Coffee, The Drink That Makes You Sharp! ¡Café, la bebida que te mantiene alerta!

A medium cappuccino, please! This is one of the typical orders in a coffee shop. Many of us are very familiar with coffee beverages that are ready to drink. However, if I had to ask you a question about the raw material: where does it come from? Is it a root? Is it a bush? Is it a cherry?  What would your answer be? Some of you might know the answer, but others might not. If you do not know the answer, do not feel bad about it. There is always something new to learn. In this article, I will give you a general idea about the production of coffee and how it gets to your table.

Everything starts with coffee beans. Dried coffee beans that are not processed can give birth to robust coffee trees. Farmers usually start sowing coffee in winter. At the beginning, coffee seeds are planted in large beds and shaded nurseries, then after about 4 weeks, the vigorous small plants are transplanted individually to a special plastic bag where they are watered until the coffee plant reaches 10-15 cm. At that time, the coffee plant is ready to be permanently planted in the fields.

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The harvesting period arrives 2-3 years after a coffee plant has been permanently planted. During the first years of production, the yield per plant is low, but it keeps increasing year after year. The yield per plant also depends on how much care a farmer gives to each plant: how often a farmer eliminates the weeds in the fields, the frequency of fertilizing the plants (by using organic fertilizers such as compost, humus, guinea pig waste, guano of island, etc.), if a farmer prunes the plants correctly, etc. Another piece of relevant information about the harvesting season is that it demands a lot of labor. In developing countries such as Peru, the coffee harvest is done by hand. Due to the fact that coffee cherries do not mature uniformly, a human being’s judgment is required during the harvesting process. Also, most of the Peruvian mountains where coffee is cultivated are not machine friendly, and there is no access for vehicles. For these reasons, the coffee harvest is exciting but also challenging for coffee farmers.

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Then, to have dried coffee beans, the wet or dried method is used. For the wet method, the coffee cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean. Then, a fermentation process is required for about 24 hours: during this process, natural enzymes degrade the slick layer of mucilage that covers the beans. Finally, the coffee beans are washed and exposed to the natural heat to dry. On the other hand, for the dried method, the coffee cherries are exposed to the sun to dry right after they were harvested without removing the skin. The last step of this method is to remove the dried skin by using a coffee machine peeler. (See coffee peeling machine in action). At the end, with both methods, the coffee beans should have 12 percent moisture in order to be stored or delivered for exportation.

Solar Tent
Drying Coffee by Using A Solar Tent

Finally, the conversion of dried coffee beans into a cappuccino involves a series of steps. The unroasted coffee or green coffee is usually imported and processed by developed countries. For example, American roasters buy coffee from Peru, roast it, mill it and then sell it to companies such as Walmart, Kroger, Publix, BI-LO,  coffee shop chains, etc. Then, the final consumer brews their coffee at home or buys directly from a coffee shop.

In summary, the production, processing and merchandising of coffee involve many participants: from coffee farmers in developing countries to consumers in developed countries. Coffee is a tree that produces cherries which are processed and transformed into dried beans. Then, these dried beans are roasted, milled and brewed in order to have your favorite cappuccino!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. – Colossians 3:23 

Cited Works

National Coffee Association of U.S.A. “10 steps from seeds to cup”

Equal Exchange. “History of Coffee in Peru”

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