A typical pound of coffee contains roughly 2500-3000 seeds (raw coffee beans). That means it takes between 1000 and 3000 coffee cherries, harvested by hand, to produce a single pound of coffee! The process requires lots of individuals believing in the promise of the coffee, and acting with the best intentions to realize its potential, step after step.
What is Coffee?
Coffee is the seed of the fruit of the coffee tree; a tree which grows between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Coffee trees are called Coffea, hence the name coffee. There are hundreds of genera and thousands of species of coffee tree worldwide. The two main genera of coffee are Arabica and Canephora (more popularly called Robusta). The fruit is picked when ripe, then processed (which includes fermentation, drying, milling, and sorting). The processed coffee is then roasted, ground and brewed into the beverage we know as coffee. Though there are great coffees to be found of both the Arabica and Robusta varieties, Metropolis only sources, roasts, and sells Specialty Grade Arabica coffee.
COFFEE TREES & COFFEE CHERRIES
Coffee trees are shrub-like, and are typically pretty short (around 4-7’), though wild coffee trees often grow much taller (cultivated trees are pruned shorter in part so that they can be harvested without ladders). A coffee tree takes between 3 and 5 years to mature, and will produce somewhere around 1-1.5 pounds of coffee per harvest.
Coffee cherries begin their life small and green, then as they ripen they grow in size, and their coloration changes into deep and rich colors like red, purple, yellow, or orange (the ripened color depends upon varietal). Ideally, people selectively harvest coffee cherries by hand at the peak of ripeness, though larger farms on occasion use equipment to harvest. It can take several months to harvest a tree, as cherries will not all ripen at once.
A coffee cherry has a skin on the outside, and a layer of mucilage (pulp), surrounding either one or two seeds. Most coffee cherries contain two seeds, but if only one, then it is famously called a peaberry.
A thin, tightly bound skin called the silverskin covers the seed(s), and the seed and silverskin are then covered by a thicker wrapper called the parchment.
Where Does Coffee Come From?
The history of coffee is murky at best, but popular legend dates its discovery and use as far back as the 9th or 10th century. Though we can’t say with any degree of certainty exactly when or by whom coffee was discovered, we can say that the plant originated in East Africa, probably Ethiopia. The Yemenese port of Mokka on the Red Sea became a distribution point for processed raw or roasted coffee, and eventually it was exported as a plant, cutting, or seed for further cultivation throughout the world.
Today, specialty coffee is grown and processed in dozens of countries near the equator, but primarily in 4 distinct regions: Central America (including the Caribbean), South America, East Africa, and Oceania (Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Hawaii). We’re often asked if any coffee comes from the US, and the answer is yes! Puerto Rico and Hawaii both grow and process coffee.
Typically, each producing country will have one annual harvest, though there are exceptions to this, most notably Colombia where coffee is often harvested year-round depending on the region.
How is Coffee Processed?
Once harvested, the coffee cherries are processed in order to ferment, dry, mill, and sort the seeds in preparation for roasting. There are three main forms of processing, and each process can influence the final taste of the coffee profoundly.
Sourcing Practices and Sample Evaluation
We feel that it is important that we purchase excellent, unique, vibrant coffees that tell a story. It is equally important that everyone involved in the production of the coffee, right down to the land itself, will benefit from the production and sale of that coffee.
We are privileged to work with many of the same producers year after year, and our Green Coffee Buyer travels frequently to farms and cooperatives that produce our coffees. We take tremendous pride in those relationships, built over time and trust.
When we receive a sample of raw coffee, we visually analyze it for defects, and then roast a small sample. We then cup (taste) that sample using Q-Grader protocols, scoring the coffee and analyzing the flavor notes.
If the coffee passes the cupping test, then we look more closely at it. Is it from a farm or co-op that we’ve worked with in the past? Is it grown sustainably? Is it transparently purchased (do we know how much the producer is receiving)? Is it a unique offering? Is it delicious or unique? When would it arrive in our roasterie? Is there enough of it to purchase in order to make available to our network of customers? These and a great many other questions eventually lead to a decision on whether to buy the coffee or not.
If we choose not to buy a coffee, we clearly communicate why not. If we decide to buy it, then we contract for the coffee through an importer, wait for it to arrive in the States, and compare the offer sample to the arrival sample. If the samples line up in quality and consistency, then we put in orders to receive the coffee to our Chicago roasterie.
Production Roasting and Quality Control
ROASTING PHILOSOPHY: OUR INTENTION AND PRACTICES
Once we receive a new coffee, we embark on a series of test roasts to determine how best to roast it. We closely data-log these roasts, and blindly evaluate them to choose a set of specifications that brings out the best in that particular bean. Once determined, we roast to these specs every time.
EVERY BATCH OF METROPOLIS COFFEE IS ROASTED TO ORDER.
To preserve freshness, we don’t keep an inventory of roasted coffee on hand. Instead, we wait for your order, then roast, bag, and either ship it out the same day, or deliver locally the next day. Because of this, most of our customers receive their coffee the day after it’s roasted!
All of our roasting is done by hand on small-batch Probat Roasters. Our seasoned roasting team has a minimum of a year as an apprentice roaster before being considered a card-carrying member of the keepers of the flame.
We triple-check every batch for consistency. First, during the roast, we make sure that we hit all of our spec benchmarks in the right way at the right time. Then, a sample of every batch is laser color analyzed to make sure that it is roasted to exactly the right degree. Finally, we cup (taste) each coffee in order to make sure that our spec is still appropriate. Coffee changes over time, so we make incremental changes to the way that we roast each coffee. These changes are sometimes barely perceptible to the consumer, but help us realize each coffee’s potential as it evolves.
Bagging and Shipping
We use high-quality foil bags with one-way valves. Oxygen stales coffee, so we package and seal each bag within hours of tumbling out of the roaster. Once the coffee is roasted, it emits CO2, which displaces most of the remaining oxygen out the valve. 100% of our retail bags are also flushed with nitrogen, which is odorless, flavorless, and doesn’t stale coffee. This allows us to lower the oxygen level even further, resulting in fresher coffee for longer.
Getting to You!
Once the bags are sealed, they are either shipped or hand-delivered by one of our local delivery drivers to stores, offices, homes, and cafés like our own.