Patrick Eng
Marketer, Developer, SEO Specialist, Gamer, and Random Knowledge Blogger


This blog focuses on topics and events experience by the author, Patrick Eng. Learn more about who he is and what he is doing.

Week 9 - Everything I Needed to Know About Coffee


I'd like to start off by saying that I do not consider myself to be a coffee connoisseur in any way. I drink my coffee with cream or creamer (never black) and drink about three cups a day. I don't think coffee tastes very good and drink it because I need something in the morning to wake me up.

If you love coffee and are flabbergasted by what you've just read, then feel free to send an email to and tell me all about how idiotic I'm sounding and how much smarter you are than me. Also, please send a picture of a foot in that email too.

Anyway, I am dedicating this week's post to all things coffee, from how it's made to its economic impact.

Do you know that the top three most traded commodities are? If you think about it, you'd probably hit on a good number of them, like oil, gasoline, and gold. But, did you know that the second most traded commodity in the world is coffee? If you did, then here's a virtual high-five.

People are obsessed with coffee, partially because it's a cultural norm and probably more because it is a drug delivery system that people are addicted to.

The second thing you probably do in the morning, besides immediately reaching for your phone, is going to your kitchen and starting a pot of coffee. This shouldn't come as too much of a shock since if you look at the data, Americans drink around 400 million cups of coffee a day (at least in 2015).

Ancient Coffee

While coffee is such a staple of normal life, its origins are actually a mystery. The most popular story involves an Ethiopian goat farmer, named Kaldi, who found his goats going absolutely bananas one day after they ate some red fruit - the coffee bean is actually the pit inside of a red-cherry-like fruit.


So naturally, he tries it himself and joins his goats in their energized frolicking. Then, he brings the fruit to the local monks who try it and realize it's caffeinated capabilities and how amazing it is during nights of prayer. Coffee's natural stimulus aspect is actually a pesticide, protecting its surrounding fruit from insects.

As the natural scientists and creatives that we humans are, there were multiple ways that coffee had originally been consumed (coffee today wasn't introduced until the 13th century):

  • Consuming the entire fruit, pit and all (I call it the goat-ing method)

  • Mixed in with animal fat and formed into an ancient power bar

  • Mashed up and fermented into a wine-like drink

  • Another mashed up drink, made from the entire fruit

  • And finally, a roasted bean drink

It's origins also began in a variety of languages:

  • In Yemen, it was called qahwa

  • In Turkish, it was called kahveh

  • In Dutch, it was called Koffie (which eventually made its way to coffee)

The History of the Roast

Our modern roasted coffee was birth in Arabia in the 13th century. Similar to the monks, the Muslim community there found the stimulating properties of coffee to be quite useful during their nights of prayer. In terms of the whole idea behind the roasting of the beans, you probably thought it was originally done to bring out the true flavor of the bean. Well, it might have been a little more selfish than that, though I will mention that other origin stories involve accidentally roasting the bean and making the miracle drink.

By roasting the bean, Arab coffee growers were able to make the bean infertile, and thus create a monopoly on the product. Of course, we do know that roasting the bean brings out the full flavor and all that, but I like the monopoly side of it all too.

Coffee Exposed to the World

For the next 400 years, the only place you could grow coffee was in Arabia or Africa. That was until the hero Baba Budan smuggled some fruit outside the country and brought it to the rest of the world. Because of Baba, the European community was able to enter the coffee industry and begin growing their own beans.

In the early 1600's, the European community began an aggressive coffee campaign, both opening coffee shops in local areas and in their cities, to the point where they became staples of life.

Coffee Enters the New World

Even though coffee came to America in the early 1600's, the drink itself wasn't really popularized until the Boston Tea Party, and drinking coffee became a "Sticking it to the man" kind of deal and just generally patriotic. There was also a boost in consumption due to the Civil War, with all the soldiers looking for a quick energy boost and something warm to drink.

Now well into the 1800's, coffee had become a commodity traded around the world and everyone was looking into new ways to make money from it. The Arbuckle brothers struck gold when they began selling pre-roasted bags of coffee by the pound, and it's been that way ever since.

After another 150 years or so, the trend of specialty coffee began to kick in and the first Starbucks was opened in Seattle in 1971. And now today, we are seeing new mom and pop, fair-trade, boutique coffee shops opening on every other street corner serving specialty coffee roasts.

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Origins and Economic Impact

Now that we know the popular origin story of coffee, we can look at how it was spread throughout the world. Here's a quick timeline of coffee's travel:

  • Planted in India, Java, and Sri Lanka by the Dutch in late 17th Century

  • Coffee becomes mainstream in America due to the Boston Tea Party (1773)

  • Coffee consumption doubles in the years between 1970 and 2013

Such a popular drink isn't grown everywhere though. Almost ⅓ of coffee grown is consumed by the countries that create them, and the rest is shipped globally (the United States is the largest importer). While there are a good amount of countries that do grow coffee, most of it comes from only four countries:

  1. Brazil

  2. Columbia

  3. Vietnam

  4. Indonesia

Coffee is a massive industry that is a foundation of many countries' economies. For example, coffee production and shipping accounts for 60% of Burundi's economy, and in Honduras' case it makes up 25% (it's unclear when this data was pulled, so in I'll just point at that in 2015, coffee actually only made up 12% of Honduras' economy).

Coffee Volatility

Similar to many cryptocurrencies, coffee prices are constantly changing though not as dramatically. These prices have ripple effects on coffee farmers and global economies that depend on coffee to provide a large chunk of their GDP.

While coffee can pass through a slew of trading and roasting companies, it is mostly controlled by just four companies (sensing a pattern here):

  1. ECOM

  2. Louis Dreyfus

  3. Neumann


And even though the value of the coffee industry increased in 2011 by 17%, coffee farmers have historically been hit pretty hard. Like during the coffee crisis of 1994 to 2004 when farmers received, on average, 2% on the price of a cup of coffee sold. And then in the span of 2 years, the price of coffee went from an all-time high of $3 per pound in 2011 to a little over a $1 in 2013, farmers were hit hard. Like any sort of farming (and economy in general), product prices are constantly changing, with no good way to prepare for the future besides doing what you always do.

The Role of Fair-Trade Coffee

After the collapse of coffee prices in 1980, Fair-trade coffee was coined by Dutch agency Solidaridad. In 1962, the International Coffee Agreement and other countries came together and tried to enact some reasonable balance between supply in demand. Turns out, they didn't do a very good job and caused the collapse in 1989.

Dutch supermarkets caused shockwaves when they started selling fair-trade coffee that same year. This fair-trade product was to ensure that coffee workers were treated fairly and had a basic and steady income. Since the price per pound of fair-trade coffee was higher than average, it gave coffee farmers a more reliable income when prices crashed.

Fair-trade farmers are working to provide a sustainable product, meaning it's economically, socially and environmentally beneficial.

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While you might be wondering what size 'mocha frap whip latte extra pumpkin (hold the spice) double espresso iced macchiato caffeinated GMO-free bean coffee' to get at Starbucks tomorrow, you probably didn't think about how it came to the store (besides by truck). Here are the 10 steps that your coffee takes before you drink it on your way to work.

1. Planting

Fact: the coffee you think of is actually the seed of a fruit. That seed (as long as it's not roasted), can be planted and grown into a coffee tree. These seeds are usually planted in moist, shaded beds and then relocated for final growth and harvesting. This pre-grow takes place during the wet season so that the soil remains soft but good enough for the roots to take hold.

2. Harvesting

After three or 4 years, the coffee tree is able to bear fruit. This fruit is actually a cherry that turns bright red when ripe. There is generally one main harvest per year and tends to be extremely labor intensive (unless you're in Columbia where it's been automated and has two harvests per year). Either way, the coffee fruit is harvested in two ways regardless of it being done by hand or machine:

  1. Strip Picked: as it sounds, this method involves stripping the fruit off each branch

  2. Selectively Picked: workers comb through each tree and pick out only the cherries ripe for the taking. This method is used heavily when picking Arabica beans.

An average worker picks between 100 to 200 pounds of cherries per day, which translate into 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.

3. Processing

Soon after picking, the cherries enter the processing phase. This phase also has two general methods:

  1. Dry Processing: basically just spreading all the cherries out to bask in the sun, flipping occasionally and prevent moisture buildup.

  2. Wet Processing: the cherries are sent through a pulping machine that removes the skin and flesh, leaving only the pits. These pits are then sent to stew in fermentation tanks that remove some excess mucus on the bean. The beans are then rinsed and ready for drying.

4. Drying

Beans that have been processed with the wet method need to enter the drying period to achieve 11% moisture. It's as simple as laying out all these beans out in the sun to dry, basically the same as dry processing.

5. Milling

This coffee, called parchment coffee in the drying phase, is then sent to a hulling machine. This machine removes that parchment that covers the bean. This newly exposed bean can then be sent into a polishing machine that removes excess material. Polishing does not have any significant impact on bean quality.

The beans are then graded and sorted based on size, weight, and color. Beans are hit with jets of air to sort them by weight and are given a number for their size, from 10 to 20. These numbers are basically just how it scales for a hole diameter in X/64 of an inch. So, for example, a 17 bean would be 17/64 inches in diameter.

Then, beans are reviewed by hand and machine to remove any defective products and ensure high-quality beans.

6. Exporting

Once milled, this coffee is then referred to as green coffee and is loaded onto ships in sacks for shipping.

7. Tasting

Like alcohol, coffee is constantly going through taste tests, called cupping (and no, that isn't the same as what all those Olympians were doing). The usual process is:

  • The bean is evaluated by a cupper for visual quality

  • It is roasted, ground, and boiled in careful and precise conditions

  • The cupper noses the brew to get an idea of its aroma quality

  • The coffee is then let rest to form a crust at the top. The crust is then broken and nosed again.

  • The coffee is then slurped and blasted all over the cupper's mouth to ensure an even spreading of coffee

  • It is then spit out

The cupper also tries the different brews in order to determine which beans could work well together in a blend.

8. Roasting

Roasting is the process of cooking the beans in constant motion at around 550 Fahrenheit. When the beans reach 400 Fahrenheit, the oil inside comes out and is how we get the flavor and aroma of the coffee we think of. The beans are then immediately cooled and sent to consumers.

9. Grinding

Grinding coffee is a science, as the type of coffee you want will determine the grind. When water doesn't have much time to interact with the grounds, you want a very fine grind. But if the coffee is going to sit with the water, a coarse grind works best.

10. Brewing

Something a surprising amount of people don't know how to do. Here's a quick step-by-step guide to using your average coffee maker:

  1. Fill the pot with water (from my experience, two cups in the coffee pot is equivalent to a mug of coffee)

  2. Open the lid of the coffee maker

  3. Pour the water into the back of the coffee maker

  4. Put the pot back in the coffee maker where it came from

  5. Put a filter in the space in front of where you poured the water

  6. Grab your ground coffee and use a spoon or scoop that came with the bag to put coffee into the filter that was placed in the coffee maker

    1. I usually do a one-to-one ratio of coffee grounds to cups of water

  7. Close the lid

  8. Press On/Start/Brew or just use your brain and turn it on

Don't ask me about French press or cold brew or whatever the hell all that is. You can just Google it or find something on YouTube.

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Speaking of French press and cold brew, here is a list of all the various types of coffee you can drink. To start off though, let's define the two most popular coffee beans:

  • Arabica: what most of the world drinks

  • Robusta: a stronger, more bitter bean used in espressos and stronger brews

Also, the word carafe is just a fancy way to say the coffee pot. So, let's dive in a see what new types of coffee you'll be drinking:

1. Black Coffee: straight, unadulterated coffee from the pot.

2. Coffee with Sugar/Milk: take black coffee and put some cream, milk or sugar in it.

3. Filtered/Drip Coffee (method): putting grounds into a filter and pouring boiling water over it so it drips into the carafe below.

4. French Press Coffee: when the coffee and water are soaking together in a container that has a mechanism that pushes all the coffee grounds to the bottom and separates it.

5. Percolated (method): using gravity and hot water to run through the grounds and reach desired strength.

6. Turkish Coffee: super strong that sits in hot water. Beware the dregs!

7. Cold Brew: coffee that sits in cold water over a long period of time.

8. Iced Coffee: coffee brewed with hot water but then chilled before serving.

9. Vacuum Coffee: fancy way to use vapor pressure and a vacuum to make coffee

10. Espresso: coffee that is finely ground and tightly packed. Uses a small amount of water.

11. Caffe Americano: adding more water to espresso to where it basically becomes a regular cup of coffee. Most people probably won't taste a difference.

12. Cafe Cubano: espresso with demerara sugar.

13. Caffe Creama: espresso served in Switzerland, Austria and Northern Italy.

14. Cafe Zorro: double shot of espresso added to water with a one-to-one ratio.

15. Doppio: espresso served in a demitasse cup.

16. Espresso Romano: espresso with a slice of lemon.

17. Guillermo: two shots of espresso over lime.

18. Ristretto: espresso but with ½ the amount of water

19. Lungo: espresso but with twice the amount of water.

20. Cappuccino: espresso with steamed/foamed milk.

21. Latte: espresso with steamed milk and some foam.

22. Flat White: similar to a latte but with textured milk.

23. Macchiato: a stronger cappuccino with some foamed milk.

24. Breve: espresso with half milk, half cream.

25. Antoccino: espresso with steamed milk in a one-to-one ratio.

26. Cafe Bombon: espresso with sweetened condensed milk. Popular in Spain.

27. Caffee Gommosa: espresso over a marshmallow.

28. Cortado: espresso with a little milk.

29. Espressino: espresso + milk + cocoa powder.

30. Galao: espresso with foamed milk in a tall glass. Popular in Portugal.

31. Cafe au lait: strong coffee with scalded milk in a one-to-one ratio.

32. Ca phe sua da: coffee with sweetened condensed milk over ice. Originated in Vietnam.

33. Egg coffee: egg yolks, coffee, sugar, condensed milk and robusta coffee.

34. Eiskaffee: iced coffee and vanilla ice cream. Originated in Germany.

35. Kopi susu: coffee with sweetened condensed milk that lets the grounds settle to the bottom.

36. Vienna Coffee: coffee or espresso with whipped cream and sometimes milk.

37. Espresso con panna: coffee with whipped cream.

38. Black tie: double shot of espresso with Thai iced coffee and sweetened condensed milk.

39. Chai Latte: espresso with spices and steamed milk.

40. Liqueur Coffee: coffee with 25 mL of liquor, often served with cream unless you're an alcoholic.

41. Irish Coffee: coffee with whiskey, cream, and sometimes sugar.

42. Mocha: a latte with chocolate syrup

43. Moka: coffee brewed in a moka pot (uses pressurized steam)

While there are probably dozens of other types of coffee, the article didn't mention them and I need to study for midterms.

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As we know, coffee not only provides much-needed income to a variety of countries, but it also gives many people the energy to find a purpose in life. Without it, we are nothing but regular people who have lived without it.

Either way, coffee farmers (like any farmer) is heavily impacted by even slight changes in temperature. This is a pretty big deal as we see global climate change and the effect it is having on various environments.

We might be running out of land that can grow quality coffee, and the prices will skyrocket when the supply plummets.

Not caring about the climate means you don't care about coffee. And when coffee is life, caring about the environment should make sense.

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Too Long; Didn't Read

Coffee is an economic powerhouse. It is the most traded commodity behind oil and is a major player in over 60 countries' economies.

While no one knows exactly how it was discovered, the popular story is that it was found by some goats. Their shepherd came back and found them jumping off the walls after eating the coffee fruit. So he tried it himself, realized it's magical powers, and shared it with the world.

After that, it spread throughout the world and the rest is history.

Also, there are a bunch of different types of coffee, from coffee poured over a marshmallow to blending it with egg yolks.

But while we all seem to love coffee, we don't seem to realize that climate change is on a mission to destroy it. Coffee, especially high-quality coffee, is grown in very specific environments. When those environments are disrupted, you get a sub-par product. When you think about it, caring about the environment is really caring about coffee.

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Patrick Eng