How Is Coffee Grown, Harvested And Processed?
Coffee is a beverage enjoyed by many but a vast majority may not have given thought to how those beans travel to their cups. This article explains the journey. You might be surprised as we take a closer look at the way coffee is grown, harvested, and processed.
The process begins with planting.
Coffee beans are seeds. It is only when they have been dried, roasted, and ground that they can be used to brew that delicious sip you like. The seeds are normally planted in large shaded beds. After sprouting, the seedlings are left to grow for some days before they are moved to individual pots with well-formatted soil. The potted seedlings are watered frequently and shaded from the sun until it is moved to a permanent growing place. Coffee seeds are planted during the rainy seasons to ensure the soil remains moist as the root gets firmly established.
It might interest you to know that sometimes, parts of a fully grown coffee plant are cut off and put into the soil to grow again as seedlings. It guarantees the pure reproduction of coffee plants without any genetic changes. When the plant starts maturing, it gives off a sweet jasmine-like scent. The fruit begins to form when the flower has been pollinated. It is that fruit that is known as the "coffee cherry". At a point, the coffee cherry turns green then fades to yellow before it turns red. The colour change occurs during the dry season, depending on the country where it is growing. This is because cherries ripen faster under lower altitudes and higher temperatures. The coffee plant can grow up to three feet wide and six feet tall. When the coffee turns red, it is ready for harvest.
There are 3 methods of harvesting coffee. There is strip picking, machine picking, and selective picking.
Strip picking: It one of the popular method of harvesting because it is fast and doesn't require machinery. During strip picking, the harvesters will strip the whole branch of cherries including the unripe ones. The harvesters place a canvas on the ground, grab the branch next to the trunk with their hands and pull it outwards. The fruits then falls to the ground. The harvesters do this with all the branches and trees. The coffee cherry is then collected in bags.
Although strip picking is seen as a fast method, it does result in a harvest that is mixed with ripe and unripe cherries. This can cause problems if the cherries are not sorted correctly before processing.
Machine Picking: The strip picking process can be facilitated by a machine through the use of mechanical strippers. There are two machines used for this.
Derricadeiras: are small handheld machines. It's a long stick with two vibrating "hands" at the end. The harvesters place plastic or canvas under the coffee tree to catch the falling cherries. The Derricadeiras are turned on and brought up to the coffee branches. Vibrations from the machine will shake the cherries loose.
Stripping machines: These are much bigger machines driven around the farm. They can harvest more cherries in the same time. The machine has rotating and vibrating rods that shake the cherries loose. It has a system of plates and pipes that catches the coffee cherries and transfers them into a container. Stripping machines are time efficient but they can only be used where the land is relatively flat.
In this method, only the ripe cherries are harvested and they are selectively picked by the harvesters. They rotate among the trees every eight to ten days, picking only the ripe cherries. This kind of harvest is labour intensive. An experienced labourer can pick up to six of seven baskets a day.
As you can imagine, this can be time-consuming but it is worth it because only the ripe fruits are picked. This method is mostly used to harvest the finer Arabica beans which is considered superior by many. It is smoother and sweeter. At coffee hero, we roast only 100% Arabica coffee beans.
The processing method of coffee has a direct effect on the flavour and quality of coffee. The cherries are processed fast to avoid spoilage. Coffee harvesting can be done in three ways depending on the available resources and location.
The dry method
This is an ancient method of processing coffee cherries and it is popular in regions where water is scarce. This method is also referred to as the "natural" or "unwashed process". It is mostly used by those who own small-scale farms. The harvested cherries are sorted to separate the damaged cherries, overripe, ripe ones, and dirt through winnowing. This is done with a sieve.
The fresh cherries are dried in the sun for 15 to 20 days. The drying is done on a large surface, the drying beds are slightly raised from the ground for air to circulate the beans. The beans are turned throughout the day to ensure they dry properly. At night, the beans are covered to keep them from absorbing moisture which could lead to fermentation and moulds.
You should know that the drying process affects the quality of the beans. Although the natural process offers a fuller-bodied brew with notes of lime acidity, citrus, and a healthier cup. When it is processed haphazardly, it can lead to a chalking, lingering taste on your tongue. If you have noticed this before, you now know why. Thus, if the coffee is over-dried, it will produce too many broken beans. When it is not dried sufficiently, it will be too moist and can deteriorate.
The drying process may take several weeks depending on the weather condition. When the outer layer has dried up and turned black and brittle, the outer skin is removed. Regions like Brazil and Ethiopia use the dry method.
The wet method
In this method, water is used to remove the coffee fruit and sunder out the beans. This method also involves cleaning the cherries just as in the dry method. The cherries are put through a pulping machine that squeezes out the skin without damaging the beans. But the beans will remain inside the pulp of the cherry known as "mucilage". It is a sticky substance that contains sugar and alcohol which has an impact on the flavour of the coffee. The coffee cherries are immersed in water. Unripe or bad cherries will float while the good ripe fruits will sink. They remain in the water for 12 to 24 hours. The fermentation time affects the flavour profile of the beans and coffee produced from it. The beans are washed when removed from the tanks. They can be washed in a tank of clean water or a channel. After this, it is laid on drying tables and allowed to dry for 10 to 23 days to ensure it doesn't grow moulds.
Washed coffee cherries often boost a more pronounced acidity and the acidity is enhanced by the small amount of acetic acid which develops organically when the sugar in coffee pulp interacts with its environment, that is the fermentation tanks. The wet method is generally used in parts of East Africa and South America. It is not used in areas where there is limited access to water.
Honey Processing Method
This is also known as "pulped natural". It is a hybrid process that combines elements of the wet process and the dry process. You may be curious to know why it is called the "honey process". The name stuck because of the sweet profile of the coffee. In this method, the cherry peel is removed but the mucilage remains, it is laid under the sun to dry. The drying time for this method is usually longer than that of washed coffee. Once the beans start drying, the mucilage turns to a sticky substance that makes the bean look like it is covered in honey. The more mucilage the beans contains, the more sweetness it gives.
After the coffee is dried, it is roasted and packaged. Coffee hero provides you with a range of different flavours. We roast coffee from different parts of the world like Kenya, Brazil, Peru, and Columbia.
You've learned how your favourite coffee is grown and processed. All methods when used correctly, offer good coffee. It is up to you, to decide what method and flavour you like.