Hamburg is known for it’s historical warehouse district. It measures 26 hectares in the north east of the harbour and was build in 1883 and the following years. It’s the biggest historical warehouse in the world and contains a lot of individual stores keeping the historical flair – like the coffee roastery called „Speicherstadt Kafeerösterei“. There I meet Natalie and her colleague who explained everything around coffee and showed me the whole place.
Coffee has a long history and is an important good which was traded in Hamburg. A story says that coffee has been discovered by a shepherd in Ethiopia who watched his sheep and noticed a change in their behavior whilst eating coffee berries. He noticed that they become nervous and more excited after eating them and that’s how the effect of coffee was discovered… not sure whether that’s true but Ethiopia is definitely the cradle of coffee. It was first mentioned 900 b.c. and the leaves and berries were infused with hot water – almost like tea.
Today coffee is growing within a „coffee belt“ which lays between 0-24 (latitude) and prefer higher levels as well as shadowy and misty places within the trees. They are growing up to highs of 2.500 meters. Coffee plants themselves can have a high of 3,5 meters and do carry so called „coffee cherries“. Within those cherries are growing two coffee beans (seeds). There exists two main sorts of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. As the name reveals is Robusta a very robust and easy-going coffee plant but not as aromatic as Arabica. It’s therefore cheaper and of less quality. Beneath those two sorts are existing many sub-sorts of coffee, which can have up to 800 different tastes like chocolate, fig or apricot. They all differ because of their location, hights, soil and surroundings. In general are bigger coffee beans and coffee plants growing on an higher level better than other ones in terms of aroma.
Coffee cherries are harvested as soon as they are of a certain red colour. They are usually picked by hand because one plant contains berries of a different maturity. That’s why it takes up to two month to collect all the cherries of one tree to achieve the best quality of beans. Bigger companies / plantations are harvesting by machines which collect all the berries of a tree at one time, which means that many of those cherries aren’t of the right maturity and therefor the best quality (which means taste).
There are existing two methods how coffee can be processed after the harvest: Drying and washing. The first means that the cherries are laid out on a big area for about 5 weeks and that those are drying slowly in the sun. After that machines do separate the pulp from the seeds (coffee beans). That process takes a lot of time and sun but requires less water. The latter contains different steps of washing to separate the different layers of pulp from the actual coffee beans. After that those beans are dried for about 10 days. That process is much faster but requires machines and a lot of water. In general are most sorts of coffee washed ones as the taste is much clearer.
After that the coffee beans have to follow a certain quality process and to fulfill some certain criteria to be processed to coffee at all. If there is just one bean of a bad quality half of a sack can be ruined. Therefore the maturity and state of the bean is key. There also might be some diseases which makes a bean useless. The „Speicherstadt coffee roastery“ has an own laboratory to check the quality on the one hand of new farms applying and on the other hand of existing contractors to make sure that every delivery follows their standards. „Speicherstadt coffee roastery“ is importing from different farms which have to follow certain requirements regarding quality. They are also taking care about those farms. Natalie mentioned certain projects the company is supporting. There is one project donating money to save Orang Utans, which is a endangered species. Other projects support local coffee farms or the people working on those farms etc. They are paying a lot of attention to the whole process and not just the coffee itself.
The imported coffee is stored in another warehouse and the team of the roastery is just requesting the amount of coffee beans they need for the roastery at a time. The roasting itself isn’t of a long duration. About 50kg of raw beans are put in a reel, which is rotating. Within that reel are temperatures of 220 degree celsius and those beans get roasted for 15 minutes (normal coffee) to 20 minutes (espresso). Bigger coffee roasteries are roasting their beans for just 5 minutes with a temperature of about 400 degree which kills the taste and destroys vitamins as well as minerals. The coffee beans are ready to be grounded or to be packaged as soon after these have cooled down.
There exist different grinding degrees depending on the brewing technique. The oldest technique is putting water on top of fine grounded coffee – the so called Mocha. Besides that exist loads of other types which require a certain grinding degree, temperature of the water and duration of brewing. After the coffee is brewed it develops different aromas (up to 800) and reveals it’s character in different steps. You need to train your tongue to be able to notice differences (as with wine). The team of the „Speicherstadt coffee roastery“ does definitely have an impressive knowledge and they are all addicted to coffee. It underlines the high quality of the coffee and It was a lot of fun to be showed around and very interesting listening to them. Thanks to all of them, especially Natalie for a great afternoon!