Coffee plants grow in approximately 80 different countries inside what is known as the “Coffee Belt,” the area between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. Within these latitudes are three coffee growing regions known as “The Americas,” “Africa,” and “Indo-Pacific.”
The Americas is a massive region. Most of the world's coffee volume is grown here. While the flavor profiles of this region's coffees will vary dramatically, they are characterized as being smooth, well balanced and sweet with mild flavor, nutty, fruity and chocolatey notes.
Africa is where it all started for coffee. The very first experience with coffee is believed to have taken place in the region that is now Ethiopia. Africa’s diverse growing regions produce a plethora of flavors that are often complex, fruity and floral. They are generally stronger, more fragrant, and more acidic than coffee from the other two growing regions.
Indo-Pacific coffees are likely some of the most unique tasting coffees of the three regions. Their distinct process of wet milling the coffee beans produces an earthy, dark, and even savory flavor. They are also known for being smooth, full-bodied and complex.
Coffee plants are shrubs covered in waxy green leaves that can grow more than 30 feet high but are typically pruned to a more manageable size. They take five to seven years for full maturation or when the cherries can be harvested. The coffee cherries grow in bunches along the plants branches and grow from fragrant, white blossoms into ripened fruit. The coffee "bean" is actually the seed at the center of the cherry.
The two main varieties of coffee plants are Robusta and Arabica. Like most specialty coffee roasters Mela uses only the Arabica variety. Arabica plants make up about 75% of the worlds coffee, but only 5% could be graded “specialty coffee.” Arabica coffee is grown in nutrient rich soil, often under light shade, in a year-round wet climate. The wide array of flavors in coffee result directly from altitude, climate, soil type and the method of processing the coffee cherries down to the green beans.
Specialty coffee is harvested by hand. The reddest, ripest cherries are picked and yield the the optimum flavor. Harvested cherries are transported for processing.
The process of removing the cherry pulp from around the coffee seed happens by two methods: The dry method and the wet method. The dry method consists of taking the freshly picked cherries and spreading them out of a large surface to dry in the sun. The coffee is then turned and raked throughout the day to prevent the cherries from spoiling to continue the drying process. This can take up to several weeks for each batch of coffee. The coffee is then moved to a warehouse and stored.
The wet method takes freshly harvested cherries through a pulping machine where the skin and pulp is separated from the bean. The pulp is washed away by water, and the beans are separated by weight as they are conveyed through water channels. The beans are then transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks that remove any remaining cherry pulp. The coffee is then spread out to dry.
Whether processed by the dry or wet method, the last step is milling. The parchment, the dry material that still clings to the coffee bean must be removed by either hulling or polishing the beans. Finally, the coffee is graded and sorted before being bagged and exported.