How Coffee Beans Are Grown

A primer on how coffee beans are grown, their growing needs and how coffee is processed before it is ready to drink.

Coffee drinks are made using coffee beans. Coffee beans grow on one of three main varieties of coffee plant: Coffea Arabica, Coffea Robusta or Coffea Liberica. The plant has glistening dark green leaves and fragrant, white flowers. The coffee bean is actually the berry of the plant; it starts as a green berry and ripens to a deep red color after approximately eight months.

Coffee plants require a tropical environment to thrive; they need warm weather and a moist climate with an annual rainfall of at least 59 inches. The coffee plant originated in Africa, but is now grown in many tropical locations around the world. Modern coffee beans are named after the locations where they are grown. Over 70 countries of the world have some coffee production, but some of the top growing locations are Brazil, Colombia, India and Indonesia.

Organic coffee growing is increasing in popularity due to the environmental hazards of chemical farming methods. Organic coffees are grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers and do not carry these chemicals into the final beverage. Some coffees are being certified as shade-grown coffees. Since the coffee shrub thrives in sheltered environments, many coffee drinkers feel shade-grown coffees offer superior flavor. The shade trees offer a number of advantages and protections as the coffee grows, often aiding farmers in producing coffee organically. In addition, the tree canopy that protects the coffee also provides a habitat for many endangered bird species.



In the dry season, when the reddened coffee berries are firm and glossy, the coffee can be harvested. Some growers pick the beans by hand, while others use harvesting machines. In a method called selective harvesting, only the ripe beans are picked and the unripe beans are left on the plant to be picked later. However, some growers find the process of reharvesting the same trees too expensive so they pick all of the beans and throw away the unripe ones. This type of harvesting is known as stripping. Since berries ripen at nearly the same time in Brazil, the stripping process is most effective for that location. However, in some locations the berries ripen at such different rates they must be hand picked.

Once the beans have been picked, any overripe or green beans must be removed from the fruits of the harvest. Since debris and overripe berries float often the harvest is placed in water for fast separation. The usable beans are dried and are processed by the pulping machine. The pulping machine is used to separate any remaining unripe green berries; all of the berries are pushed against a screen with carefully adjusted pressure, but only the ripe ones are soft enough to be pushed through. Once the pulping process is complete, the beans are dried once again. In many areas, they are spread on large decks and are allowed to dry in the sun. Sometimes mechanical dryers are also used. During this drying phase, all but 11 or 12 percent of the moisture content is removed from the beans. After the beans are dry, they are sorted for quality and are sent for roasting.

The roasting process takes several steps and is what really brings out the flavor in coffee beans. The beans are gradually heated, causing the color of the beans to change and several chemical reactions to occur within them. The temperature to which the bean has been roasted affects the flavor of the final product; the same coffee bean tasted at different stages of roasting will produce several unique flavors. Once a roast is complete, the coffee bean can be ground and it is ready for brewing into the popular beverage we all know as coffee.

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