This is PostBeans complete journey of coffee…
From the humble beginnings as a seed to a freshly prepared aromatic brew.
In this journey we will cover the whole life cycle of our favourite beverage.
“If this is coffee, please bring me some tea; but if this tea, please bring me some coffee.”Abraham Lincoln
“Growing coffee is a fine art.”
Requiring excellent climate conditions, farmer dedication and an a understanding or the local environment.
Getting a bit technical, let’s take a quick look at the biology of the “coffee producing” plant species…
Coffea is a genus of flowering plants (Angiospermae / Magnoliophyta). Flowering plants contains 416 families one of which is Rubiaceae, Rubiaceae contains 630 genus, one of which is coffea. Coffea which contains over 120 species.
The seeds required for planting and growing coffee for consumption mainly come from 2 of the 120 species of Coffea plant, although there are other coffee producing species:
- Coffea Arabica (known as “Arabica”)
- Coffea Canephora / Coffea Robusta (known as “Robusta”)
Only once an Arabica or Robusta seed has been processed it is know as a coffee bean. This reference is believed to be because of the seeds resemblance to a true bean shape.
Once coffee seeds have been obtained they will need the correct conditions before they will flourish and produce the much desired fruits. The conditions vary slightly from species.
Arabica which accounts for around 60% of total production, will take around 7 years to reach maturity. The Arabica plant is usually cultivated between 1300 – 1500m above sea level. Although there are plantations at sea level and some as high as 2800m.
Arabica requires around 1 – 1.5m of rain annually. The plant will flourish in temperatures between 15-24°C ( 59-75°F) although the plant can tolerate lower temperatures than this, it will not tolerate frost.
Also, Arabica prefers to be grown in light shade. It can grow to a height of 12m, but is usually kept to a height of around 2-5 m. This helps with harvesting.
During the trees life cycle it will require lots of pruning. This is to aid in the production of quality seeds, ultimately increasing the quality of the final product.
The Arabica tree will produce between 0.5-5 kg annually. True yields are governed by many of the factors above. Arabica fruits take around 7 – 9 months to fully mature and are an oval shape.
Robusta which accounts for around 40% of total production, will take around 3 years to reach maturity. It is usually cultivated between sea level and 800 m.
Robusta requires around 1.5 – 2m of rain annually. The plant will flourish in temperatures between 24°C – 30°C (75°F – 86°F) the plant can tolerate lower temperatures but just like Arabica will not tolerate frost.
Robusta prefers to be grown in direct sunlight and can grow to a height of 10 m. Similarly to Arabica, Robusta plants are usually kept to a height of around 6m – 7m. Again to help with harvesting.
During the trees life cycle it will not require as much pruning and care as Arabica. Robusta is much more resilient to pest and disease than Arabica.
The Robusta tree will produce between 0.75 kg – 7.5 kg annually this is governed by many of the above factors. Robusta fruits take around 11 months to fully mature and are also oval in shape.
After the crop has reached full maturity, it will begin to bear fruit. The fruit frequently referred to as the “cherry”. When the “cherry” is a deep red colour it is then ready for harvest. There are a couple of harvesting methods used by farmers:
- Strip picking
- All of the fruits are picked of the tree together either by hand or machine
- Selective picking
- Only the ripe fruits are picked of each branch.
- Done by hand.
- Much more labour intensive than strip picking, but insures higher quality of final product this method is usually reserved for Arabica.
A good harvest worker can be expected to pick around 50 kg – 100 kg of wet fruits per day. This equates to around 10 kg – 20 kg of final product. Most harvest workers are paid on the quantity of fruits picked.
If you drink 2 cups of coffee per day; it would take 1 worker between 6 to 12 days to harvest the coffee required for 1 full year of consumption.
Most growing regions have one harvest per year but some regions like Columbia, have a second harvest due to favourable growing conditions throughout the year.
Processing the Fruit
This is the start of the industrial process known as coffee production. Taking the raw coffee fruit of the Coffea plant and turning it into finished coffee, ready for consumption.
After picking the Coffea fruit goes through one of three processes to remove the pulp from the fruit…
- Wet processing
- Dry processing
- Semi-dry processing
The pulp that is removed at this stage is often dried and used as a herbal tea. Known as cascara, meaning husk in Spanish.
The final step in green bean production involves removing the last layers of skin to reveal the glorious coffee bean.
In short, the milling process in our coffee journey involves four main stages:
- Cleaning and sorting
Additional stages in the journey of coffee
Next, some of the processed coffee beans may now be sent for further processing. Aging coffee beans is becoming common, however the most common form of additional processing is decaffeination.
Countries that grow coffee
Finally, at this stage in our coffee journey, we have green coffee beans that are ready for export! Packed into 60 kg sacks, the standard unit of measure since the 18th century.
Here’s a list of coffee growing countries…
To learn more about the exporting of green bean coffee, including comparisons on the prices that growers are paid, don’t miss PostBeans blog on coffee producing countries.
Onto the glory and perfection of coffee roasting…
“The all important roast profile”
Next, the all important roasting of coffee. This is where the magic happens in our journey, hats off to the experts!
Countries which import green bean coffee
At this stage in our journey of coffee, imports involve bringing green coffee beans into countries for roasting. Countries that are not able to grow coffee are the highest importers of green bean coffee.
Here’s a list of countries that import, roast and re-export coffee:
To learn more about coffee imports, visit our blog posts on coffee importing countries.
Transport and Storage
Green bean coffee is a perishable commodity. And therefore, at this point in our journey; the clock is ticking to get imported coffee to roasters across the nation.
As covered earlier in this blog post; green bean coffee is distributed in 60 kg sacks.
Many distributors split these sacks and fill 1 tonne sacks, predominantly to ease production processes at roasting plants.
Decaffeination plants receive some of the green coffee beans to remove the caffeine from the beans. This is done by one of these 4 methods:
The most used method is by far are the solvent based processes (1&2). Where as 3&4 are the more natural and solvent free process.
There are a number of large scale coffee roaster around the world. From the big to the small. In order to deliver the perfect roast profile; every part of the roasting process has to be tightly controlled.
Large scale industry
Ginormous roasting machines, able to to process in excess of 600 kg per batch are roasting away across the globe. Such large coffee roasting machines enable coffee roasting companies to produce over 3 tonnes of perfectly roasted coffee each and every hour, per roasting machine.
With such large volumes being roasted every day, the global need for a regular caffeine pick me up is driving a worldwide industry of scale.
“The rise of artisan coffee…”
Small batch roasters
The rise of Artisan coffee has led to an explosion in small scale coffee roasters that roast in small batches. Often roasting in batches of less than 15kg.
Small batch roasters often represent a class of esteemed coffee perfectionism.
Each small batch is closely monitored to achieve an exact roast profile. Further helping to capture the very best flavour from the very coffee beans.
Packing in the journey of coffee
Whole beans, roast and ground, pods and bags. Coffee is now packaged in wide variety of formats. However, it’s not a straightforward process. A huge amount of science and engineering has gone into delivering your coffee in your favourite form.
First, degassing the fresh roast!
That’s right, first we need to degass. Coffee continues to give off Carbon Dioxide (CO2) long after it has been roasted.
As a result, freshly roasted coffee is left to stand and degas. Often for a few hours. This allows the degassing to take place whilst it is at its highest. This also gives the coffee time to cool. Cool coffee us easier to run through the packing process.
Coffee bag degassing valve
Have you ever wondered what the valve is on the front of your fresh bag of coffee?
Yes, we all use it to get a good smell of our coffee before we buy, but it actually has a purpose!
It’s a one way valve to let the excess CO2 escape.
Without this valve, coffee bags would be exploding all over the shelves of supermarkets!
Packing whole beans
The simplest packing process. Weigh some freshly roasted and degassed coffee beans, and bag them up!
Large scale industries use tall machines to fold and seal rolls of film into bags. Add a one-way valve. Fill the bags with the correct weight of coffee. Each bag is then sealed and sent off for quality checks and labelling.
Roast and ground packing
First, the freshly roasted and degassed coffee beans need to be ground to the desired size. After which, they can be packed ready for retail.
The most common method of grinding coffee is to feed the roasted beans in between two surfaces that are rotating in opposing directions. From disc shaped grinders and even conical shaped coffee grinders.
Some special processes require such a fine coffee grind size, that a series of rollers are used to progressively grind the coffee down to a finer and finer grind size.
Industrial coffee grinding processes often get so hot, that they need to be cooled by liquid Nitrogen!
Onto the packing part of coffee’s journey
Packing roast and ground coffee is done in a variety of ways. We have the standard 227g packs of coffee, down to teabag style coffee bags.
227g packs of coffee are packed in a similar way to whole coffee beans, but the machine is fed with ground coffee instead.
The use of a one-way valve is even more important when packing coffee in this way.
Ground coffee degassing much faster due to its increased surface area.
Roast & Ground
Pods and pad type machine also use roast and ground coffee.
However, they are packaged into a particular package type that is machine compatible.
The most important thing with any coffee packaging is the seal. Foil type packaging are widely used because they provide a great oxygen barrier. Helping to further extend the shelf life of the end product.
Liquid and gaseous Nitrogen is often used in large scale coffee packing machines…
Widely used in food and beverage production, Nitrogen is used to fill each coffee package to remove the oxygen.
Nitrogen is an inert gas and therefore has no effect on the roasted coffee. The shelf life of coffee products is vastly improved by replacing the Oxygen in the package with Nitrogen during manufacture.
Did you know?
Unlike instant coffee, roast and ground coffee or coffee beans decay within a couple of weeks in the presence of oxygen. Therefore, once opened, consume fresh coffee within a couple of weeks.
Retail & Re-exports
Much of the coffee we roast is exported around the globe. Especially large scale coffee roasters products. To learn more about countries that re-export coffee and send roasted coffee around the world; visit these blog posts of ours.
Coffee is retailed in a variety of formats. From online subscriptions to supermarket shelves. Our favourite, the humble and easy to navigate online shop.
“Onto the glory of drinking coffee…”
This is where you join in on the journey of coffee.
Storing your coffee
It’s really important to keep your coffee fresh. Instant coffee is a thing of its own, but good quality fresh coffee does spoil…
Coffee naturally begins to decay and form mold once exposed to oxygen. This mold can usually tasted before it’s seen. Roast and ground coffee is especially susceptible to mold growth due to its increased surface area.
So, once opened consume your coffee within a couple of weeks. Or keep it sealed and in the fridge to slow the natural growth of mold.
Instant coffee is coffee that’s already been made, spread over a large surface and had all the water removed through freeze drying. A bit like a cup of coffee that has been left out so long it’s dried up. So, instant coffee is not fresh and therefore unlikely to decompose any time soon.
If you’re buying whole coffee beans, you’ll need a coffee grinder. Many automatic coffee machine have built in grinders. But for those of us who enjoy using an espresso machine, we need a seperate coffee grinder.
The finer the grind size, the more flavour you can extract from your coffee. Espresso machines use a very fine grind size. Whereas coffee ground for use in a cafetiere is off a coarser grind size.
The brewing journey of coffee
From a french press cafetiere to the full blown automatic bean to cup coffee machine. There a wide range of coffee machine available on the market. And the introduction of new technologies is continuing. The ongoing growth in the coffee market is fueling new and inventive ways of extracting the coffee goodness that we’ve all come to love…
The inevitable coffee bag
This is one of those “why did no one think of it before” scenarios. But it’s not been an easy feat for coffee producers to overcome. When compared to tea, more coffee is required to make a decent brew.
Coffee bags are therefore larger, which presents a problem of clumping and ultimately extraction issues. Thankfully these appear to have been overcome and there are a number of companies working to replicate the works of early pioneers.
Second use, another journey of coffee!
Coffee doesn’t need to be thrown away after it’s first use. In fact, many industries now rely on waste coffee from coffee shops, production facilities and events to produce their products…
Mushrooms in coffee
A number of mushroom growers use sack of spent coffee grounds to grow their mushrooms in. Growers can expect to get 2 to 3 yields of coffee from one sack of spent grounds.
A number of luxury mushrooms are now being grown in spent coffee grounds.
Gardening and fertiliser
For the garden lovers, coffee ground are acidic. They are therefore great for revitalising ericaceous compost.
Coffee grounds are also ideal for keeping away lily beetles from your prised flowers!
As coffee is a natural product it will also naturally decompose, providing great fertiliser for your beloved plants. Carful of the added acidity though, some plant don’t like it!
Power and energy
Spent coffee grounds have been shown to be effective in anaerobic digestion plants. These facilities decompose the spent coffee with bacteria that give off combustible gases such as methane (CH4).
These combustible gases are collected and either; burnt to produce heat and electrical energy or distributed into the mains gas networks.
Coffee disposal, the final end to the journey
The final step in the complete journey of coffee. Much of our beloved bean will not reach this far. It may have been lucky enough to be re-used.
However, the coffee that does make it this far ends up in the bin. Waste that goes in the bin is often sent to a material recovery facility. There they may be able to separate this organic waste and send it off for anaerobic digestion or incineration.
If not, coffee reaching this stage in the journey will likely end up in landfill.