Few are familiar with the intensive life-cycle of coffee trees and the numerous variables that must be perfected to produce high quality, specialty coffee. It’s an agricultural art form and a process any coffee drinker should know. For simplicity, we’ve chosen to break the life-cycle into two parts - cultivation and consumption. As the saying goes, there are two sides in any story and coffee is no different.
So fire up a cup and let’s flex those coffee muscles, its time to dive into the life-cycle behind your latte!
Planting the seeds - At the root of it all, growers begin with coffee seedlings (and sometimes even seeds) that will eventually sprout into trees, taking anywhere from three to five years to mature. There is no guarantee a grower’s trees will bear fruit, because coffee trees, just like any other plant are sensitive to changes in climate, soil conditions, fungi, and a number of other agricultural factors that can hamper a healthy harvest.
Harvesting the cherries - Cherries, that’s right. It surprises most people when they discover coffee is a fruit. When a grower’s trees are ready for harvest, plantation workers head for the hillsides to gather up ripe cherries for processing. Harvesting can be done by hand or machine, though picking by hand ensures the ripest cherries goes into processing. At Plantec Coffee Estate in Nepal, we source our specialty coffees by hand picking the cherries to deliver a consistent and high quality batch of beans.
Processing - Now that the cherries are off the trees, its time for processing which usually happens as soon as possible to avoid spoiling. Growers can use either a dry method where the sun dries out cherries until the skin and pulp can be removed, or a wet method where cherries pass through machines that remove the skin and pulp and separate naturally by weight.
Milling and Sorting - Working with what now looks more like the coffee bean we all know. Growers use machinery to remove any remaining pulp or dried parchment, and then the beans are sorted by size and weight while defective beans are removed. Done by machine or hand, the sorting process is crucial for quality control. Specialty coffees like those from our growers in Nepal will sort by hand to make sure only the finest beans are exported.
Export - Processed and sorted beans, now referred to as coffee greens, are bagged up and shipped off to roasters and traders in consumer countries.
Roasting - We’re getting closer...Roasting is where coffee greens become the brown beans of magic that we buy and ultimately brew. The spectrum is wide open here. Light, medium, dark, or something in between… the possibilities are endless.
Roasting can be as simple as doing it a home with a cast iron skillet (we love this tutorial). As the pounds increase, the more complex it gets. Using industrial grade machines means that roasters consistently apply the same amount of heat and stirring to hundreds of pounds of beans, all in efforts to achieve a well balanced roast that tastes the same cup after cup.
Cupping and Tasting - Now its time to put the coffee to the test. This can be a tense moment for growers as their coffee is rated on both aesthetic aspects, but more importantly for taste which will determine its desirability. This process is called cupping, and if you’ve never seen how it’s done, check out a great rundown of the process here.
Here, cuppers (tasters) evaluate both the aroma and taste of the coffee and ultimately score the beans on a scale of 0 - 100. Most specialty coffees will rank in 85 - 95 range though the scale system doesn’t guarantee you’ll like the batch, and that is the fun part - finding a specialty coffee that excites your palate!
Grinding and Brewing - Alas! You’ve got your beans (hopefully from us at Himalayan Coffee Importers!) and are ready to brew. Depending on your preferred brewing style, you’ll want to grind em’ coarse for a French Press or medium fine for a nice pour over. If you’re into drip brew or espresso you’ll want finer grounds, but the power is now your hands!
There ya have it! You’ve got the basics of the coffee life-cycle, from seedling to sipping. Now go forth and drink great coffee!