“Today, on International Coffee Day, we’re not only thinking about taking a sip of the most popular beverage in the world, but are also considering the farmers who make it all happen. In Colombia, about 500,000 families derive most of their income from growing coffee. They’ve been represented by the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia since 1927. The organization helps contribute to sustainable development by creating trading partnerships that are better for the growers.” -From Bing.com
Awww…. today is International Coffee Day!
Do you know where the coffee in your morning cup of joe comes from?
Coffee starts out as a seed. Those “beans” if not dried, roasted and ground, can be planted to create new coffee trees. Every year, the coffee tree produces a harvest of coffee cherries that turn a deep, bright red color when they are ripe to be picked.
Picking coffee cherries is a meticulous, time-consuming, labor-intensive process. A good picker, on average, picks approximately 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries each day, which will produce between 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.
Once picked, the coffee cherries must be processed as soon as possible. There are two methods of processing: the dry method and the wet method.
The Dry Method is the traditional method of processing coffee, where water resources are scarce and still used in many countries today. The freshly picked cherries are spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, and covered at night or when it rains to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process might take several weeks for each batch of coffee until the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11%.
The Wet Method removes the pulp from the coffee cherry after harvesting so the bean is dried leaving only the parchment skin. First, the cherries pass through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean. Then the beans are separated by weight as they pass through water channels. The lighter beans float to the top, while the heavier ripe beans sink to the bottom. They are passed through a series of rotating drums which separate them by size. After separation, the beans are transported to large, water-filled fermentation tanks. Depending on a combination of factors, such as the condition of the beans, the climate and the altitude, they will remain in these tanks for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours to remove the slick layer of mucilage that is still attached to the parchment. While resting in the tanks, naturally occurring enzymes will cause this layer to dissolve. When fermentation is complete, the beans feel rough to the touch. The beans are rinsed by additional water channels, and are ready for drying.
Before shipping, parchment coffee is processed in the following manner:
Hulling machinery removes the parchment layer from wet processed coffee. Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk–the exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp–of the dried cherries.
Polishing is an optional process where any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed by machine. While polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, there is little difference between the two.
Grading and sorting is done by size and weight, and beans are also reviewed for color flaws or other imperfections.
The milled beans, called green coffee, are loaded onto ships in either jute or sisal bags transported in shipping containers, or shipped in bulk in plastic-lined containers.
From there the process is more widely known by the average coffee-drinker. The coffee is roasted, ground and then brewed in a coffee pot or something similar.
Wow! What a process!
Organizations who mark their coffee as fair-trade, typically adhere to guidelines for providing fair wages for the farmers in exchange for the green coffee. In many cases, unfortunately, these fair prices are not extended to the laborers who do most of the work. I wrote about these inequalities in a previous article, which you can read here.
It is an ongoing process and conversation with these farmers and the companies who receive the green coffee beans to help them provide for their workers the same way that they are providing the farmers with “better” prices to acquire the beans.
Where does your morning coffee come from? Do you make it yourself? Do you have a favorite brand?