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The coffee

The legend

This is the story of an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi and his goats. One day they were grazing when they came across a coffee plant and started eating the fruits and leaves. When night came, they started wandering around instead of sleeping. They had never been so lively and energetic. After working out what had caused the strange behaviour of his goats, Kaldi took the magical fruit to a nearby monastery. The monks used it to make a hot, bitter beverage and realized that the more they drank, the easier it was for them to stay awake and pray. With its delicious flavour and miraculous effects, the beverage became part of daily life in the Arab world.

History

Coffee comes from Kaffa, a mountainous region in Ethiopia with large expanses of woodland and forests. The name come from the Arabic word qahwe, which refers to drinks made with plants (including wine). Indeed, this delicious black beverage was known as “Arabian wine” when it first appeared in Europe in the early 17th century thanks both to trading by merchants from the Republic of Venice and to the turmoil of war. In 1683, after the battle between the Ottoman and Austrian armies, the defeated Ottoman troops withdrew from the siege of Vienna and left behind huge amounts of coffee, which they had learned to roast and grind centuries earlier. The beverage proved extremely popular with the Austrians, who opened their first coffee houses. In the 18th century, coffee shops spread and prospered all over Europe. They were places of knowledge and culture where people could meet and swap news and stories. They were like stationary ships with the world constantly sailing through them.

The plants

Coffee plants are evergreen shrubs from the Rubiaceae family that grow spontaneously in areas with tropical and intertropical climates. They have pointed, shiny dark green leaves and white flowers with a similar shape and scent to jasmine. The Arabica species can reach heights of 5 to 6 metres and the Robusta species can reach 8 metres. The plants produce their first fruits after three to five years. The fruits are shaped like cherries and they start out green before turning a bright red colour when they are fully ripe. Every cherry contains two seeds, which are flat with a groove down the middle on the inside and round on the outside, with a skin called “parchment” covering them. In some cases, when the fruit grows at the end of the branch, each cherry may contain a single round seed. These are known as peaberry beans, or caracoli.

There are approximately 60 known species of the plant, but only two are grown commercially.

Arabica

Coffea arabica grows at altitudes of between 900 metres and 2,000 metres, in areas with high rainfall and a constant temperature of around 20°C. The plants originally grew in Ethiopia and they have gradually been introduced into all high-altitude areas with subtropical climates. Arabica is now a prized, widespread type of coffee that accounts for ¾ of global output. Its clearest qualities are its sweet flavours, its rich aroma and its low caffeine content (between 0.9% and 2.0%). The beans have a reasonably flat outline with an s-shaped groove, whereas Robusta beans are rounder and have a straight groove.

Arabica

Robusta

Coffea robusta is grown at lower altitudes than Coffea arabica (between 200 and 600 metres above sea level) and it is capable of growing in less favourable climatic conditions. The plants are hardier, they grow faster and they offer a greater yield while requiring less care. The flavour is bitter, with woody notes. The aroma is bland and the caffeine content is high (approximately 1.8% to 4%). Robusta accounts for approximately ¼ of global output. Expertly blended Arabica and Robusta beans can produce ideally balanced coffee.

Robusta

The production processes

Cultivation

The plants must be monitored, nurtured and sprayed right from the time they start growing. They begin to produce fruit after three or four years and continue to do so for another 20 years. Thanks to the stable climate, the plants flower a number of times a year. The fruit is fully ripe and ready to harvest approximately six months after the plants flower. It is common to find both flowers and cherries at very different stages of ripening on the same plant, because the plants flower after each rainfall. This can create significant problems when it comes to harvesting the fruit and ensuring that the quality of the products remains consistently high. At Caffè Carraro, we only select coffee that has reached the ideal level of ripening. It is the only way to meet the standards that we set and that customers expect from our blends.

Cultivation

Harvest

There are two types of harvesting: picking and stripping.
Picking> is a completely manual process that guarantees better average product quality. The cherries are picked by hand and only perfectly ripe red ones are chosen.
The stripping process is much faster. Entire bunches are stripped from the plants by hand or with special machines. The fruit falls on the floor and is gathered very quickly. As entire bunches are stripped from the plants when this technique is used, unripe and overripe cherries also end up in the basket. By coming into contact with the ground, they are more likely to be contaminated with bacteria, which can cause fermentation and a clear drop in quality.

Harvest

Seed extraction

After the fruit has been picked very carefully, it is weighed and sorted again so that any unripe or substandard cherries can be removed, along with stones, leaves and twigs. It is then possible to start separating the seeds and the pulp, which can be done in two different ways:
The dry process is used to make “natural” coffee. It involves drying the cherries in the sun for a number of days. The fruit must be moved frequently because it is approximately 60% water.
The wet process is used to make “washed” coffee. Wet processing is only possible with fruit that has been selectively picked. The cherries must have reached the right level of ripeness, thus ensuring that the pulp is tender and the seeds can be removed easily. The fruit is removed from the cherries using either drum or disc machines, both of which squash the cherries between a rotating part and a fixed blade. Once the pulp has been stripped away, the beans are sieved and washed. Both of these processes help to remove the remnants of the pulp and skin. After the washing stage is complete, the beans will have a moisture level of over 50%. It needs to fall to 12%, so they have to be dried. To promote the drying process, the coffee beans are turned continually. This drying method is preferable to machine drying because it produces better quality coffee. Natural drying takes between one and three weeks. Once they have been dried, the beans are bagged and sent to processing centres or warehouses, where they undergo a final hulling procedure to remove the parchment skin, either immediately or before they are loaded. Finally, the very best coffee is sent to Schio in traditional 60 kg jute bags.

Seed extraction

Roasting

During the roasting process, green coffee beans are heated. High temperatures bring about a number of chemical reactions and significant physical changes in the green coffee beans and the substances that give coffee its unmistakeable aroma are made volatile.
Modern roasting systems are convection based: the heat energy comes from hot air flows. It is a way of ensuring that the beans are evenly roasted both inside and outside, thus guaranteeing that they undergo all of the chemical and physical transformations that are essential for producing exceptional roasted coffee. At Caffè Carraro, we use roasting machines with slow, flexible and completely automatic cycles for optimum, tailored aroma formation and caramelization of the sugars in every single origin of coffee.

Roasting

Interesting facts

Decaffeinated coffee

The term “decaffeinated coffee” means any type of coffee from which the caffeine has been removed during a chemical and physical process which is performed on green coffee beans in industrial facilities. Coffee can be legally deemed decaffeinated if it contains less than 0.1% caffeine, which is 97% - 98% lower than the natural amount. Consequently, decaffeinated coffee is not coffee that contains no caffeine but coffee whose caffeine content is so low that it has no significant physiological effects on the human body. The decaffeination process is performed on coffee beans while they are still green so that none of the aromatic qualities added to coffee during roasting are lost. Caffeine can be removed by using either organic solvents (dichloromethane or ethyl acetate) or water or carbon dioxide. All of the decaffeination methods that are currently used in the market are certified by the Italian Ministry of Health. They are not harmful, but the method used may affect the flavour of the coffee in the cup. The dichloromethane-based method produces the best quality because it does not alter the aromatic qualities of the coffee. It is a substance that has a selective impact on caffeine and it is highly volatile (it evaporates at 40°C), so all residue can be removed easily with steam processing. The subsequent roasting procedure takes place at over 200°C, thus ensuring that all traces of the solvent disappear completely. Caffè Carraro has chosen to use this method for its decaffeinated coffee so that it can offer all of the flavour of espresso without the caffeine jolt.

Coffee and health

One of the best known contents in coffee is an alkaloid of plant origin called caffeine, which can also be found in other drinks such as tea and cola, as well as in drugs such as painkillers. Over the years, all sorts of preconceptions have emerged about the physiological and metabolic effects of caffeine, tolerance and even addiction, not to mention the supposed risks associated with it. These theories linking problems to coffee have been systematically reviewed and disproved thanks to in-depth theoretical and experimental studies. There is no scientific proof that moderate consumption of coffee (3-4 cups a day) can damage our bodies. However, it has been shown that it can have a beneficial impact on our bodies, which may vary from one person to the next. For example, coffee:

  • Improves concentration and memory.
  • Aids digestion, because it increases the secretion of gastric acid in the stomach.
  • Relieves headaches thanks to its painkilling effects.
  • Helps the body to burn fat and suppresses the appetite.
  • Relieves the symptoms of asthma and breathing conditions because it is a bronchodilator.