The Life Cycle Of The Coffee Bean
Have you ever wondered where the coffee bean came from? How does it grow? Where does it grow? What is the production process and how did it get to my cup? Well, maybe we can answer some of these questions for you! Read on to discover the life cycle of your coffee beans.
- Planting the Coffee Seeds
Did you know that coffee beans are actually seeds? If they are not harvested, roasted and brewed, then they can be planted to then grow into a coffee tree. The coffee seedlings are planted in large beds, shaded from harsh sunlight and watered regularly to keep the soil moist. Once the seedlings are big and strong enough, they will be planted into the ground permanently. The plants are usually planted in the wet season so that the ground is moist for the tree to grow and to produce fruit (cherries). The coffee trees flourish in countries that have humid climates, typically countries that are closer to the equator and have a wet season.
- Harvesting the Cherries
The trees grow to about 6 feet in height and grow fruits called cherries. The trees will start to produce fruit after 3-5 years of growth. When the cherries become deep red in colour, they are ready to be picked. The cherries are usually picked once a year, although in some countries they are picked twice a year, in a primary and then secondary harvest. There are two ways of harvesting the cherries once ripened. In countries where the trees are grown on hill sides, they are mainly picked by hand. This is called Selective Picking. The harvesters will rotate between the trees every 10 days or so and pick only the ripened cherries. This is very labour intensive. A picker averages 70kg of cherries per day, which will then produce approximately 10kg – 20kg of coffee beans. The weight of the haul is calculated and the picker will be paid according to their harvest. The cherries are then transported to a processing plant. In countries, such as Brazil, where the landscape is flat, the harvesting is done mechanically, and they have machines that work to strip and pick the cherries. Strip picking can also be done by hand, but is best utilized when the ground is flat.
- Processing the Cherries
Once the cherries are picked and transported to the processing plant, they need to be processed as quickly as possible, so that they don’t spoil. The dry method or washed method is used for this process.
Dry Method – The fruit of the cherry is dried off. This is the age-old method and is still done in countries where there is a shortage of water. The cherries are simply laid out over big beds in the sun to dry. To prevent them from spoiling, they will be raked and turned throughout the day and they have large covers to protect them at night or to prevent moisture from getting to them if it rains. This method can take several weeks and will continue until the moisture content of the cherry drops to 11%.
Washed Method – The cherry pulp is washed off using water and the cherries are dried with only the parchment skin left on. The cherries will then go through varying water channels where they are sorted by size and weight. The larger, riper cherries will sink to the bottom and the lighter, smaller cherries will float to the top. Once sorted, they are placed in water fermenting drums where another layer, called the parenchyma, is removed and dissolved from the parchment. This can take anywhere between 12 - 48 hours. When this process is finished, the beans feel rough to touch. They are then taken through more water channels to rinse off and dry.
- Drying the Beans
If the beans have been processed by the wash method, the beans then need to be dried to 11% moisture to properly prepare them for storage. The beans are laid out on large beds in the sun to dry or they are put through drying tumblers. They are then stored, ready for export. At this stage, they are called parchment coffee.
- Milling the Beans
Before the parchment coffee is exported, they go through the process of hulling.
Hulling is where the husk layers (exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp) are removed from the bean. Sometimes, the beans will be polished by a machine to remove the silver skin. The beans are then processed by hand or machine and sorted by weight, size, colour and quality. Any beans with flaws or an undesired colour, will be removed. This ensures that only the finest quality beans are then exported.
- Exporting the Beans
The beans that are exported are now called Green Coffee. These are exported all over the world in either jute or sisal bags. Most importantly, they are exported to the Bermuda Coffee Warehouse, ready for tasting and roasting!
- Tasting the Coffee
This process is called Cupping. First, the green coffee will be looked over and visually evaluated. It is then lightly roasted in small batches. Next, it is ground to a specific size that extracts the flavours of each bean to determine the flavour profiles. The coffee is cupped and then covered with temperature controlled boiled water and left for several minutes to infuse. The taster will then carefully break the crust off the top and take in the aroma. The taster will slurp the coffee, with the intention of covering the taste buds quickly, and then spit it out. Tasters can taste hundreds of coffees per day, and still be able to tell the subtle differences between them all. This process determines the perfect roast profile of each bean and allows the roaster to create complimentary blends.
- Roasting the Coffee
Roasting transforms the green coffee into the aromatic brown coffee that we all love and drink. Most roasting machines maintain a temperature of about 180 degrees celsius and the drum rotates constantly to keep the beans moving. Once the inside of the bean reaches a temperature of about 165 degrees celsius, the bean begins to change colour and the fragrant oil (called the caffeoyl), is released. This process is called pyrolysis and is the heart of roasting — it produces the flavor and aroma of the coffee we drink. After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled. In most cases, coffee is roasted in the same country it is sold in, so that the freshly roasted beans can get to the customer as quickly as possible.
- Grinding the Coffee
The size of the grind determines the flavour from the coffee. The length of time the water is in contact with the coffee, will determine the ideal grade of grind. For example, the grind needs to be very fine for espresso machines, as the water runs very quickly through the coffee. Alternatively, with something like drip coffee, it needs to be coarser because the water will run more slowly through it. We recommend spending some time after grinding the coffee to smell the aroma and take in the amazing quality of the bean (it is said that the brain is energized just from the smell of coffee). It is also important to grind coffee just before brewing it, to get the most freshness and flavour from the bean.
- Brewing the Coffee
There are many ways to brew good coffee - from espresso, to filter, to cold brew and beyond! Trying different methods of brewing is the fun part as a consumer! We recommend you read our previous blog on different brew methods to get the best out of our delicious, freshly roasted coffee beans. And if you want to extend the life of your coffee even further, then check out our blog on the different ways to re-use your old coffee grounds.
Let us know in the comments if you have any questions on the life cycle of the coffee bean and we hope you have enjoyed learning about the process from plant to cup.