The Story of a Coffee Bean

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Ever wondered what is the story behind the coffee bean found in the local store that produces that morning kick with whom you start every morning? Well, let us look more closely.

There are five steps in making coffee – growing and picking, milling, drying, parchment removal and roasting. The coffee bean you are looking at went through all of this. We will talk about the first step.

1)    Let us start with the growing and picking the part. The coffee bean is the fruit of a COFFEE TREE.

This plant is a flowering plant from the family Rubiaceae. If you want to grow your own coffee you better have patient because in order to produce the coffee bean you are looking for the coffee tree has to be around six years old. The coffee tree lives around 60 years, so you will be satisfied for the most part of your life. When fully grown, the coffee tree reaches up to 4.5 meters in height. Constant pruning is required. The ideal temperature is from 15 to 24 degrees Celsius. The rainfall should be plentiful but also, coffee tree loves sun (but not the direct sunlight). There is not a specific type of soil needed for the growing of a coffee tree, but it should be porous. If you look from a geographical point of view, the best conditions for growing the coffee tree is South America (probably all of you know that the Brazil is the world’s no. 1 coffee producer) and Africa.

Coffee tree Arabica

There are two main coffee tree types – coffee Arabica and coffee Robusta. Around 75-80 % of all coffee tree population in the world goes on the coffee Arabica. Arabica gives more quality product but at the same time, it Is more sensitive for the plant diseases. Robusta coffee tree is also higher and the product is richer in caffeine content. About 30 weeks after flowering (the flowers of the coffee tree are white colored and have the sweet smell), the coffee cherry (which contains the coffee bean) turns its color from green to red. At this point, the coffee cherry is ready for picking.

The root system is also something very specific when we talk about this tree. The root system has the absorbing surface from 400 to 500 m2, and when combined the roots of the coffee tree can reach up to 25 km in length.  This tree will produce fruit without the fertilizer, but, of course, in modern time where the chemistry has a strong impact combined with botany, for the best yield result, coffee producers usually use fertilizer (they feed the tree every 2 weeks from March to October and then monthly from November to February).

All of you know that the substance in the coffee that keeps you awake and gives you that morning kick of energy is called caffeine, but not all of you know that caffeine is actually the natural plant defense against herbivores. It is something like a toxic substance that keeps the coffee beans from getting eaten by the animals. The leaves of a coffee tree are very thick, dark green and waxy. Some research says that they have become the world’s major source of oxygen. Each hectare of coffee produces around 40 kg of oxygen per day.

Maybe you didn’t know, but the coffee tree can be grown indoors. So it can be the houseplant. And believe it or not it is very easy to care for this plant in your home. Yes, they grow in South America and Africa, so you may think that they only love sunny regions, but that is not true, because as we mention it above they prefer bright but not direct sunlight. So, if you plant them in your home you should keep them close to the window.

In their natural environment they prefer the temperatures which are the normal room temperatures, so you don’t need to worry about that. The soil in the pot should be moist. These plants love humidity. Less water is preferred during winter time. So, as a pet, this tree requires your constant care. From fertilizing to constant pruning. Homegrown coffee plants do not have that many flowers as their brothers and sisters that live outdoor, but hey, you can say to all of your friends that you have a coffee tree in your room. Not anyone can say that.

Coffee tree flowers

And of course, like everything nowadays you can buy your coffee tree beans online starting from 0.10 $ per piece.

2)    So, we have the mature coffee tree which produces coffee beans. Now comes THE HARVESTING part.

As we said above, the coffee cherry reached its ideal age when they are red colored. The coffee is harvested during the dry season. Traditionally the fruits are picked by hand, but the big companies use the harvesting machine (time is money as we all know). But, nothing can be precise like a hand, so the hand picking is preferred because not every fruit is ready to be picked at the same time, so on the same branch you can find the red cherry (which is ready to be harvested) and the green one (which is not and has a very bitter taste).

So, the conclusion is that there are two methods in coffee harvesting. First one is selective harvesting (or harvesting by hand). Pickers carry baskets in which they put red, mature coffee cherries and live the green one on the tree. This method is more precise but a bit slower than the other one. The pickers are paid according to the weight of coffee beans in the baskets at the end of the day.

Red and green coffee beans

Strip harvesting is the another method. By using this method coffee fruit is mechanically stripped from the coffee tree. This method has 3 different varieties. Manual Stripping, a simple method with the help of a canvas placed on the ground. The pickers then simply grab the branches, pull them a few times and the fruit drops on the ground.

Mechanical stripping is another type of strip harvesting and this one includes the help of the mechanical machines which vibrate and take down the fruits from the tree. The last one is the harvesting with the help of mechanical harvesters. Big machines that look like a combine and go through the rows of the coffee tree picking the fruits. As we said this method is quicker and requires far less labor in order to be completed, but with the help of this method the coffee fruits are not separated (red from green) so there will be a lot of green fruits which can end up in the final product.

From 100 kg of coffee cherries harvested you will end up with around 12-20 kg of coffee beans which are ready for export. Bloody hard work you say?!