From Bean to Cup
Coffee is one of those products like gasoline that we take for granted. To get that simple cup of coffee there is an incredible chain of supply, demand, and people in the process that takes years to produce a single pound of coffee.
Have you ever stopped to think where that coffee actually comes from? A cup of coffee, it seems so simple. Maybe it ‘s not as simple as we think. In fact it takes many years and a lot of hard labor for that coffee you have in your cup to become accessible for consumers.
Coffee spread from its home in Africa to other parts of the world and each new location adapted the growing and processing of based their own requirements. The plant produces blossoms, which mature into green cherries, which ripen with an intense red color when they are ready for harvest. These cherries ripen at different speeds and therefore each bush must be picked over several times during the growing season. This is extremely labor intensive and a lot of hard work. Each coffee Bush will only produce enough finished beans for about one pound of roasted coffee.
The Harvesting of the cherries is only the start of the process. After the Harvesting of the cherries, the ripened cherries must be processed. There are two ways of processing the ripened cherries.
In the Wet Method, Cherries are soaked in large tanks of water in a process called fermentation for 12 to 32 hours after which the exterior skin and mucilage is removed leaving the seed covered in a tough parchment skin. The bean is then left out in a sunny area for 12 to 15 days to dry.
In the natural method, the cherry is simply left to dry out in the sun for up to four weeks. During this time the pulp and skin become shriveled and can then be easily removed.
The processing process produces two beans from each cherry, which can be sorted and graded according to requirement.
After the growing and processing procedure, we are left with a sack of raw or green coffee beans. At this point coffee is thousands of miles away from its final destination where it will be roasted packaged and consumed. Still, how does it get to our cup?
Coffee Brokers go to the country of origin or have a business relationship with whoever owns the coffee. These Brokers receive a sample of the coffee in which they will roast and evaluate it a process known as “cupping”. If the coffee is suitable to the buyer and their customer’s needs , they will purchase the crop.
Most green specialty coffee is shipped to us in either 60 or 70 kilo bags. The information on the outside of the bag identifies what it contains as to country of origin, growing region or estate, and a unique lot number that allows us to verify we have received the coffee we sampled and purchased.
We roast coffee in small batches. The green beans are weighed and placed in the hopper of our Probat roaster, then when the machine reaches the proper temperature, the beans flow into the roasting chamber and begin their transformation.
The roasting process takes 12-15 minutes and the same bean can produce a different taste depending on how long it is roasted. We monitor this crucial step closely as the beans are circulated in the heated, rotating drum. Roasting depletes the beans of the moisture they contain, so they actually shrink in weight, but increase in size when they are roasted. The different roasts, light, medium and dark, are obtained by roasting the beans until the desired point is reached.
The purpose of all this is to understand and appreciate where coffee, something that many of us could not live without, comes from. I have seen first hand the hard work and dedication these coffee farmers put in to their crops, something we as consumers take for granted. Coffee does not just magically appear, just as money doesn’t grow on trees. It takes hard work, years to grow, and months to process, and weeks, to roast, package, and ship.