Welcome to Part 1 of our series on the end to end journey of coffee processing! This week we cover the end to end process as an overview, and will go in to greater detail on each step over the coming weeks.
So, how is coffee made?
If you’re curious about the process behind the coffee you enjoy every morning (or every day), here’s an overview of its journey – from seed to cup.
1. Planting the coffee bean
Coffee seeds are typically planted in large beds shaded from direct sunlight. Frequent watering helps the seedlings to grow until they are sturdy enough for permanent transplantation. This step is usually done during the wet season, as the seedlings can thrive well in moist soil, which allows for easier root establishment.
2. Harvesting the coffee cherries
It takes around 3 to 4 years for newly cultivated coffee trees to bear fruit, although the timing depends on the coffee variety. Coffee cherries growing on the tree turn a bright, deep red when they are ripe and ready for harvesting.
Harvesting is usually done by hand, although mechanised harvesting is also practised.
3. Cherry processing
There are two coffee processing methods done immediately after picking. The traditional dry method entails spreading out the coffee cherries and leaving them to dry out in the sun. They are then raked and turned during daytime and covered in the evening (or when it rains) to protect them from moisture.
The wet method involves removing the pulp from the coffee cherry so the bean can be dried with only the parchment skin on. The beans undergo several processes to sort them by weight and size. Then they are allowed to ferment, rinsed and prepared for drying.
4. Drying the beans
Whether the method used is wet or dry, the beans need to be dried until they are left with approximately 11% moisture so they are suitable for storage. At this stage, the beans are still inside their parchment envelope (called the endocarp) and may be sun- or machine-dried. Now called ‘parchment coffee’, these are kept in jute or sisal bags and stored in a warehouse.
5. Bean milling
Before exportation, wet-processed coffee beans are hulled to remove the parchment layer. Hulling dry-processed beans involves removing the entire husk.
After hulling, the beans may be polished — an optional step — then graded and sorted by size and weight. The beans are also inspected for colour flaws and other imperfections. Imperfect beans are removed from every batch.
The milled beans, called ‘green coffee’, are kept in jute or sisal bags again and loaded in shipping containers, or placed inside plastic-lined containers for bulk shipping. They are then transported to their country of destination.
7. Coffee tasting
At their destination, such as a café or instant coffee manufacturer, the coffee is tested for quality and taste by the resident taster or cupper. This person is trained to evaluate beans visually and aroma- and taste-wise. Tasting or cupping is also essential for blending beans to achieve a proper roast.
The roasting stage turns green coffee into the fragrant brown beans we’ve come to know and buy at our favourite cafés, roasters or stores. After roasting, the beans are cooled quickly by air or water.
9. Coffee grinding
Coffee must be properly ground to capture the most flavour in a cup. The brewing method usually determines how coarse or fine the coffee is ground.
Brewing is done by pouring hot water onto ground coffee beans then letting it brew. You can do this by using a filter, a percolator, or a French press. Once done, your coffee is ready. Enjoy!
Come back next week where we’ll cover everything to do with planting and growing coffee!
Too much effort? Find a coffee shop near you and grab a coffee instead!
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