Coffee is one of the most beloved beverages worldwide, with global production exceeding 11 million tons last year. It is essential to take a detailed look at each step along the coffee journey from seeds in the ground to a fresh cup of coffee in your hands. In this article, we will explore the ten key stages of coffee production, from seeds to your cup.
1- Coffee Cultivation
Coffee beans undergo processing to enable their cultivation and growth into coffee trees. The seeds are planted in high altitudes where the temperature is cooler. They are often grown in shaded rows to protect them from excessive sunlight exposure. Fresh seeds germinate after approximately two and a half months of planting, but older seeds may take up to six months. While there are over 100 species of coffee plants, the most popular coffee types in the world consist of only three. Arabica varieties account for 60-70%, robusta varieties make up 30-40%, and less than 2% are Liberica types.
Arabica coffee requires an annual rainfall of 1500-2500 mm (60-100 inches), while robusta needs 2000-3000 mm (80-120 inches). It is crucial to have distinct rainy and dry seasons for coffee cultivation and cherry harvesting.
2- Harvesting and Sorting
When coffee trees reach maturity, they start bearing fruits in clusters along their branches. These fruits are known as coffee cherries due to their resemblance to natural cherries. The harvesting process involves picking and sorting the ripe cherries, which can be done manually or mechanically. Sorting is achieved by floating the harvested cherries in water, allowing the defective or unripe cherries to float while the ripe cherries sink.
3- Wet Processing
The outer skin and some pulp of the coffee cherry are removed by pressing it with a machine in water through a pulper. The remaining beans still contain a substantial amount of mucilage that needs to be removed. This can be done through the classic fermentation and washing method or with the assistance of machines.
4- Drying Process
After wet processing and the removal of the cherry’s skin, the coffee beans need to be dried to eliminate excess moisture. This can be achieved by utilizing sunlight or specialized machines to accelerate the process, preventing the beans from rotting. Drying is a critical stage as it significantly affects the final quality of green coffee. Properly dried coffee becomes brittle and produces fewer broken beans during hulling (broken beans are considered defects). Insufficiently dried coffee will be overly moist and susceptible to rapid deterioration due to fungal and bacterial attacks. The beans need to be constantly moved during the drying process.
5- Hulling and Cleaning
After going through the harvesting, sorting, wet processing, and drying stages, coffee beans still have two additional layers—the silver skin and parchment. The beans are hulled and polished to obtain a completely pure coffee bean. The cleaning process also begins, where the coffee beans are thoroughly cleaned to remove any foreign matter (chaff, stones) that may have mixed with them during the previous operations. Typically, cleaning is performed along with the grading process for immediate storage.
Grading involves classifying coffee beans using sorting systems based on various criteria such as bean size, origin, altitude, processing, and cupping score. Coffee can also be classified based on the number of defects, including broken or unripe beans, stones, sticks, and other defective grains, for each sample.
In this stage, the graded beans are packed in jute sacks that help retain their moisture for a longer period, thus extending their shelf life. Proper storage is essential to maintain the flavor and positive attributes of coffee. Poorly stored coffee may alter its taste and diminish its positive qualities.
Decaffeination is the process of extracting caffeine from green coffee beans before roasting. Coffee beans contain a significant amount of caffeine, a natural stimulant that enhances alertness and wakefulness for a period of time. The effects of caffeine peak approximately 30 minutes after consumption and last for about 4 to 6 hours. The moderate amount of caffeine varies among different types of coffee beans, and it is advised that adults do not exceed a daily intake of 300 milligrams. Consuming 600 milligrams of caffeine is considered excessive.
9- Roasting Process
Roasting transforms green coffee beans into aromatic, flavorful brown beans that we purchase from our favorite stores or cafés. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of around 550 degrees Fahrenheit. When the internal temperature reaches approximately 400 degrees Fahrenheit, the beans start to turn brown, and the caffeine begins to emerge. The beans are kept moving throughout the process to prevent them from burning. After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled either by air or water. Roasting is primarily performed in importing countries as freshly roasted beans need to reach consumers as quickly as possible.
Grinding is the final stage in coffee production, where coffee beans are ground for sale in stores. The aim of proper grinding is to achieve the best flavor in a cup of coffee. The coarseness or fineness of coffee grinding depends on the brewing method. The length of time the grounds are in contact with water determines the ideal grinding degree. In general, finer grinding results in faster coffee preparation. This is why espresso coffee, which requires a fine grind, is superior to drip coffee brewing.
By understanding the ten stages of coffee production, you can appreciate the complexity and craftsmanship that goes into bringing a fresh cup of coffee to your hands.