Coffee Facts

Coffee From Seed to Cup

Did you know that a coffee bean is actually a seed? The seed is dried, roasted and finally ground to brew coffee. Unprocessed coffee seeds are planted, usually during wet seasons in an effort to ensure that the soil remains moist to help the roots become established. These seeds become coffee trees.

These newly planted coffee trees can take up to 3 to 4 years to bear fruit. Yes, that’s right! These trees produce a fruit called the “coffee cherry” which turns a deep shade of dark red when it’s ready to be harvested.

Only the ripe cherries are ready to be harvested. In many countries, the harvesting process is quite a labor-intensive one that requires all crop to be picked by hand. A good picker averages between 100 and 200 pounds of cherries a day! That equates to between 20 and 40 pounds of coffee beans.

The processing of coffee cherries must begin immediately after being picked in an effort to prevent the fruit from spoiling. The freshly picked cherries are then spread out onto large surfaces and left to dry in the sun. 

In an effort to keep the crop from spoiling, the cherries must be turned or raked throughout the day. At the end of the day, the cherries are covered so that they don’t get wet overnight.

This process can take several weeks per batch depending on the weather. The process must continue until the moisture content of the cherries drops down to 11%.

Before they can be exported, the beans must go through a hulling and polishing process. At this point, they are sorted by size and weight. 

The process of hulling requires machinery to remove the dried husk off of the cherry. After that, any skin that remains is then removed by machine. This process is called polishing. Polished beans are often viewed as superior to unpolished beans, but there really isn’t much difference between the two.

Milled beans are referred to as “green coffee”.  This green coffee is loaded onto shipping containers in either jute or sisal bags or bulk-shipped inside plastic containers. According to the USDA, World coffee production for 2017/18 is forecast to be 159.9 million 60-kg bags!

These photos were taken during our visits to Tip Partner projects in Guatemala, Honduras and Uganda where harvesting coffee provides critical income to local families.