at most between day and night temperatures. … in the daytime, the plant is assimilating … and, during the nighttime, it’s more or less digesting all of that. It’s kind of like what we do when we sleep,” Diedrich explains.
After maturation, the coffee fruit is processed until only the seed—or “bean”—remains. While some cultures use the fruit to make a special tea, like in Yemen, most disregard the fruit in favor of the seed, which is then dried in preparation for roasting.
Where the beans are sourced from also depends heavily on what time of the year it is. “Right now [at this time of the year], you’ll see a lot of African coffees, and then a lot of South American coffees, like from Columbia and Brazil,” Min explains. But coffee is a year-round produce, and as Min notes, there is always a farm that is “cropping out” with more fruit.
Roast, Brew, Serve
It’s during the roasting process that the science of it all comes into play. Vittoria Coffee has one of the most advanced roasting facilities in the Southern Hemisphere, created with the help of Probat, a leader in roasting equipment.
“When you’re roasting a coffee bean, there are what they call two cracks—two pivotal points in the roasting process,” Harper says. “The first crack is when the bean first starts to cook. … And once that happens, the additional cooking process cooks out the additional acids of enzymes that are representative of where it was grown and where it came from.”
While the beans continue to cook, different flavors are brought out—from bright and floral, to acidic and sour, to a sweet, caramelized flavor. “… The point at which … [the beans] caramelize is just before the second pivotal point in the roasting process, which is called the second crack,” Harper says. Vittoria Coffee uses an Italian-style roast, which means the beans are cooked a little longer.
LaMill’s roasting facility is located in Alhambra, California, and the company focuses on roasting in small batches of 132 pounds every fifteen minutes, a longer duration than most commercial companies.
“Most commercial roasters are roasting in six- to seven-minute batches, and they have technology out there doing it in two to three minutes. For us, it’s a really different approach in how we’re looking at the coffee,” Min says, emphasizing the company’s dedication to quality over churning out an inferior product.
After the beans have been grown, roasted and packaged, the cup of coffee you end up sipping is all in the hands of a capable barista.
At Montage Hotels & Resorts, LaMill Coffee can be enjoyed as a morning pick-me-up, while visitors to Montage’s newest hospitality concept, Pendry Hotels, can order a cup of Vittoria’s classic Italian roast for those daily cravings. In the end, a coffee’s flavor is just as important as the friendly barista that brings it to the table, and between Montage’s singular service and these carefully crafted brews, the desire to order a second cup is all but ensured.
By Ashley Burnett