The Interesting Journey of a Coffee Bean
That invigorating black potion sitting before you has gone through a long and complex process involving hundreds and thousands of farmers, pickers, producers, cuppers and shippers to be the very answer to your morning needs.
As you wait for your brew to reach optimal drinking temperature take a moment to reflect on the complicated process that makes early mornings, rushed deadlines and all-nighters almost bearable by giving the caffeine kick that sees you through to Victory.
Step 1: The Coffee Plant
The entire process begins with a seed planted in a nursery in some country far away where the sun shines in copious amounts and labour is probably cheap.
The dark brown coffee beans have been processed to perfection, but when unprocessed the green beans are ready to sprout.
The small coffee plants will be held in a nursery before being transplanted in the immense coffee plantations of Brazil, the world's leading coffee producer or across the rolling hills of Colombia, the close second. If you would like to find out more about where coffee grows, then check here to read about the coffee growing regions.
There are a lot of regions where coffee is grown throughout the world. Typically it grows in areas close to the equator as the sun, or constant supply of sun is vital to the growth of healthy plants.
Step 2: The Harvest
After the plants have grown to maturity, between 3 and 4 years, they will begin to produce red coffee cherries ready to be picked. This can be done by machine, but it is often done by hand as coffee is native to mountainous regions making machinery useless.
Furthermore, select varieties of Arabica Coffee are hand picked to catch the cherries at the pique of perfection, over an 8 to 10 day harvest. It is at this stage that coffee beans are also graded. You can find out more about coffee grading here.
As you can imagine the harvest is a very important time especially for many small farmers. The larger farms will tend to use machinery assuming it can be brought to those locations.
Step 3: Processing, Drying and Milling
The green coffee beans must be removed from the fleshy cherries and there is a variety of traditional and more conventional methods of accomplishing this.
The old fashioned method involved spreading the cherries in the sun and continuously mixing them to avoid spoilage, after several days the husks have dried and the bean is partially exposed. Today this part is often done by machine.
The beans must then be dried and milled to remove the last vestiges of the cherry husks from the green beans, that are still quite a long way from being able to be used as a brew.
Step 4: Exporting and Tasting the Beans
The non-roasted beans that have been husked, dried and sorted in varying grades of quality are then ready to be exported. The green beans are consistently being tested to ensure the process is on the mark, in terms of company standards and bean quality.
A small quantity of beans will be roasted in a mini roaster and prepared by a highly qualified “cupper” whose job it is to ascertain the aromatic and flavor quality of the bean. This is essential when balancing correct mixes and choosing beans fore specialist blends.
This is the step when actual buyers often get involved in the coffee bean process. Each brand will have their own standards as to what types of bean they want, and also the degree of quality.
Step 5: Roasting and Packaging the Beans
The various coffee manufacturing and supplying companies will buy beans based on exact qualities and other specifications to create their house blends.
Roasting is done at 550° F and the beans are constantly moving to avoid burning the delicate beans. You can find out more about the roasting processes by clicking here.
Needless to say the majority of coffee beans are roasted in large factories. You can do this at home if you buy the green beans yourself.
Packing the beans is extremely important to maintain the full freshness of the beans.
These will then be ground according to the brewing process they were meant for, or left as whole beans to be ground by the consumer (locking in that roasted flavor till the last minute, if you don't have a coffee mill, get one).
Most people in the UK will buy coffee that has been ground and packaged. Those who are really into their coffee will prefer to buy the roasted beans and then grind them fresh just before using them.
You would be surprised the huge difference this makes when it comes to the taste of your coffee.
Step 6: The Coffee Brew
The beans have arrived at your supply outlet ready to be selected and brought home with you. Of course, selecting the right grind of coffee for the temperatures and coffee brewing generally is a topic for a whole other article.
So as you can see the journey of the humble coffee bean is certainly a very interesting one. The next time you have a brew, spare a little thought for the humble bean. It started off in some remote mountainside and ended up going through your machine and then into your cup or mug.