If you’re a coffee lover, you’re probably always on the lookout for the perfect cup (and hence the perfect bean). But, before it hits the packet and your grinder, do you know where coffee actually comes from?
Genus Coffea, coffee comes from an evergreen shrub that grows between the Tropics of Capricorn and Cancer, in roughly eighty countries in South and Central America, the Caribbean, Africa, and Asia. .Although there are over 124 species of coffee, we only grow and use two varieties – Coffea Arabica (the more popular and aromatic) and Coffea Robusta (smaller and more bitter). The Arabica bush has dark-green, oval leaves and rounded fruits (also called cherries) that take about 7 – 9 months to mature and contain two flat beans. Coffee shrubs give 2 – 4kgs of coffee cherries per yield.
Coffee shrubs grow best in certain planting and harvesting conditions with Arabica doing well at higher, hilly altitudes and Robusta managing between sea level and 800 meters. Ideal temperature ranges sit between 15 – 24°C for Arabica coffee and 24 - 30°C for Robusta coffee, with an ideal rainfall of approximately 1500 – 3000mm per annum.
Harvesting is another important part of the coffee production process (you can read about our relationship with direct trade farmers here). As coffee is often grown in remote, mountainous areas by co-operative or independent farmers, harvesting is most often done by hand, rather than mechanically (as sometimes happens in more established regions like Brazil).
The Coffee production process
1. The coffee fruits are harvested by either being strip picked off a full branch, one at a time, or selectively picked (where only the fully ripe fruits are picked off by hand) every 8 - 10 days during harvesting time. Selective picking is labour-intensive and costly and is mostly used for the finer beans. A good coffee picker can harvest 50 – 90kgs of coffee fruit per day (that is 9 – 18kgs of coffee beans on their way to you!).
2. After harvesting, the seeds (beans) are removed from the fruit and dried using either the dry or wet method. The traditional dry method involves drying the whole fruit. The fruit are sorted and cleaned with water to remove any unripe or damaged ones. They are then laid out in the sun on concrete slabs or trestles and raked and turned to ensure even drying, which can take up to 4 weeks. The dried fruits are then stored and sent for hulling, and the green beans are extracted, sorted, and graded for sale. This is the standard process for all Robusta and most Arabica coffees. Some plantations use a wet method that requires the use of special equipment and water to clean and remove the beans from the fruit, and dry and prepare the coffee.
3. The final step on coffee’s journey to your cup is roasting and grinding (a process you might be familiar with yourself). Coffee’s distinctive colour and aroma are released during the roasting process. And there are more than 1000 different aroma components to coffee as we know it today! By varying the roasting conditions and times, professional roasters are able to create distinct flavour profiles (browse some of our favourites here). The stronger the roast, the darker the colour and the more intense the flavour. After roasting in special roast beds or drums, the beans are cooled to room temperature and packaged as whole beans or ground to coffee powder for sale. Grind size is related to use and coffee style (espresso or filter, for example) as this can affect the taste of the coffee.
After water, coffee is the most popular drink in the world with over 2.25 billion cups of coffee consumed globally every day! And it’s so much more than just a delicious drink – it’s a cultural experience too.
Want to know more about? Read about our relationship with coffee and sample one of our unique blends (you can also shop wholesale online). When it comes to great coffee, we love sharing our knowledge, expertise, and experience, and we know that there’s always more to learn and enjoy about this truly addictive liquid.