Coffee begins its life as a seed, which grows into a tree in a nursery. It is the seed of the coffee cherry that is roasted and brewed to make coffee. The coffea tree is a vigorous bush that grows in the sub tropcs of Africa, Southeast Asia, Central and South America. It starts to bear fruit after just three or four yeas, and can live to be over 100 yearse old. Once the tree is planted, it takes another five years of maintenance and care to produce a quality yield of coffee cherries. Depending upon the care it is given, a coffee tree can continue to produce coffee cherries for decades.
When the coffee cherry is ready to be picked, it turns bright red. Some coffee is picked by machines, but the majority of coffee in the world is still picked by hand. Consider that each coffee cherry has only 2 seeds or beans, that it takes around 120 beans (60 herries) to brew one small 8 oz cup of coffee, and think about how many millions of cups of coffee are consumed around the world every day. After being picked, the coffee cherries are sorted to separate the unripe from the ripe cherries. The bags of cherries are then weighed and loaded on trucks to be transported to the mill for processing. Once the coffee cherries arive at the mill, they are weighed, and random samples are pulled to be graded by quality. As soon as the cherries are graded, they are loaded into a hopper to be fed through the pulping and washing station. Once depulped and washed, the coffee is spread out onto concrete patios and turned over frequently to dry in the sun. Large machine dryers are also used to expedite the drying process, and to control drying and fermentation rates.
When the coffee leaves the drying patio, it has a layer of dried parchment surrounding the bean. It needs to be hulled, destoned, and graded by screen size and density. The beans are stored in warehouses with the parchment still attached, and is run through the hulling machines when being prepped for export. The beans are also hand sorted to remove any defective beans. The lab is the place where coffees are cupped, graded and tested. It has sample roasters, cupping equipment, brewing devices, espresso machines, grading tools and all sorts of measuring devices to grade and test the coffee. Now the coffee will go to the roastery, where even more steps are involved to properly roast and blend the coffees for sale in shops and stores. Most coffee is shipped around the world as unroasted or green beans. Roasting is what transforms these green beans into the aromatic brown coffee beans that we are all so familiar with. Several months pass in the journey of a coffee bean from the plantation to the roasting house, but it is only after roasting that time is of the essense. Coffee beans are best consumed within a few short weeks of roasting.