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10 Steps from Coffee Seed to Coffee Cup

10 Steps from Coffee Seed to Coffee Cup

10 Steps from Coffee Bean to Coffee Cup

The coffee you enjoy each day has taken a long journey, much like a long haul flight to arrive in your cup.

Between the time they’re planted, picked and then purchased, coffee beans go through a typical series of steps to bring out their best.

1. Planting

Coffee Tree with Coffee Cherries

A coffee bean is actually a seed and when dried, roasted and ground, it’s used to brew that liquid deliciousness that we call coffee. If the seed isn’t processed, it can be planted and grow into a coffee tree.

Coffee seeds are generally planted in large beds within shaded nurseries. The seedlings will be watered frequently and shaded from bright sunlight until they are hearty enough to be permanently planted. Planting often takes place during the wet season, so that the soil remains moist while the roots grow and become firmly established.

2. Harvesting the Cherries

Picking and harvesting Coffee Cherries

Depending on the variety which has been planted and unknown to a lot of people, it will take approximately 3 to 4 years for the newly planted coffee trees to bear fruit. Coffee is by no means a quick process. The fruit, called the coffee cherry then turns a bright, deep red when it is ripe and ready to be harvested.  

There is typically one major harvest a year. In countries like Colombia, where there are two flowerings annually, there is a main and also a secondary crop.

In most countries, the crop is picked by hand, which is a labour-intensive and difficult process, though in places like Brazil where the landscape is relatively flat and the coffee fields immense, the process has been somewhat modernised with use of machines. Needless to say, whether its by hand or by machine, all the coffee is harvested in one of two ways:

Strip Picked: Which all of the cherries are stripped off of the branch at one time, either by machine or by hand.

Selectively Picked: Only the ripe cherries are harvested, and they are picked individually by hand. Pickers will rotate among the trees every eight to 10 days, choosing only the cherries which are at the peak of ripeness. Because this kind of harvest is labour intensive and more costly, it is used primarily to harvest the finer Arabica beans.

A good picker averages approximately 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries a day, which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans. You can see why its absolutely important for us at Threshold Coffee to source coffee with fair trade, because this workers deserve a fair pay, they work amazingly hard.

Each worker's daily haul is then carefully weighed, and each picker is paid fairly on the merit of his or her work. The day's harvest will then be transported on to the processing plant.

3. Processing the Cherries

Coffee Cherries Processing

Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to prevent the fruit from spoiling. Depending on location and the local resources, coffee is processed in one of the two ways:

The Dry Method - Is the age-old method of processing coffee, but if it works, why change it? To this day its still used in many countries where water resources are limited. The freshly picked cherries are simply spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, then covered at night or during rain to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process may continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee until the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11%.

The Wet Method - Removes the pulp from the coffee cherry after harvesting so the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on. First, the freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean.  

Then the beans are separated by weight as they pass through water channels. The lighter beans float to the top, while the heavier ripe beans sink to the bottom. They are passed through a series of rotating drums which separate them by size.

After separation, the beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors -- such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude -- they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to remove what is called the parenchyma a slick layer of mucilage that is still attached to the parchment. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause the layer or mucilage to dissolve. 

When fermentation is complete, the beans will feel rough to the touch. The beans are rinsed by going through additional water channels, and are then ready for drying

4. Drying the Beans

Coffee Beans Drying

If the beans have been processed by the wet method, the pulped and fermented beans must now be dried to approximately 11% moisture to properly prepare them for storage. 

These beans, still inside the parchment envelope called the endocarp, can be sun-dried by spreading them on drying tables or the floors, where they are turned regularly, or often nowadays they are machine-dried in large tumblers. The dried beans are known as parchment coffee, which is bagged up in sacks called jute of sisal bags and then often warehouse ready for export.   

5. Milling the Beans

Coffee Manual Milling

Before being exported, parchment coffee is processed in the following manner:

Hulling - Machinery removes the parchment layer (endocarp) from wet processed coffee. Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk — the exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp — of the dried cherries.

Polishing - Is an optional process where any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed by machine. While the polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, in reality, there is actually little difference between the two.

Grading and Sorting - Is done by the size and weight, and beans are also reviewed for colour flaws or other imperfections.

Beans are sized by being passed through a series of screens and sensors. They are also sorted pneumatically by using an air jet to separate heavy from the light beans.

Typically, the bean size is represented on a scale of 10 to 20. The number represents the size of a round hole's diameter in terms of 1/64's of an inch. A number 10 bean would be the approximate size of a hole in a diameter of 10/64 of an inch, and a number 15 bean, 15/64 of an inch. 

Finally, defective beans are removed either by hand or sorted by machinery. Beans that are deemed unsatisfactory due to deficiencies (unacceptable size or colour, over-fermented beans, insect-damaged, unhulled) will be removed. In many countries, this process is done both by machine and by hand, ensuring that only the finest quality coffee beans are exported.

6. Exporting the Beans

Coffee ready for export

The milled beans, is now referred to as green coffee, are loaded onto ships, planes, trucks and trains in either jute or sisal bags, Most often is the case that they are shipped globally, loaded in shipping containers and on pallets, or bulk-shipped inside plastic-lined containers.

World coffee production for 2020/21 is forecast to be 169.60 million 60-kg bags, increasing year on year by roughly 2/2.5%

7. Tasting the Coffee

Coffee Cupper Tasting

Coffee is repeatedly tested for quality and taste. This process is often referred to as cupping and usually takes place in a room specifically designed to facilitate this process. 

  • First, the taster — usually called the cupper — evaluates the beans for their overall visual quality. The beans are then roasted in a small laboratory type roaster, immediately ground and then infused in boiling water to carefully-controlled temperatures. The cupper noses the brew to experience its aroma, an essential step in judging the coffee's quality and I think its safe to say that most of use love the smell of coffee, so its an essential part. 
  • After letting the coffee rest for several minutes, the cupper breaks the crust by pushing aside the grounds at the top of the cup. Again, the coffee is nosed before the tasting begins.
  • To taste the coffee, the cupper slurps just a spoonful with a quick inhalation. The objective of this is to spray the coffee evenly over the cupper's tongue and upon their taste buds, they then weigh it on the tongue before spitting it out. 

Many samples from a variety of batches and different beans are taste tested daily. Coffees are not only analysed to determine their characteristics and flaws, but also for the purpose of blending different beans or creating the proper roast. An expert cupper can taste hundreds of samples of coffee a day and may still only taste subtle differences between them.

8. Roasting the Coffee

Coffee Roasting

Roasting transforms the green coffee into the aromatic brown beans that we purchase in our favourite stores or from our cafés. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 550 degrees Fahrenheit or 288 degrees Celsius. The beans are constantly moving throughout the entire process to keep them from burning.

When they reach an internal temperature of about 400 degrees Fahrenheit, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol, a fragrant oil locked inside the beans, begins to emerge. This process called pyrolysis is at the heart of roasting — it produces the flavour and aroma of the coffee that we drink.  

After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled either by air or by water. Roasting is generally performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible.

9. Grinding Coffee

Coffee Grinding

The objective of a proper grind is to get the most flavour in a cup of coffee. How coarse or fine the coffee is ground depends on the brewing method.

The length of time the grounds will be in contact with water determines the ideal grade of grind Generally, the finer the grind, the more quickly the coffee should be prepared. That’s why you will find that coffee ground for an espresso machine is much finer than coffee brewed in a drip system. 

Did you know - Espresso machines use 132 pounds per square inch of pressure to extract coffee.

We always recommend just taking a moment to examine the beans and smell their aroma — in fact, the scent of coffee alone has been shown to have energising effects on the brain.

10. Brewing Coffee

Coffee Brewing

To master how to brew coffee, we made a handy guide for tips and methods on how to make the perfect cup for any preference. Enjoy!

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