Where does coffee come from?
That sweet nectar we drink to fuel our morning starts its life as a plant (well, a tree) and what will become a green coffee bean is tucked away inside a cherry on the coffee tree.
Most coffee trees are planted in ‘The Bean Belt’. The Bean Belt constitutes of three primary coffee growing regions, Central America and South America, The Middle East and Southeast Asia and Africa. Each coffee growing region has its own distinct flavours and characteristics in the cup and coffee lovers relish in exploring these regions to taste these distinct profiles.
The Bean Belt sits along the equator, between the Topic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn as the tropical and subtropical climates and mountainous topography, with elevations up to 2,200 masl (meters above sea level), are perfect for growing coffee.
Coffee trees are tropical, evergreen shrubs called genus Coffea and come in two varieties; Coffea arabica, which produces Arabica coffee, and Coffea canephora which produces Robusta (a bean that we never roast!). Coffea arabica is a large bush which grows between 9m and 12m tall, with dark green oval-shaped leaves and white flowers. The coffee seeds are contained in a drupe (or a cherry, as it’s more commonly known) which measures around 10-15mm in diameter, and usually contains two coffee seeds (apart from the peaberry variety, which only includes one). These coffee seeds are more commonly referred to as green coffee beans which is the raw product that is roasted for your morning coffee.
Unlike the Robusta tree, arabica coffee trees grows better at higher altitudes, which helps maintain an ideal growing temperature of 15 - 24ºC alongside a high amount of annual rainfall. Therefore, arabica farms are in areas with mountainous topography, which are more expensive and labour intensive to farm, resulting in a more-expensive, speciality arabica coffee, where farmers can demand much higher pricing than commodity or Robusta coffee, leading to better farming practices and employee benefits.
How is coffee farmed?
There are three primary methods used for harvesting the coffee beans from the farms (not including Kopi Luwak, we’ll get into that another time). These methods are:
There are two options of machinery to harvest coffee. Derricadeiras are small, hand-held machines that look like 2 vibrating ‘hands’ on a long stick. Coffee farmers (or labourers) place sheets on the ground under the coffee tree to catch the falling cherries, loosened by the vibrations of the derricadeira shaking the branches.
On large-scale farms, stripping machines are used to harvest coffee cherries quicker. Stripping machines are combine-like machines that use rotating and vibrating rods to knock the cherries off the tree into a system of plates and pipes on the machine which transfers the cherries to an on-board holding bin.
Machine Harvest is common on large-scale farms and is mostly used for commodity coffee production, although it can be used when processing speciality-grade coffee. It is a time-efficient harvest method but can only be used where the topography of the land allows.
A very simple and indiscriminate way to remove the cherries from the branch, which is done exactly how it sounds like it would be. Coffee tree branches are stripped completely of their cherries one at a time. This method has no consideration for the ripeness of the fruit, both un-ripened and ripened coffee cherries are picked together. This method is commonly used for Robusta or commodity grade coffee, not speciality arabica beans.
Selective picking is a much more precise and discriminate way to pick the best coffee beans from the tree. This is the most common method used to produce the best speciality arabica coffee in world as only ripe cherries are selected from the tree. Selective picking is the most labour intensive, therefore most expensive method to pick coffee cherries as numerous passes are made of the tree, every 8 to 10 days, with cherries only being picked once they have fully ripened.
An average farm will harvest between 50 – 100KG of coffee cherries per day, of which the coffee bean (or seed) only account for 20% of the total weight. It is from this 20% we select the best Green coffee beans for our speciality arabica coffee. From here, they go into processing before being shipped over to us to freshly roast for your order.