How Does Coffee Grow?

HOAC farmers tending their coffee harvest.

How Does Coffee Grow?

Many of us enjoy a cup (or more!) of coffee every day. But how much do you know about the process of getting the coffee from the farm to your cup? You’ll be able to appreciate your favourite brew a lot more when you know how much work goes into getting it to you.

For starters, coffee beans are actually coffee seeds, and there are two main varieties. ’Robusta’ is typically easier to cultivate, but the end product tends to be more bitter. Robusta is primarily used in instant coffee, and in blends to give them more body.

Arabica’ tends to produce a more aromatic coffee and is generally smoother than Robusta. However, it requires cooler temperatures and higher altitudes to thrive and is therefore considered harder to grow. Even so, Arabica accounts for around 80% of the world’s coffee production.

 

Planting

Coffee trees can be planted from the seeds (beans) of the coffee cherries. As a delicate plant, seedlings have to be well looked after during their germination stage. They have to be protected from direct sunlight until they’re hearty enough to survive.

Once they’re old enough, the seedlings can be transplanted into the coffee field. From here, it can take up to 5 years before the tree bares any fruit.

Harvesting

After the tree finally bares its distinctive red fruit, it’s time for harvesting. Because of the difficult conditions coffee is usually grown in, harvesting is almost always done by hand.

There is two types of picking: strip picking involves harvesting all of the cherries, and selective picking involves only picking the ripe cherries.

 

Processing

This is where the seed is separated from the pulp. There are two main methods: wet and dry. The wet method is where the cherries are allowed to ferment in tanks for up to 48 hours, which naturally dissolves the pulp from the seed.

After this, the seeds are laid out to dry until their moisture content reduces to 11%. The dry method involves laying the whole cherries out to dry for several weeks until the moisture content is reduced to 11%.

Milling

The beans are then milled to remove their outer husk. The beans might also be polished, which removes any skin that remains on them.

The beans are then sorted by size and weight before any imperfect beans are sorted out by either hand or machinery.

 

Exporting and Shipping

Once milled, the raw, green coffee beans are prepared to be shipped to roasteries all around the world. This is where the beans are roasted to various levels, which brings out unique characteristics in every blend.

Stay tuned for a post on coffee roasting to learn more!

Cover image: Josh Griggs, used with permission.

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