A cup of coffee may not be as simple as it may appear. A majority of people know that coffee comes from raw coffee beans but are not aware of the processes it goes through. You may not realize this as you drink that cup of coffee, but the coffee beans you ground to come up with that cup have made an incredible journey, just to give you that good feeling. That is unless you happen to live in areas where coffee is grown that is the tropical and sub-tropical latitudes which support the growth of coffee beans. If instead, just like the overwhelming majority of coffee consumers around the globe, you live in the temperate climate, then your coffee had to go through some serious processes to make it to your cup. Today -we are going to discuss how coffee beans are grown, harvested and eventually brought into the market.
Coffee grows best in tropical and sub-tropical climates- usually not more than a thousand miles from the equator, altitudes between sea level and 7000 feet. It does well in organic top soil mixed with volcanic debris at an average temperature of 24 degrees Celsius.
Coffee trees start their life in a nursery. They stay there until they are about 20 feet tall, typically this takes a year. They are then transported to the farm for transportation and planted ten to twelve feet apart. The coffee tree has the ability to grow up to 20 feet, but due to difficulties when it comes to harvesting, they are usually pruned so that they can grow to eight to ten feet.
This short plant with smooth oval leaves blossoms with white flowers that eventually becomes a cherry-like fruit. The fruit starts out green then becomes yellow and eventually ripens to become red. A few pieces can over ripen to become black. A coffee tree takes four to five years to grow and produce its first coffee seeds fully. It can continue to bear fruits up to its thirteenth year. The berries produced are referred to coffee cherries due to their close resemblance in shape, size, and color to cherries.
Harvesting the Coffee
Harvesting of coffee cherries can be very labor intensive. There are two methods used to harvest; the first one is just picking the berries from each branch and the second one involves picking all berries from a branch using a commercial machine. Most of the coffee grown in the worlds is grown by small-scale farmers who own five to seven acres of land. These farmers harvest their berries by picking. This method may take more time but it produces a quality harvest. In addition, this method helps leave the unripe cherries on the branch so that they can continue to grow.
On the other hand, farmers with a very large tract of land, employ mechanical harvesters to remove all cherries from the branches. Coffee ripening greatly depends on the altitude. The lower the altitude is, the warmer the climate and the sooner the berries will ripen. What this means is, coffee grown in an area of 1800 feet will ripen faster compared to coffee grown in an area of 3000 feet. Harvesting coffee is often divided into three stages, the beginning, the middle, and the end. The beginning of the harvest yields a small amount of raw coffee and often the flavor is vegetal, astringent and undeveloped. The middle harvest is normally done in bulk. Most of the coffee we buy is at this level. The flavor from middle harvest is more developed and mature. The last one is the end harvest. This is normally considered as the leftovers from that season.
Processing the Coffee Cherries
The next step from harvesting is now processing the coffee cherries. After picking, the beans are extracted by removing the skin of the berries. Removing coffee beans from cherries can be done using two methods:
– Dry process.
– Wet Method.
The dry method works by using the power of the sun upon layers of washed coffee cherries that are laid out on dried coffee tables, plastic sheets or cement slabs. After exposing them on the sun for four weeks, the fruit dehydrates into crystal shell. Some processors use coffee driers to achieve the same result in four days. A hulling machine removes the outer skin of the coffee cherries to expose the green raw coffee bean.
The wet method starts by running the cherries through a pulping machine within the first twenty-four hours after harvesting. The machine helps in removing the skin and the fruit pulp. The kernels are then washed and allow to stay in water and ferment. The pulp will dissolve completely away from the kernel, leaving raw coffee green bean that is parchment covered.
Trading and Shipping
Once the green raw coffee beans have been separated from the cherries, they are now packed in burlap bags and then shipped to all the corners of the globe. Coffee is both traded directly and on the commodity market. However, direct trade coffee is increasingly used recently, with some incentives like fair trade price guarantee for the farmers.
Once the raw coffee beans have been sold to the coffee company, it is further processed. At this stage, coffee can be subjected to further process that includes decaffeinating, ground, roasted, flavored and packaged before it can make its way to the market. Once distributed, coffee is delivered to either a local retailer, café, espresso cart or restaurant where it might go the final stages of grinding and brewing. Or it may have to wait for you to bring it to your kitchen or office to finish its journey.