Modern Commentary

Torah & Spirit
Family Life







Coffee is native to the Kaffa region of Ethiopia. Arabs began cultivating it in the sixth century. The first coffee was named Mocca for the Red Sea port, Al Mukkah, where coffee was first traded. Plants were smuggled from there by Dutch traders who founded the coffee plantations of Java. Africa and South America lead the world today in coffee production.

For the most part, only two species of coffee, C.arabica and C.robusta, are used commercially (these species account for approximately ninety percent of the species of coffee used). Arabica (grown mainly in Central and South America) are considered the highest quality beans, and are usually more expensive. They grow best in high altitudes and produce a very flavorful, aromatic coffee. Robusta beans (from Africa and Asia) can withstand more severe temperatures and conditions. Robusta ,considered to be less flavorful and aromatic, are used in instant and less expensive coffees.

Coffee harvesting is a labor intensive process. Coffee beans are actually the seed of a fruit - the coffee cherry. Coffee cherries ripen at different times, consequently, all picking must be done by hand.

After harvesting the coffee cherries, the seeds (beans) are separated from the fruit. Depending on the region, the beans are separated using one of two methods. The wet method uses a machine to strip away the skin and pulp. The beans are then fermented in water. Enzymatic reactions that occur in the tank loosen whatever pulp is still left; this is then washed away. The dry method involves leaving the ripened fruit on the tree or spread in the sun for several weeks to dry. After drying, a hulling machine removes the skin and pulp. Further processing removes the silverskin, a thin covering remaining on the bean. The green beans are then sorted, packed and shipped to coffee roasters. Coffee beans are kosher, and at this point, water is the only substance the beans have come into contact with until this point, therefore, there are no kashrut issues with the beans.

Roasting is the key step in the manufacture of coffee. Timing is everything in this delicate operation. If the roast is too short insufficient amounts of oils influencing flavor and aroma will be released. If allowed to go too long the beans will burn. This is also the explanation of the different roast terms you might have seen. The terms City roast or French roast refer to the color of the roasted beans. The longer the roast the darker the bean. The shorter the roast the lighter the color. Obviously, this will also affect the taste of the final product.

The procedure starts by placing the green coffee beans in a hopper. The hopper pours the beans into the roaster. The roaster, which has been characterized as a cross between a clothes dryer and a popcorn popper, consists of a large rotating drum inside a heating chamber. The temperature of the pre-heated roaster is around 400 F. About five minutes into the roast the beans will begin to lose moisture and change color. Five minutes later the beans will have doubled in size and almost reached their optimum color. At this point they are fed into a large revolving tray called a cooling car in which they will darken further.

After cooling, the beans are placed in a holding bin. From here they will either ride a bucket elevator to the grinder and packaging line or be placed into the flavor mixer. The roasters' primary concern is achieving optimum flavor and aroma. For this reason they are punctilious in making sure nothing is added to the beans during roasting. Again, kashrut is not a concern at this point.

Instant Coffee

Today, instant coffee is processed one of two ways.

Spray Drying - This entails forcing an atomized spray of very strong coffee extract through a jet of hot air. The liquid evaporates leaving behind dried coffee. An interesting but little known fact is that coffee loses much of its aroma due to spray drying. As aroma is all important to the resulting flavor of the coffee, most manufacturers will spray a coffee oil on the powder to add back some of the lost aroma. This is known as aromatizing. In another attempt to make the instant coffee as much like real ground coffee as possible, the powder is put through a heating process which causes it to clump. It is then ground to resemble real ground coffee. This is called agglomeration.

Freeze Drying - Freeze dried coffee is produced by freezing liquid coffee and then placing the product under a vacuum enabling the frozen liquid to vaporize without passing through the liquid phase. This is known as sublimation. Since coffee produced through these methods is manufactured at dedicated plants, they present no kashrut problems.

Continue to part II: Coffee