Have you ever wondered how coffee gets its roasted, toasty goodness? It doesn’t naturally grow as flavorful as it ends up in your cup, and has to go through a careful process to become the drink that we know and love. Here’s how coffee beans are processed from seed to cup.
Coffee beans are essentially seeds. Like most plants, once placed into the ground the seedlings have to be nurtured, watered appropriately, and given enough sunlight to thrive. Coffee seeds are usually planted during wet seasons, because that’s when the roots are best able to establish themselves. It takes between 3 and 4 years for coffee seeds to grow into trees and produce fruit, which is called coffee cherries. This fruit looks like a cross between a cherry and a cranberry, and is deep red when it’s ripe and ready for harvesting, which typically occurs once or twice per year.
Coffee is mainly harvested in one of two ways: strip picked, with all of the coffee cherries being taken off the branches at once by machine or by hand, or selectively picked, where only the ripe cherries are picked off the branches. Selective picking is more labor intensive, takes longer, and is usually reserved for Arabica coffee beans. More often than not, Robusta coffee is strip picked.
Coffee cherries have to be processed quickly after being picked because they easily spoil. The beans are either processed by a wet or dry method. The skin and pulp are separated, and then the beans are fermented and allowed to dry. Coffee beans in their dried state are called parchment coffee beans. After the parchment coffee is hulled, polished, and sorted, it’s called green coffee. This is what’s exported for roasting and further processing, as green coffee has very little flavor.
Once green coffee beans arrive to processors and coffee shops, it is then roasted, which is when it becomes coffee that’s ready to be ground and enjoyed. Some processors add various flavors while roasting, which is how varieties such as French vanilla, hazelnut, and the like are produced. Once it has been roasted, the coffee can be ground, brewed, and savored.