The Science of Coffee | Big Ag Episode 2


Welcome to Big Agriculture, a series where
I chronicle the most important agricultural crops in the world. You can check out the first video in the series,
about maize, by clicking the card in the top right, or clicking the link in the description. Today, I’ll be talking about a plant that
is part of many folks’ morning routines: coffee. There are two widely grown species of coffee,
Coffea arabica and Coffea canephora. Arabica coffee makes up about 80% of coffee
production, and Robusta coffee, the common name for Coffea canephora makes up the remaining
20%. It takes a coffee plant three to four years
to bear fruit, and the fruit it produces are actually drupes, a botanical classification
that also includes stone fruits like peaches and apricots. They’re referred to as coffee cherries,
and after fertilization of the flower, take about 15 weeks to development. Each cherry contains two coffee “beans.” Once they’re red and ripe, the cherries
are ready to be harvested. This is done in one of two ways, by hand or
with a harvesting machine. Most coffee is harvested by hand, the fruits
deposited into a basket, and then they must be processed. There are two types of processing, the dry
method and the wet method. The dry method is simple; the cherries are
spread out and allowed to air dry. This can take a few weeks, and the cherries
are then hulled to produce the final beans. In the wet method, the cherries are pulped,
removing the outer layer and leaving only the beans with a thin layer of parchment skin. They’re then sorted in water. Good, ripe beans sink, while under-ripe beans
float and can be removed. The processed beans are then air dried. After either processing method, the beans
are hulled if needed, and stored until they can be roasted. And fun fact: dark roast coffee has less caffeine
than light roast coffee. Many people assume that the bolder taste of
dark roast means it has more caffeine, but the longer roasting process actually decreases
the amount of caffeine. The USDA estimates that 159 million bags of
coffee will be produced in the 2017/2018 season. So, the world produces a lot of coffee. The countries with the greatest amount of
coffee production include Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, though coffee is grown
in dozens of countries. It’s thought that the modern day coffee
industry began in Yemen, which began exporting coffee in the 1500s. The traditional anecdote goes that coffee
was discovered by an Ethiopian shepherd named Kaldi, who noticed that his goats gained a
lot of energy after eating the beans of the plant. There is no hard evidence of this particular
story, though, but coffee does grow natively across Africa. There are, however, a few possible references
to coffee consumption earlier than the 1500s. A medical textbook from the early 10th century
speaks of “buncham,” which is thought to be coffee. And a medical encyclopedia from the turn of
the eleventh century includes what is thought to be coffee among the 760 drugs listed. Written by Avicenna, it mentions a light yellow
bean that clears the skin and “gives an excellent smell to the body.” And as is usually the case, where there are
plants there are pollinators. A coffee plant has white, fragrant flowers
that grow in dense bunches. A 2003 study looked at fruit production as
related to how a flower was pollinated. It found that cross-pollinated flowers produced
more fruit, so it would likely improve yields by encouraging the presence of more pollinators
near coffee plants. All right, that has been a small sampling
of the many aspects of the coffee industry. If you have any questions, or cool facts about
coffee, please leave those in the comments! Please also leave suggestions for future topics
in my Big Agriculture series. As always, thank you for watching, and a special
thank you to my supporters on Patreon. I’ll see you next week!

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