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The Journey from Seed to Cup—How Coffee is Produced

The Journey from Seed to Cup—How Coffee is Produced

Your coffee has taken a long journey from the time it’s harvested to the time it fills your cup. These are the milestones on that journey:

Planting

A coffee bean is not really a bean at all—it’s a seed. Those seeds are planted during the wet season in large, shaded nursery beds. The seedlings are watered frequently to encourage root growth and protected from the sun until they are hearty enough to be planted permanently.

Harvesting

Once the coffee is planted, the young trees typically take three or four years to reach maturity and bear fruit. The fruit, called a cherry, turns a bright red when ripe and ready for harvest. There are one to two harvests per year depending on location and climate. Harvesting is often done by hand, stripping the ripened cherries off the branches one at a time. A good picker can harvest 100 to 200 pounds of cherries per day which will produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.

Processing

In order to prevent spoilage, the newly picked cherries must be processed quickly. Processing is done one of two ways:

In many countries, especially those in which water is scarce, a dry processing method is employed. In this method the cherries are spread evenly over large surfaces and left to dry in the sun. They are raked and turned continuously to prevent spoiling. This process continues for several weeks until the moisture content of the cherries falls to around 10%. 

The alternative wet method removes the pulp from the cherries so only the parchment skin remains. The beans are then passed through water channels to separate the beans, allowing the lighter beans to float to the top while the heavier ripe beans fall to the bottom. They then pass through a series of rotating drums that further separates them by size.

Once separated, the beans are moved to large water-filled fermentation tanks where they remain anywhere from 12 to 48 hours while enzymes remove the mucilage that has adhered to the bean parchment. 

Finally, the beans are rinsed and set out to be dried.

Drying

Wet-processed beans must now go through a separate drying phase to reduce the moisture content. They can be dried in the sun as described earlier or they can be machine-dried in large tumblers. Wet-processed beans still retain their parchment layer and are called parchment coffee. Hulling machinery removes the parchment layer and often the beans are polished.

The beans are then graded and sorted by size, weight, and color and any defective beans are removed.

Exporting

The milled beans, called green coffee, are loaded into sisal or jute bags and shipped in bulk to distributors. 

Tasting

Coffee is tested for quality and flavor in a process called cupping. A taster, or cupper, evaluates the visual quality of the beans, then roasts them in a small laboratory roaster. The beans are immediately ground and brewed in carefully temperature-controlled boiling water. The cupper then evaluates the aroma and the flavor of the coffee for quality. An expert cupper may evaluate hundreds of samples per day and note the subtle differences between them.

Roasting

The green beans are roasted in machines that continuously rotate them to heat them evenly and prevent them from burning. When the beans reach a temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and release caffeol, the fragrant oil that give coffee its unique character. The beans are then air- or water-cooled.

Grinding

Once roasted, the coffee is ground. Grinding is an art in and of itself. How coarsely or finely coffee is ground determines is optimum flavor. In general, the finer the grind, the more quickly the coffee should be brewed.

The care taken at each step in the process determines the final quality of the coffee in your cup. At Perky Rooster we are meticulous about how our coffees are sourced and processed and ensure that it is always roasted and shipped at its freshest.