From Seed to Cup – The Process of Growing Coffee Beans
The coffee that you may be drinking while reading this has been on a long journey to arrive in your cup.
From planting to roasting, there are some stages that all coffee beans go through to become the drink we all love. Let’s explore these stages together. Ready? Jump in.
A coffee bean as we know it is the seed of a coffee cherry. When it’s dried, roasted and ground, it’s used to brew coffee. If the seed isn’t processed, it will be planted and will one day grow into a coffee tree.
If the seeds are planted, they are often planted in large, shaded beds. The seedlings are watered frequently and shaded from any bright sunlight until they are ready to be permanently planted. Planting usually takes place during the wet season. This way the soil remains moist while the roots can grow and become firm.
Depending on the variety, it will take between three and four years for the coffee tree to begin growing fruit. These fruits are known as coffee cherries, which turn a bright, deep red when ripe and ready to be picked.
Usually, there is one major harvest a year. However, in some countries such as Colombia, there are two yearly flowerings. A main and secondary crop.
In most coffee bean growing countries, the crop is hand-picked; which can be labour intensive. However, in countries that have flatter landscapes and substantial coffee fields such as Brazil, the process has often been mechanised. No matter where the coffee, every coffee bean is harvested in one of these two ways.
Two processing methods are commonly used when it comes to harvesting, whether by hand or by machine. The first process is known as strip picking. This is where all of the cherries are picked regardless of ripeness or quality. A coffee tree will be stripped entirely of all its fruit.
The second is selectively picking. This is where only the ripe cherries are harvested. They will be picked individually, by hand, by pickers who rotate around the trees every eight to ten days. This is how more exceptional arabica coffee beans are harvested, like ours.
Most pickers will average around 100 – 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day. This, in turn, will produce approximately 20 – 40 pounds of coffee beans.
Processing the Cherries
To stop them from spoiling, the cherries must be processed as quickly as possible once picked. Depending on the location and local resources, they will be processed in one of two ways.
The dry, or ‘natural’ method is a method that has been used since the growing of coffee began. The coffee cherries are spread out across vast areas of land to be dried out. To stop them from spoiling, they are then raked and turned multiple times throughout the day. They are then covered at night to protect them from any rain. This process removes the flesh of the coffee cherry, by way of natural fermentation, allowing us to access the seeds, or beans that hide underneath.
The second is the wet method. With this method, the freshly harvested cherries are put through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp. Any remaining flesh from the coffee cherries is then removed by floating the coffee cherries in fermentation tanks for a number of hours. The beans are then washed to remove any leftover debris.
Lastly, the beans are laid out to dry with the parchment skin left on.
Milling the Beans
Before the beans are exported, they are processed further.
To remove the parchment layer of the processed coffee, hulling machinery is used. This process removes the entire dried husk (skin) of the beans.
Quality & Pricing
After milling, the beans are graded and sorted by size and weight. They are checked for any colour flaws or imperfections. Then, the beans are sized by passing through a series of screens, each with different sized holes.
With speciality arabica coffee, any defective beans are removed. Defective beans are beans that are damaged, unacceptable in size or colour or over-fermented. This process is done by hand and machinery to ensure only the highest quality beans are exported.
Once sorted, the beans are priced. To ascertain this price, coffees need to be tasted. If a coffee scores over 80 points, its awarded speciality coffee status. Here at Two Chimps HQ, we only purchase and roast the good stuff; speciality coffee.
After a trade house has purchased the coffee seeds, the coffee, now known as green beans, are loaded into shipping containers and shipped to various countries around the world.
It’s time to taste
When it comes to hunting down a new coffee, we head over to our most recent offer lists for guidance. These offer lists come to us directly from UK trade houses or importers. From these offer lists, we choose a handful of coffees to sample, based on the outlying tasting notes provided by the importer.
The coffee is then cupped upon arriving to us. Cupping is the process that allows us to taste the coffee itself, and not the brewing method. Finally, after lengthy discussions, a coffee is chosen from the cupping table.
Want to cup yourselves? Check out our guide for more information on coffee cupping and how to do it at home.
So there you have it, that is the process every single bean of coffee goes through to make it into your cup.
To be part of the story, get yourself a bag of coffee today.
Join the troop