Coffee Cherry to Roasted Coffee Bean-How Coffee becomes Coffee

So how does this?

Ripe coffee cherries

Ripe coffee cherries

Become this?

Roasted coffee beans

Roasted coffee beans

It takes a whole lot more than a smile and a wink.

The process of retrieving a green coffee bean, preparing it for roasting, and then roasting it…that process has a lot of steps.

Not one of the steps is simple.  Not one of the steps is hands free.

Well-not hands free in the specialty coffee world.  Commercial coffee has managed to throw some machines into the mix (we will try to remember to call out those instances).

Step 1: Pick the ripe coffee cherries

Photo of coffee cherries courtesy of Fair Trade USA

Photo of coffee cherries courtesy of Fair Trade USA

I know, we just went on and on about how complex all these steps are-but picking a cherry seems pretty simple.  

Imagine how many coffee beans go into your cup of coffee.  It is about 85 (at least it was 85 when I counted out the beans I used in my 6 oz cup this morning).  Since there are only 2 beans in each cherry, that means 170 coffee cherries had to be hand picked from a tree while it was approximately 1 billion degrees in a place like Ethiopia (1 billion= 77 degrees for you sticklers out there).

Did any of you have an old world Italian Grandmother that used to take you to the grocery store and insist you smell, squeeze, and analyze the color of what felt like every piece of produce in the section?  Nana knew what was up.  Every fruit has a peak ripeness that can be identified with your 5 senses, even if Nana did it in what seemed like an overly intimate way (like, why did she hold all of it so close to her nose?).

Coffee cherries are the same way-they should only be picked at peak ripeness.  To make things even more complicated-it is super important to not disturb the young green un ripe cherries while doing this.  This is why it is done by hand in the specialty world.  Commercial farms use machines to essentially remove all of the coffee cherries, sorting them later, and cutting their losses on the unripe little green guys that could have grown up to be ripe one day.

One of the co-ops we visited actually gives their pickers those silicon wristbands (the ones we sport to support causes) that are the ideal color of a ripe cherry.  Neat trick, huh?

Step 2: Dry the coffee bean and separate it from the fruit

Photo of green coffee beans drying courtesy of Fair Trade USA

Photo of green coffee beans drying courtesy of Fair Trade USA

This is so hard to explain.  This is what prevents coffee processing from being explained in a fun buzz feed like list.

The reason for all the complexities: the basic principal of different strokes for different folks.

Each individual farm or co-op has created their own process for removing and drying the coffee bean.

Coffee grows in very different parts of the world.  It grows at super high elevations in Ethiopia.  It grows in the extra sticky air of Indonesia.  It grows in the volcanic soil of Honduras.

Totally makes sense that each region is going to have different resources at their disposal (e.g. a super hot sun that can dry beans quickly or a super humid climate that gets in the way of letting the beans dry naturally).

As a result, each region has come up with their own way using the sun, water, fermentation, depulping machines, etc.  You can read about all those ways on a past blog post here.

But just think about it, exposing coffee beans to water, or not exposing them to water, fermenting them, or not fermenting them-all those things do have an effect on the flavor. 

That is why you see processing method terminology pop up on your coffee bag.  See the label below, see how it says washed?  That is the processing method.

If you are curious about how these methods will influence the flavor, check out the cheat sheet our Roaster provided below.

Step 3: Sorting the green coffee beans

Coffee sorting photo courtesy of Fair Trade USA

Coffee sorting photo courtesy of Fair Trade USA

This process is meant to remove the defect beans and any weird stuff like rocks and bugs that get mixed in.  It is done both by hand and by machine.  We will do a blog on sorting at some point, and it will be here.

Step 4: Exporting the green coffee beans

Photo of Royal New York's Warehouse

Photo of Royal New York's Warehouse

The green coffee beans are placed in big burlap sacks and shipped to importers in the USA.  Check out this photo of Royal Coffee New York (a coffee importer)’s warehouse!

Step 5: Roasting the green coffee beans…and making them all recognizable and brown!

Roasting Coffee beans to perfection here at One Village Coffee

Roasting Coffee beans to perfection here at One Village Coffee

This is when a burlap sack of green coffee is finally shipped to a roaster, like One Village Coffee, for roasting.  We roast it and then it looks like the coffee you grind up at home. 

Was this helpful?  Did this connect the far away world where coffee grows to your personal world of coffee (a.k.a. your morning)?  Tell us!  Tell us what you learned, what you didn’t learn, what you want to learn!