The Whole Coffee Process
Before your coffee arrives at your table it has come a long way. The process from put the seed of a coffee tree into the ground and then finding a delicious crema on your cup is approximately 4 years minimum. The coffee tree is not ready to harvest its first yield for around 3 to 4 years after planting as a seed. There are two kinds of coffee bean, Arabica which is the finer more expensive bean as it is a slow growing plant which thrives in a higher altitude. The Robusta bean is cheaper as it is faster growing at lower levels and is used more in making the different blends we enjoy. The coffee growing belt covers the central band between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. Farmers in these regions have their own ways of harvesting but in general the beans are picked and graded by hand. Some areas have hand held machines which strip the branches of beans and others pick only the red cherries as they have ripened. This would be repeated on a fortnightly basis to ensure only red cherries are collected. After picking there are two methods of preparing the beans for roasting. Wet and Dry.
The wet method means after picking the beans, they are washed and then de-pulped by putting them through a mill before fermentation starts to develop the flavour complexity. This process takes around 3 to 4 days. During the washing and drying processes the beans are sorted continuously by hand to facilitate both the drying and the grading.
The dry method means laying the beans in the sun for two to three weeks depending on the weather conditions locally then hulling the husks off in a mill before sorting the beans into sizes with sieving machines.
There are normally three grades of beans. The lowest grade is for consumption locally, the second is nationally and the finest are exported. The long journey from the plant where they have been prepared, graded and put into sacks, starts by road to the nearest port to be loaded onto container ships and sent by sea to the buyers abroad who will then continue the process. When arriving at their destination after a voyage of up to three weeks they come into port to once more be loaded onto trucks and travel to the roasting plant for work to be continued.
All roasting plants have their own particular formulae to make the coffee flavours for their own customers. They hold a variety of coffee’s from around the world and before roasting they will put a mixture together in order to produce the distinct flavour required. In most instances they will mix the finer Arabica beans with the courser Robusta beans and depending on the origin of the bean and the percentage of each being used the blend is produced. Most factories/roasters will have a dedicated staff to design the blends required. Quality control will have experts to check and taste the coffees on a regular basis to ensure that they meet all the statutory requirements of the country involved.
To start with the beans are put into a hopper on top of the roasting machine and when an appropriate temperature is reached they are dropped into a revolving drum and roasted until they crack. The roaster will be able to check when the correct level of roast is ready by not only looking through a glass window in the machine but by extracting a few beans with a “tryer”. The roasters are very experienced people who can tell by the smell and feel of the beans whether they are ready or not. When they are ready they are again dropped into a cooling tray which revolves to help the beans dry evenly.
The end of the process is that the cool beans are removed, some of which will be left as beans for grinding in your favourite coffee shop and others will be ground to be used in Filter machines or cafetieres and are now ready for packaging and sending out to customers.
During the whole process they are constantly checked to make sure consistency and quality is maintained.