Coffee Beans: From Harvest to Your Cup
Have you ever wondered, what happens to my coffee before it becomes a delicious beverage in my hands? Coffee is a beverage that has been enjoyed for centuries, and its popularity continues to grow. Today, over half of Americans drink at least one cup per day and is one of the world's most traded commodity. Coffee has become an initial part of our culture and daily lives.
The process the coffee beans undergo from seed to your cup is a lot more complicated than you think. We have summarized it into four steps: starting from harvesting, processing, drying and roasting until those beautiful brown beans show up on your doorstep, packed with enough goodness and ready to be brewed. Details on each of these steps can be found in the descriptions of each single origin product and this post is a great resource when you are new to specialty coffee, trying to learn more or you are ready to branch out and try something new!
A coffee plant takes approximately 3-4 years to bear fruit, depending on its variety. There are two main varieties of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. Once the coffee bean turns red and ripens, it is ready to be harvested. The process of harvesting coffee beans can either be done by hand or by a machine. Be it handpicked or by machine, harvesting coffee cherries can either be Strip Picking or Selective Picking.
Strip Picking is done when the coffee cherries on one branch are ripe at the same time. The coffee picker will put their hand around the branch's base and will collect the cherries by pulling them off in one motion. On the other hand, using a stripping machine is time efficient but can only be used on flat farms.
Selective picking involves picking only the ripened cherries and leaving the unripened ones to be harvested at a later time. Handpicked cherries are more preferred over mechanized selective picking to prevent under-ripe or overripe from being harvested. Finer Arabica beans are collected using manual selective picking, Coffee pickers will have to choose the cherries with the right ripeness and will come back to check on the trees every eight to 10 days to get the right ripened coffee cherry.
Hand-picking is the traditional method of harvesting cherries. It is the preferred way since more ripe coffee cherries will be collected, producing a better yield. On the other hand, machine picking is more expensive but can be cost-effective especially for large scale coffee farms.
After the coffee cherries are harvested, it will undergo processing either by dry method or wet method.
The Dry Method involves laying the cherries under the sun. During the day, it is raked and turned over then covered at night. This is done in countries with limited resources. An example of our coffee using the dry method is Ethiopia Natural.
The other method, the Wet Method, removes the pulp from the cherry skin by washing it with water. The cherries are then separated by soaking in water. Those that float have less density and are considered defective. Thus, the wet method is more widely used because it is the most economical. The selected beans then undergo fermentation for 5-7 days to remove the layer called mucilage. This insoluble layer will be removed during fermentation as the enzymes in the beans will degrade the mucilage, producing acid and gases.
During drying, the coffee beans are dried using raised beds or mechanical dryers under the sun for 10-15 days. They are turned regularly to avoid burning on one side. For beans that have undergone the wet method, the drying takes longer until they only have about 11% moisture content. The green coffee bean must have this moisture content to undergo roasting.
After drying, the beans undergo milling to produce clean and polished coffee beans that are ready for roasting.
Roasting is the final process that turns green coffee beans into aromatic brown beans. The beans are roasted at 550 °F in roasting machines and are moved throughout to prevent burning. The beans are checked by roasters every few seconds to achieve the perfect color, texture and size depending on the type of roast. Check out our other blog for a more detailed comparison of the type of roasts (light, medium, dark roast). The aroma and flavor of the coffee we drink begin to develop during the roasting process. After roasting, they are immediately cooled in cooling trays.
Our freshly roasted coffee beans here at STEM Savvy Brew are shipped the same day it is roasted on whole coffee beans and shipped the next day after roasting on ground coffee beans.
The coffee bean has a long journey from harvesting, processing, drying, roasting to packaging. It's no wonder that many people don't know how to brew the perfect cup of joe. Luckily for you, we have all the answers! Check out our blog post on "How To Brew Coffee" and learn more about everything there is to know before your next pour-over or French press coffee session.