picking coffee cherries coffee beans

Where Do Coffee Beans Come From: From Plants to Home

September 1, 2021

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Approximately 1.4 billion coffees are consumed around the world every day. Have you ever considered were all the coffee beans come from?

Sometimes, we do something so often that we don’t stop to think about the origin of things. We all savor and enjoy a good cup of coffee, however, what do we understand about where that coffee comes from? What is the process that coffee beans go through before they reach our homes, and where do coffee beans come from?  

If you wish to learn a few things about coffee, here we will introduce you to all the basic concepts surrounding the coffee industry. From the origins of each coffee bean to their finally destination as coffee in your cup.

Coffee and its Origins

The first coffee plants were originally found on the African continent, specifically in Ethiopia. Later, the coffee plant traveled to Southeast Asia, Central America, and South America.

Brazil, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Colombia are currently the main coffee growers. The list is headed by Brazil, which provides more than 5 billion pounds of beans annually to the entire world.

Coffee beans come plants. A bean is found in the center of each coffee cherry which grow on the coffee plants. The coffee plant resembles a berry bush or vines that are usually quite tall. Many coffee plants have dark green leaves but are usually more of a purple or yellow color. So, the next time you are asked if you know where coffee beans come from, the quick answer would be from plants.

Types of Coffee Plants

Coffee beans do not come from a single kind of coffee tree or shrub. Coffee beans are usually grown on two kinds of plants.

The robusta plant, also known as Coffea robusta or Coffea canephora is the first type. It is known to provide an earthy, bold flavor. It’s initially bitter with a grainy taste but leaves a mild peanut butter aftertaste.

The other type of plant is Arabica also known as Coffea arabica, these beans are sweeter and milder than Coffea robusta. Ideal for coffee drinkers who do not like the harsh flavors of robusta coffee.

We explain in more detail the difference between each one.

Coffee Robusta

The robusta bean variety is grown mostly in Africa and Indonesia, although the winning coffee producer is surprisingly Vietnam. Vietnam is the largest single producer of beans with a high amount of caffeine. That is why Vietnamese coffee is considered unique in the world. The use of robusta beans rich in caffeine is a rarity in the world of specialty coffee beverages.

Coffee Arabica

The Arabica plant is the most abundant in the world. These plants grow in the “coffee belt”. This is the name given to the strip of countries around the Earth’s equator that possess the best conditions for the cultivation of coffee. The arabica bean is the best option since it produces one of the healthiest coffees that exist.

Bourbon is a variety of the Arabica plant and is cultivated mainly in South America. This variant is among the best when it comes to coffee beans. Bourbon is not the only variety of the Arabica plant. There are many others.

Coffee Harvesting

Coffee Harvesting

A mature coffee plant that bears fruit can reach between 30 and 40 feet high. When the berries or coffee cherries become deep red in color, they can be harvested.

Growing coffee beans requires a lot of labor.  Farmers watch the plants and once the cherries appear they check their maturity. Once ready for harvest, beans are picked by hand.

In places like Brazil where large-scale coffee production is a huge industry, the fields are more expansive, so mechanical equipment assists greatly with harvesting.

The amount of coffee produced in a coffee plantation varies according to the growing conditions and the variety, but approximately 800 kg of coffee can be harvested per hectare per year.

Once the coffee cherries are harvested, there are two processes to get each green coffee bean ready for roasting. These methods can be the dry or wet process. The dry process is used more often in places where water resources are more limited.

Dry Process

This is the simplest process since it does not require a large infrastructure. The cherries of the coffee plant are harvested and spread out on a level surface to dry in the sun. This process lasts several weeks until the fruit hardens.

The fruit then undergoes a process known as threshing, which consists of separating the green bean from the rest of the fruit and the parchment to obtain a clean bean.

This is the oldest and most traditional process currently practiced in Ethiopia, the place where coffee originated. If the drying process is not carried out adequately, it can result in coffee with an unpleasant taste.

Wet Process

The coffee cherries are processed in water to separate the ripe fruit from the leaves, branches, and defective fruit. Afterward, the peel is removed from the fruit and they are fermented for 12 to 36 hours in large tanks. The fermentation, which can be carried out dry or in water, makes it easier to remove the pulp and adds flavor and nuances to the coffee.

At this point, the beans are thoroughly washed and dried. Subsequently, the beans go through the threshing process where the parchment is removed from each coffee bean when they are already dry.

This process is much more mechanized; however, it provides a homogeneous quality to the coffee and is currently the most used method.

Quality Control

Once the coffee beans are dry, they are passed through a hulling process. In this process, the wet-processed beans are stripped of their parchment and polished to ensure that they are completely clean.

The beans are sorted according to process, size, and weight. Flawed beans are removed from the lot and discarded so that the viable beans are prepared for export.

When the coffee beans reach their destination, coffee tasters are in charge of testing the beans for extensive quality control. Skilled cuppers perform hundreds of samplings each day and can identify the most subtle variations between each coffee bean.

In addition to flavor, the beans also go through a process to check their visual appearance. The coffee beans should appear first-rate displaying their excellent quality. When the quality control is complete, beans are ready for the roasting process.

The coffee beans are roasted, ground, and immersed in water heated to a precise temperature so that the taster can perceive the aroma released by the coffee. It is left to rest for a few minutes, after which the taster drinks a spoonful of the beverage and spits it out. This ensures that the flavor of the coffee is distributed uniformly throughout the taste buds of the cupper. This allows the taster to evaluate the taste and presence of the coffee on the palate.

The work of the cuppers consists of tasting the different types of coffee to be able to characterize the coffee and identify any issues. As well as perceiving the potential that coffee beans have for different types of roasts and blends.

More Coffee Facts

Generally, the roasting of the coffee beans is carried out once they reach their importing country, which guarantees greater freshness for the companies who will prepare them. The roasting process is where the beans go from having a greenish color to having the brown color that we all know.

From that point, the roasted coffee beans are moved to the coffee shops or stores for us as consumers to acquire our favorite coffee. Although in some stores it is also possible to acquire green coffee beans to prepare is a coffee roaster at home.

Perhaps you are wondering how long this whole procedure takes. In general, a coffee plant takes approximately one year to flower. After that, it can take two or three more years for the tree to begin to bear fruit. If properly cultivated and cared for, a coffee plant produces fruits after 3 to 5 years and can continue producing coffee for 50 to 60 years.

Conclusion

Most people have enjoyed a delicious cup of coffee during their lifetime. Coffee is often part of people’s daily routine since it is present in the social, work, and home environments.

If you ask any person if they like coffee, they will likely tell you they do. Ask them where do coffee beans come from and they might be stumped. Few know the origin of coffee, how and where it grows, how it is processed, or how it reaches your cup. It is such an everyday beverage that, perhaps, knowledge of its origin has become irrelevant in conversations.

Learning where the coffee beans come from and the process it has to go through to be enjoyed helps us to appreciate the work involved in its elaboration. Especially for lovers of this delicious beverage. Now that you know these facts, you will surely want to share them with a fellow coffee lover over a good cup of joe.

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