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We’ve chatted about how to grind our coffee for optimal brewing. But what happens before these beautiful beans make it into our homes? Where do they come from? How are they grown?

 

Today, my caffeinated crew, we are going to talk about coffee farming and processing. This post will be a bit more detailed than usual. Hang on for the ride!

THE BASICS

The Plant – What is it?

The coffee plant is a tropical evergreen tree. For you science enthusiasts, the plant belongs to the genus Coffea in the family Rubiaceae. The coffee bean itself is actually a seed which is harvested from the fruit of the tree, usually referred to as the coffee cherry.

 

Where does it grow?

Coffee trees thrive in the tropics, primarily in Latin America and select parts of Asia and Africa. Rich soil, reliable rainfall, and high altitudes create the ideal climate for these plants. Coffee trees should be planted in locations with altitudes between 3000 – 6000 feet. Above 4000 feet is considered best.

 

THE PROCESS

Taking our coffee from the tree to our homes is quite a process with a wide variety of factors. We’re just getting started today, so let’s look at the quick-and-dirty version of how our coffee is made.

 

Harvesting

Coffee trees flower and subsequently produce the cherries approximately 3 – 4 years after planting, and the cherries ripen about 9 months after the tree flowers. Cherries start out green and turn bright red when ripe. Once ripened, the cherries must be picked, either by hand or by machine. There are two methods of picking:

 

  • Strip Picking: Strip picking means that all cherries are stripped off of a branch at one time, either by hand or by machine.
  • Selective Picking: Selective picking is just what it sounds like – only the ripe cherries are picked. This method can only be done by hand.

 

Processing

After those rich, ripe coffee cherries are picked, the beans need to be extracted from inside. There are three primary methods employed to accomplish this.

 

  • Method 1: The Dry Method
    • This is our age-old processing method in which the entire fruit is dried. Ripe coffee cherries are laid out on large surfaces in the sun and left to dry. To avoid spoilage, the cherries must be raked and turned periodically.
  • Method 2: The Wet Method
    • In our wet or washed method, the beans are extracted from the fruit prior to drying. The fruit is sloughed away either under water or by machine, then the beans are dried. The beans may be dried by sun or drying machines.
  • Method 3: Pulp Natural (aka the In-Between Method)
    • Pulp natural falls in between our wet and dry methods. The skins of the coffee cherries are removed, leaving the beans to dry in the fruit’s innards.

 

Food for Thought

Each method of processing brings out different flavors of the coffee! The fruity characteristics of the coffee’s flavor profile are most deeply affected by the processing method. In the dry and pulp natural methods, the beans are left inside the fruit for much longer than the wet method. This brings out more pronounced fruit flavors in these beans, whereas beans processed by the wet method tend to showcase more chocolate and nut flavors.

 

Milling

Milling refers to the final cleaning and sorting processes before exporting the coffee beans. After the beans have been processed and dried, they need to be hulled. Hulling is the process of removing the outer layers of the dried beans, whether it’s just the outer parchment layer (wet processed coffee) or the entire dried husk of the fruit (dry and pulp natural processed coffee). The hulled beans are then reviewed by size and weight, and examined for imperfections. Any defective beans are discarded.

 

Roasting

Now that the beans have been milled, they’re ready to travel to their final destination! Once the beans are exported, the final step before grinding is roasting the beans. The roasting process brings out the flavors and aromas we know and love in our morning brews. Beans are roasted in machines until they reach an internal temperature around 400 degrees Fahrenheit, then are immediately cooled.

 

Once roasted, the beans need to reach the consumer as soon as possible for optimal flavor and freshness! Time is money, y’all.

 

Grinding

Hey, we know this part! Check back to our previous posts if you need a reminder.

 

There you have it! A quick look at how our coffee beans travel from the initial seed to our caffeine-driven lives. The process is lengthy and labor intensive – so thank a farmer today, will ya? There’s a whole lot of love poured into those sweet beans long before they reach us.

 

Happy brewing!