As more people get into coffee, they also want to know where their coffee beans come from. This does not only mean from which country or, more specifically, which farm produced their coffee beans.
If you are one of those people, you are in a great place. I will explain everything that happens on the coffee journey from bean to cup.
I will start this journey by explaining where all of the coffee beans start from, which is from a little seed. From there on out, I will take you on the next steps that the little coffee plant will go through. If I made you interested, make sure you grab yourself a nice cup of coffee, and let’s get into it.
The first step: the coffee seed
To really understand how and where your coffee beans come from, we need to start at the absolute beginning. This is why I will start to explain where the coffee journey begins at the seed.
The journey begins at the coffee farm. When the farmers are ready to extend their coffee farm or a new generation who wants to start with a coffee farm, a nursery is needed.
The coffee nursery is a small plantation where the seedlings are raised until they are ready to be put in the ground for production.
To start this process, freshly farmed coffee beans are needed. These coffee beans have just been through their processing. When most coffee beans are going to get dried for a while, the coffee beans for the nursery are put apart and will be transported to the nursery. I will get into the processing of the coffee beans further on.
The coffee beans are put in a rich soil where they are left to germinate. Germinating means the growing process of the coffee bean until little shoots form out of the coffee bean. This stage looks really fun; the coffee bean planted is now on top of a small green stem.
After a while, the coffee bean will burst open and green leaves will shoot out. The coffee plant will continue to grow for the next month until it is big enough to face the real world. They are now ready to be planted for production.
Most coffee-producing countries have dry and wet seasons. The coffee farmer will wait for a wet/ rainy season to plant the new coffee plants. Waiting for a rainy season will allow the coffee farmer to plant the coffee plants easier because the ground is wet. The plants will transform into coffee-producing trees in about 3 to 4 years.
The coffee trees can grow up to 10 meters, but most farmers keep the trees at a reasonable height, which will eventually ease the plucking of the coffee cherries.
After the years have passed, the coffee tree will start to produce coffee beans. The cherries (which contain the coffee beans) will be ready for harvest in about nine months. Unfortunately, the coffee cherries grow uniformly; while most cherries have ripened, a whole bunch will still need to develop more.
Some farmers will choose to hand pluck every ripe cherry from the whole tree; this is a very labor-intensive job and will cost a lot of money to pay all the people to pluck the perfectly ripe cherries. Some farmers choose to farm the whole tree at once. While this will include many unripe cherries, it will save a lot of time and money.
Every time the cherries have been picked from the tree. It will need to start new production of coffee cherries. The trees will need the be pollinated every time the cherries have been picked of the tree. On Arabica coffee trees, the flowers are self-pollinating. This will save a lot of time because nature will take care of this part.
If a farmer has chosen to produce Robusta, they will need to rely on cross-pollination by nature. The cross-pollination will happen through the wind and by insects.
The coffee fruit
I might have made you interested in the start of the coffee journey; I will continue by explaining how the inside of the coffee fruit (or coffee cherry) is built up.
While there are many different coffee beans out there, the biggest difference between them is their size. Usually, the bigger the coffee cherry is, the bigger the final product will be, which evidently is the coffee bean.
All coffee cherries start with green color, while the coffee cherry ripens, the color will change with time. It will go from green to yellow, and finally, it will turn red. This works the same way as bell peppers. While we eat the different coloring stages of the bell peppers, this does not count for the coffee cherries.
While the coffee cherries develop their red color, they will also develop sugar in their fruit. The darker red the cherries are, the sweeter. The more sugar there is in the coffee cherries, the better.
Inside of the coffee cherry is the coffee bean. The coffee fruit itself is made up of different layers that will be removed while the beans are processed. Right beneath the cherry skin is the pulp of the cherry.
Underneath this is the mucilage; sometimes, this will be left on the coffee bean when the coffee beans are processed. I will explain this thoroughly when I will explain the processing of the coffee beans.
When getting closer to the actual coffee beans we grind, there is still a little parchment. This can be left on the coffee beans when we buy them. It will deliver a different kind of flavor to your cup of joe.
We’ve ended up at the last layer before reaching the coffee bean, and this is called the silverskin. These silverskins are rapped around the coffee beans. This skin sits really tight against the coffee beans.
You cannot remove this by processing the coffee beans but it will come off while roasting the coffee beans. These little slivers of coffee skin are a byproduct of producing coffee beans. They are used in making compost.
Most coffee cherries will contain two seeds, which will face each other. Sometimes, there might be forming only one seed in the coffee cherry. This is called a peaberry.
Peaberries have a circular, somewhat oval form to them because they are alone in the coffee cherry. They have all the growing room they can possibly want. If you want to learn more about peaberries, click here as I will cover some more information and share some fun facts about them!
Harvesting the coffee beans
As I have briefly explained, after the cherries have ripened, they are ready to be harvested. This can happen in a lot of different ways, which I will explain here. These harvesting techniques all have their own pros and cons.
Most of the coffee farms around the world use a high altitude to produce their coffee. This will be beneficial for a great cup of coffee at the end of the journey.
On these farms, the coffee trees are scattered around big mountains that are hard to reach for the coffee pickers. This is one way of plucking the coffee cherries, which is very expensive because of the labor involved.
This is the main reason why most farms opt for other coffee picking techniques, with machine harvesting being one of them.
Machine harvesting of coffee beans
While machine harvesting is the easiest way of farming coffee cherries, this technique cannot be used worldwide. This technique requires the farm to be on a somewhat even level where the machine can easily maneuver its way through the farm.
The harvesting machine will shake the coffee trees until all the coffee fruits come loose. The biggest downside of using machinery in harvesting the coffee is that the machine will shake loose all fruits, including the unripe ones.
These cherries will need to be sorted after being harvested. The ripe and unripe cherries will need to be separated. Some leaves, twigs, and small branches that have fallen from the tree into the nets will also need to be separated from the coffee cherries. This will happen by handpicking the bad cherries out of the bunch.
In developed countries, a flotation tank is used to separate the ripe and unripe cherries from each other. They will dump the cherries in a big tank filled with water, where the ripe fruits will sink to the bottom of the tanks and continue their way to be processed.
The fastest way to harvest coffee beans, strip picking
The biggest part of the world still handpicks their coffee cherries. The fastest and less labor-intensive way of picking the coffee cherries of the coffee tree will be by using the strip picking technique.
With this technique, the coffee cherries will be stripped of their branch in one hand movement. Although this is the fastest way of handpicking the coffee cherries, picking the cherries using this technique will result in a bag full of unripe and ripe cherries, which will need to be sorted later.
This will use the same techniques of sorting the coffee beans, as I explained with machine picking. The cherries will still need separation of the ripe and unripe berries. They can also go through a flotation tank to sort the cherries.
Handpicking of coffee beans
This technique of harvesting coffee is mostly used for high-quality coffee. The coffee cherries are harvested individually. The pickers will only pick the ripest berries and leave the rest for a later date when they are fully grown.
The pickers are paid by weight. Which means they will get paid by how many cherries they have picked. This is a very labor-intensive job, which sometimes can encourage them to pick unripe cherries to add weight and get paid more.
Processing the coffee beans
The thing you need to know about processing coffee beans is that this is where the first flavors of the coffee will start to take place. There are three ways to process coffee cherries. I will explain what makes the processes different from each other and what kind of process is used where in the world.
Using the natural process
When coffee farmers use this process, the coffee cherries are left to dry. This happens on big patios outdoors. This way, the cherries will dry naturally in the sun. The drying of the coffee cherries will take up to 6 weeks. Once the cherries are dry, the coffee beans are separated from their fruit.
The washed process
This process will include a water bath for the coffee cherries. The machine will separate the good cherries by going through freshwater. The bad ones will sink to the bottom, and the good cherries will stay afloat.
Then they are sent to the washing station, where a pulping machine will remove the outer skin. They are then left to dry. Once they are fully dried, they are ready to be shipped off!
The pulped natural/ semi-washed process
In this process, both of the processes I have briefly explained are combined.
The coffee cherries are introduced to the processing by going through the pulping machine. They are then stored overnight, while a small fermentation will take place. The coffee beans are then fully washed and dried.
Although there is much more to the processing than I explained here, I have made a separate article where I get more into the coffee beans’ processing. If you want to learn more about the processing, I suggest clicking here.
Cupping of the coffee beans
Before we (the consumer) buy the coffee beans at the supermarket or anywhere else, the coffee has been tested multiple times by different people.
These professionals will use a technique called cupping to taste the coffee.
While tasting, they will be testing the coffee for things like; sweetness, acidity, mouthfeel, balance, and the coffee’s overall flavor.
The cuppers will only use one technique of making the coffee; using different kinds of brewing techniques will make the coffee taste significantly different.
To make the coffee made for cupping, they will use 12 grams (1/2 oz) of coffee and 200 ml (7fl oz) of water. Once the coffee has been brewed, the upper layer will be removed using spoons.
The leftover coffee will be taste-tested using a slurping technique which will include lots of slurping sounds. Slurping the coffee ensures that the coffee will reach its maximum tasting competencies.
The coffee is then graded on the taste. This is the final testing step to ensure the consumer will receive the best coffee there is.
Trading of the coffee
This is the final route the coffee beans will have to take to reach us. The coffee beans will be shipped off in large containers on big boats.
One container can hold up to 300 bags of coffee beans. A bag from countries like Brazil, Indonesia, and Africa will weigh about 60kg (132lb). If it comes from South America, the coffee bags will weigh around 69kg (152lb).
Coffee is traded on the stock market, which is why coffee prices fluctuate a lot. Coffee is bought in large quantities at once. However, the coffee farmer will receive the standard coffee prices for their beans. The big fish in the sea will buy up containers at once of a special coffee and sell it for an additional cost to the next bidder.
The roasting of coffee beans
Coffee roasting is one of the most important tasks when it comes to the finished product. Roasting the coffee will allow the right flavors to get into the bean.
As a coffee roaster, you have to be very knowledgeable about roasting coffee. There is no time for an error to occur because this will give the coffee beans an off-taste, which you obviously don’t want. The coffee roaster will determine which flavors the coffee beans will eventually carry.
I will explain which coffee roasts are most commonly used and which flavor these different roasts will bring.
One of the key aspects of drinking coffee at home is to choose which coffee roast you like. To help you choose which coffee roast to buy, I made a list of the differences between the roasts.
Light roasted coffee beans
Let’s begin by breaking down the light roasts. This kind of roast is most commonly used on specialty coffee beans.
Specialty coffee is a term for the highest grade of coffee available, typically relating to the entire supply chain, using single origin or single estate coffeeWikipedia
When light roasting a coffee, it will preserve all the natural flavors of the farm. The darker the coffee is roasted, the more strong flavors will be introduced.
This is why specialty coffee beans are most likely always light roasted to really enhance the special coffee bean flavors; coming straight from the coffee farm. Some people say that you can taste the origin of the coffee bean when light roasting of the coffee beans is applied.
This is where the coffee really gets its color change, and the flavor will start to change. The coffee will let loose more of its natural oil and taste quite different from all the other roasts.
As it reaches this point, it will enhance the flavors. For me, this is a perfect coffee roast. It is perfectly in balance, and I can appreciate all the flavors that come with it.
The dark roast of coffee beans
The dark roast is mostly used in the making of an espresso. When making an espresso, the water used will touch the coffee for a small period of time, thus needing a stronger tasting coffee.
Suppose you want to know more about different roasts and learn about them even more. I recommend clicking here. As I will cover two more roasts used in the coffee roast, one of these roasts is used by a big company known worldwide.
I will also cover the difference in temperature each coffee bean reaches before being done and how this impacts the flavors.
Buying your coffee beans and correctly storing them
When buying your coffee beans, make sure you buy fresh ones. If you want freshly roasted coffee beans, I recommend finding a local coffee roaster. The coffee roasters near me all carry different coffee beans from different parts of the world, with each of them telling a different story.
Although there is nothing wrong with the coffee beans in the supermarket, you will be amazed by how much better freshly roasted coffee beans can taste.
If you are ready to buy from a local coffee roaster, try asking everything about the coffee beans you want to buy.
The fun thing about small coffee roasters is that they most likely will be in contact with the coffee farmers on the other side of the world. Either having visited the coffee farms or at least support the coffee farmers in a way.
Once you have decided on which coffee beans you are going to buy, take them home and try them out.
Remember always to store your coffee beans the correct way; this extends the freshness of the coffee beans big time! When storing the coffee beans, you must put them away in either a container or the package they came in.
Make sure this is sealed airtight. You can use freshly roasted coffee beans for up to 8 weeks. Storing them longer than this is not recommended because the coffee will slowly lose its flavor from the moment it has left the roaster.
If you have a coffee roaster nearby, I would always choose to buy your coffee beans one bag at a time. Once you have finished the bag, you can try out a new one. Buying your coffee beans this way is making sure you always have fresh coffee beans at your home. It will have a big impact on how much you enjoy your cup of joe.
Grinding of the coffee beans
Once you have gotten a new batch of freshly roasted coffee beans, you want to make sure to grind them properly. This is much important than storing them correctly. This will determine if you get a nice tasting cup of coffee. Or if you are hit with either a sour-tasting coffee or a coffee with bitter notes in them.
If you want to finish your coffee experience at home, you can always consider buying yourself a hand grinder. This way, you can grind your coffee beans at home, which will be vital for fresh coffee.
You are now ready to grind your coffee beans. Let’s say you have a French press at home; you want to grind the coffee beans correctly. I recommend grinding your coffee beans medium- coarse as this is the best grind setting for the French press.
Whichever brewing technique you have at home, I have it covered in this article. In this article, I made a list of the best pour-over techniques you can use at home!
Remember, you can always have your coffee beans ground at your local coffee roaster.
The brewing of your favorite coffee
You are now at the end of the coffee bean journey. This is where the coffee bean gets turned into your cup of joe! While there are many ways to brew your coffee, I will briefly explain a few techniques that I use at home.
Once you really get interested in coffee, you will make a few purchases to try out even more coffee brewing techniques.
My first ever coffee brewer was a French press. This brewer technique can produce a robust cup of coffee because the coffee beans will brew in the water.
When using any pour-over technique, the water will run through the coffee beans, just touching them until the water has run through them.
These are just a few techniques that I most commonly use at home. I have made an article with all of the pour-over coffee brewing techniques and put them all to the test.
In this article, you will find everything you need to know about brewing with a pour-over brewer. Check it out here!
Wow! There is all the information you need about your coffee bean. From starting as a coffee bean to producing 1- 2 pounds of roasted coffee in about 3 to 4 years.
There is so much going into the making of your cup of joe. It’s actually amazing.
I have covered everything there is to know about your coffee beans, where they come from, how they are harvested, and so much more. I hope all this information about your coffee beans will make you enjoy your morning coffee even more!
If you are interested in learning more about home-brewing coffee, I suggest checking out the beginner’s coffee articles below.
Is there anything else you want to know about your coffee beans? Let me know by leaving a comment down below. If you have any other questions regarding coffee, you can also contact me directly by pressing the “Contact Me” button at the top!