Do you know much about coffee other than the fact that it has caffeine? I didn’t either.  So, to justify this daily expense, I took a tour of a local bean roaster to get my facts straight. Here’s what I learned:

First, I put away all misconceptions that coffee is a powder you can store forever (you should, too) – it is actually the seeds of a fruit! The kicker…there are only two seeds per cherry, so it takes (drum roll, please) 49 beans to make one cup of coffee.

Second, do you know why it is still hand-picked? It’s because the “cherries” have to be red or burgundy – no machine can “see” the difference in color. The stem comes with the cherry if they are not hand-picked and the plant won’t produce as well the next year. Pickers are taught to gently twist and pull so the fruit falls off without the stem.

Third, despite what my Nana said, I found out that coffee should NOT be put in the fridge or freezer. Why? The beans act as a sponge and absorb the scent of everything around it.  A cool, dark cupboard without spices or other foods nearby is an ideal place to store your beans. (Some people put the beans in a pantry, beware if onions are within 3 feet or you will be drinking funky brew).

Fourth, labels that claim FAIR TRADE or DIRECT TRADE both benefit the local coffee bean farmer. The main difference is that fair trade, a certification granted in the US by a nonprofit, assures that farmers will receive a minimum price. Any margin above the minimum cannot be guaranteed by fair trade organizations because they do not negotiate these margins.  Direct trade is buying right from the growers, cutting out middleman buyers, sellers and the organizations that control certifications. Direct trade roasters pay a premium price above the fair trade price for high quality specialty coffee; no crop size limitations are placed on the farmer.

Fifth, there are two main species of coffee beans, Arabica (70% of the world’s coffee, it is planted at elevations 1,000 to 2,000 feet above sea level and has less acidity and more flavor – think gourmet coffee shop) and Robusta (higher caffeine content and not as good a taste – think generic brands – but it’s much cheaper to grow).

Who knew so much went into my cup of joe!

-Nicole Beatty