Serious coffee lovers often wonder how is coffee grown, and where does coffee grow best in their possible first steps to grow their own coffee plants – the ultimate in coffee, your very own home grown and cultivated coffee from bean to cup.
It’s much easier said than done as you need the right conditions to grow coffee and coffee is difficult to grow and then process.
Keep reading as this article details how coffee is grown and details the process from seed to your cup!
How Is Coffee Grown? The Ten Step Process From Seed To Cup
The cup of coffee that you enjoy every morning has taken a long process to make its way to your cup. From the time the seeds have been planted, picked, purchased and processed your coffee beans have gone through a series of steps to ensure that they are at their best.
Step 1: Planting
A coffee bean is not really a bean, it’s really a seed. It’s the seed of the coffee cherry. When the seed is not picked, dried, roasted and brewed, it can be planted to grow a coffee tree.
Generally, coffee seeds are planted in large beds in a shaded nursery. The seedlings are watered frequently and kept away from the bright sunlight until they are ready to be planted permanently.
Planting typically happens during the wet season as the soil is nice and moist while the roots of the coffee tree establish themselves.
Read: Is coffee a vegetable?
Step 2: The Harvesting Of The Coffee Cherries
Depending on which variety has been planted, it can take from 3 to 5 years for newly planted coffee trees to bear their first fruits for harvesting. The fruit, the coffee cherry will turn a mellow yellow or bright red, depending on the variety, when they are ripe for harvesting.
Typically there is one harvest per year, in Colombia, due to the exceptional climate, there are two harvests per year, a main harvest and a secondary crop. The secondary crop is not a full harvest.
Coffee is very labor-intensive and the crop is mostly picked by hand due to the steep landscape being difficult for machines. In Brazil, where the coffee fields immense are mostly flat can be picked by a machine.
Be they mechanized or hand-picked, they are harvested in one of two ways, which are:
- Strip Picked: The coffee cherries are stripped off the branches one at a time either by hand or by machine.
- Selectively Picked: This method is one where only the ripe cherries are harvested by hand with only the ripe ones picked, and the green ones are left. Pickers check and pick these trees every 8 to 10 days.
A good picker can average 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries per day, which will yield 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans. A typical coffee plantation will weigh each of the workers pickings and pay them based on the weight of the coffee picked.
The daily harvest is then transported to the coffee processing plant where the cherries are processed.
Step 3: The Processing Of The Coffee Cherries
When the coffee has been picked, they must then be processed as quickly as they can be to eliminate the possibility of fruit spoilage.
The coffee cherries are processed in one of only two ways, which often depend on the resources available.
Wet Processing: Wet processing removes the pulp from the cherry, so the coffee bean is dried with only the layer of parchment skin left on it. The coffee cherries are first passed machine for pulping which separates the pulp and the skin from the coffee bean.
The coffee beans are then separated by weight as they pass through the water channels. The heavier riper beans sink while the lighter beans float. They pass through a series of drums that use rotation to separate them by size.
Once the beans have been separated they are then transported to fermentation tanks that are filled with water. Depending on a number of factors, including but not limited to their quality, condition, altitude and climate, they can remain in the water-filled tanks for fermentation for 12 hours to 48 hours.
This process is to remove the slick layer of mucilage that is still attached to the parchment. While steeping in the water tanks, a natural enzymatic process takes over that removes this layer.
When the fermentation process has completed, the coffee beans are rough to touch and then rinsed in fresh water by running them through a series of additional water channels. After which they are then ready for drying.
Colombian coffee beans, to give an example of quality beans that are wet processed. Nor fro the dry processing method.
Dry Processed: Dry processing is an age-old method of processing coffee and is still used in many coffee producing countries. It’s a method that is used when access to water is limited or where the dry processing technique makes more economic sense to be used.
The freshly picked coffee cherries are spread over large clean surfaces and left to dry naturally in the sun to dry. The cherries are raked frequently and covered at night (or during rainy periods) to prevent them from spoiling (or getting wet).
Depending on the local weather conditions, the dry processing may continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee. When the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11%, the process is complete.
Ethiopia, a great coffee producing nation predominantly uses the dry processing technique.
Step 4: The Drying Of The Coffee Bean
If the coffee beans have been wet processed they need to be dried. The pulped and fermented beans need to be dried to an 11% moisture level for them to be properly prepared for storage.
They are sun dried by means of spreading them on large drying tables or floors. They are regularly raked to turn them. In locations where they are not sundried, they are dried in large tumblers that rotate to produce a good even drying.
The dried coffee beans are known as parchment coffee and are stored in warehouses in sisal or jute bags until they are ready for exportation.
Step 5: The Milling Of The Coffee Beans
Before they are ready for being exported, parchment coffee needs to be further processed in the following ways.
Hulling: A machine process removes the endocarp, the parchment layer for the wet processed coffee beans. Hulling dry processed coffee means removing all of the dried husk, the mesocarp, exocarp and the endocarp of the dried coffee cherries.
Polishing: Polishing is entirely optional and removes any silver skin that is still on the coffee beans. While there is little difference between polished and unpolished beans, polished beans are deemed to be of superior quality.
Sorting And Grading: This is done based on weight, size and are inspected for imperfections, flaws and their color. The very best are considered as grade 1 or specialty grade coffee.
The sizing of the coffee beans is done by a mechanical process using a series of screens and jets of compressed air to separate the light from the heavy beans. Defective coffee beans are removed by hand.
Read: Where do coffee beans come from?
Step 6: Exporting The Coffee Beans
The coffee beans that have been milled are what we know as green coffee and loaded on to ships in sisal or jute bags which are loaded into 20 foot or 40 foot shipping containers.
Step 7: Taste Testing The Coffee
The coffee is taste tested for quality and their taste, a process referred to as cupping and takes place in a room that is purposely designed for the process.
- The cupper, checks and evaluates the coffee beans for their visual quality. The beans are then roasted by a master roaster in a small scale laboratory coffee roasted and then immediately ground and infused in almost boiling water that is taken to a very carefully-controlled temperature. The cupper then noses the freshly brewed coffee to get an experience of the aroma.
- The coffee rests for several minutes, after which the cupper then checks the aroma for a second time.
- Tasting time. The cupper then slurps a spoonful of coffee with a fast inhalation. The goal of the slurping and fast inhalation is to give the taste buds an even spray of coffee on the taste buds and weigh it on the tongue before spitting out the coffee.
Professional cuppers can taste hundreds of different coffees and taste the subtle differences between each one. They are tasted for their characteristics, flaws, and with the mind for blending to make a great coffee blend.
Step 8: Coffee Roasting
The roasting of the coffee beans transforms the green coffee beans into tasty aromatic brown coffee beans that you are familiar with and see every day. The coffee beans can be roasted to any roast level from blonde roast right the way up to the darkest of dark roasts, the Italian roast.
The roast level determines if most of the flavor comes from the coffee beans or the roasting process with most of the flavor of the light roast profiles being from the beans and the origins and the higher darker roasts having more of the flavors from the roasting process.
The roasting is almost always performed at the importing location.
Step 9: Coffee Grinding
The goal of coffee grinding is to get most of the flavor of the beans into the cup of coffee. Different brewing methods require different grind sizes.
Coffee can be bought preground or whole beans. If you are a coffee lover that enjoys great coffee and different coffee brewing methods and styles it is best that you buy whole bean coffee.
Whole bean coffee is often fresher for a number of reasons. Their surface area is smaller and there is a reduced contact with air which means a reduced oxidation of the beans.
Step 10: Coffee Brewing
The final step. Use any brewing technique that you love. Pour over coffee brewing is by far the best coffee brewing technique to get all the delicate and intricate flavors out of your specialty grad coffee beans.
Where Does Coffee Come From?
Coffee comes from a coffee plant, actually a coffee tree. The names’ coffee bush, tree and plant are used interchangeably. They are evergreen and can grow in the wild up to 9 meters (30 feet) tall.
Coffee comes from the tropical regions and can only be grown in areas where there is a temperature of 18C to 21C (64F to 70F) and no more than 3 hours of daily sunshine (if grown in the sunshine) and 59 to 118 inches of annual rainfall.
Due to those temperatures and conditions, this makes elevations of 1,800 feet to 6,300 feet (548M to 1920M) is the ideal elevation as in the tropical regions where that short temperature window is not found at sea level or at greater elevations.
The 3 hours of sunshine can be managed by having east-facing plantations where the sun shines in the morning or by shade growing.
The countries where coffee comes from is easily visualized as the tropical belt or and that covers the Tropic of Cancer to the Tropic of Capricorn. Not all countries within this zone produce coffee for a number of reasons, one being a lack of land area – as is the case in Taiwan for example.
Or in the case of Puerto Rico they produce but barely export due to producing only enough for domestic consumption.
The use of the word or term “coffee bean” is a misnomer as what we use, what we make coffee with is not actually a bean, it’s the seed of the coffee cherry.
Does Coffee Grow On Trees?
Yes, coffee is actually a tree despite being referred to as a plant and less frequently a bush. The tree is covered in twinned waxy leaves that grow opposite each other. The coffee cherries (actually berries!) grow along the branches in bunches.
It is very common to see ripe fruit, green fruits and white flowering on the same tree as the plant grows in a continuous cycle and can live for 100 years. They produce their best yields from years 7 to 20 typically.
Frequently Asked Questions About How Is Coffee Grown
How Is Coffee Grown And Harvested?
Regardless of whether it is human or machine harvested, coffee is harvested using just two methods:
- Selective picking: The red cherries are picked, and the green cherries are left to further ripen.
- Strip picking: The coffee cherries are stripped from the branch of the coffee tree by hand or machine.
Picking is carried out in 10-day intervals to allow the green ones that are left behind to ripen.
Does Coffee Naturally Grow?
Yes, coffee grows naturally and can be left to grow naturally and in the wild if you so want. Coffee plants are evergreen and can grow to be 9 meters or 30 feet tall if they are not pruned. Coffee plants (actually trees) are pruned to grow no taller than 1.52 to 2.12M (5 to 7 feet) for ease of picking and harvesting.
If coffee trees are to grow naturally and left unattended, they will grow best under the canopy of a tropical forest where they are shade grown and at an elevation somewhere in the coffee bean belt of the Tropic of Cancer and tropic of Capricorn.
Is Coffee A Bean Or A Seed?
Coffee is referred to as a coffee bean but the “bean” is not actually a bean. It is so-called due to the look and shape resembling beans. They are actually the seeds, or pits of the coffee fruit, the seeds of the coffee cherries which are grown on the coffee tree.
Do Coffee Beans Need Water To Grow?
nothing grows without water. Coffee plants like any other plant needs water and will wilt and droop when they are in need of water or are underwatered. Once they get the water that they need, they perk right back up. It is best that you keep your soil moist but do not let the roots sit in water.
Why Is Coffee Not Grown In The US?
Coffee does grow in the United States, but only in California and Hawaii. The rest of the states do not have the climate for coffee to grown. America is one of the lowest producers of coffee for this very reason.
What Is Required For Coffee To Grow?
For coffee to grow and thrive it needs the ideal conditions and climate which is 18C to 21C (64F to 70F) and with a good amount of sunshine but not more than 3 hours per day, which is why coffee is often shade grown.
You also need an ideal amount of rainfall per year, 59 to 118 inches per year is ideal, any less and anymore is not good for the cultivation of coffee.
Due to these conditions, and the need for rich soil, coffee grows best in the tropical belt and at elevations where the temperature is smoother and more ideal for them.
Final Thoughts – How Is Coffee Grown?
Now you know how coffee is grown and the process of going from a single seed to a full well brewed cup of coffee, the only question left for you is to consider if this is a nice little pastime or hobby that you want to take on.
Remember that 5 plants will produce about 4.5 kg of coffee that you can use. Not a lot, enough for a month or two, maybe three depending on your consumption.
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