Did you know coffee beans are actually green?

The journey from bean to comforting cup of goodness
Green, unroasted coffee beans being prepped.

The coffee bean journey has been a mystery to mostly every coffee drinker, did you ever even think about it? Some people believe that coffee comes straight from the bag to the cup, but it’s so much more than that.

Have you ever thought about the coffee bean journey as you are drinking your cup of coffee? Have you thought about all it has gone through before it gets poured into your cup? Where is it coming from? What variety it is?

It’s a long process that involves not only you, but it also involves many farmers, pickers, producers, cuppers, shippers, roasters and ultimately your barista/ yourself to get your coffee to where it is now.

Let’s take a moment to embrace the journey of the coffee bean, from the moment it has been grown and harvested, to the moment you have your cup in hand filled with your favourite coffee.

Starting with the plant

The process starts when a seed is planted in a nursery in a country where the sun shines brightly and can give the seed all its nutrients. For you, the coffee consumer, coffee does not come off the plant in the brown colour you are used to seeing. Coffee beans are actually green and are found inside the cherry of the plants. When the plant itself turns red in colour, this means that the bean itself is ready for its next process.

The small coffee plants will be held in a nursery before being sent to a coffee plantation such as Brazil, Colombia, The Honduras, Nicaragua and others. There are a lot of regions where coffee is grown throughout the world and these tend to be close to the equator, as constant supply of sun is vital.

Harvest time

It takes about three to four years for a coffee plant to mature to where the beans can be harvested. Once the red coffee cherries are fully developed and grown they are picked, mostly by hand. Yes! You read that right.

The reason for this lengthy process is that most often, coffee is grown in large mountainous areas making it extremely difficult to get machines in the area, This is a very important stage for many small farmers as working with roasters is how many of them make their money, so harvesting the coffee perfectly is their main focus.

Processing, drying and milling the coffee bean

The green coffee bean needs to be removed from the red cherry flesh, and pickers only have a few ways to do this. The old-fashioned method is by spreading the cherries in the sun and continuously mixing them to avoid spoilage.

After several days when all the husks have dried up and the bean is partially exposed, the beans must then be further dried and milled to remove the last bits of the cherry from the green beans.

Time to export

The beans at this point are still non-roasted. They have been completely husked, dried and sorted into different varietals and regions based on their quality and are now ready to be exported. The biggest two varieties in the world are Arabica and Robusta, but we’ll talk about this more in a future column.

The green beans are consistently being tested to ensure the process is on the mark in terms of company standards and bean quality.

Tasting and cupping

Once the coffee is exported, a small amount of the green coffee beans will be roasted in a mini roaster and prepared by a highly qualified cupper. This is someone whose job it is to test out the aromatic and flavour quality of the bean. In order to balance out the correct flavour profile of the bean being roasted, it is essential to make sure that the balance is correct, especially when using the higher-quality Arabica beans.

This is the step when actual buyers often get involved in the coffee bean process. Each coffee roaster will have their own standards as to what types of bean they want, region,  and also the degree of quality.

The roasting stage

Many of the coffee roasting companies (both big and small) will buy beans based on exact specifications to create their own house blends, or keep single-origin coffee (similar to wine coming from one farm, keeping the flavours of that particular plantation).

Roasting is carried out at 190-220°C and the beans are constantly moving to avoid burning. This is an art on itself and has a huge effect on the development and taste of the coffee bean. The majority of coffee beans are roasted in large factories, using Arabica and Robusta together, but if you want an excellent experience I recommend find a small business roaster near you and buying your coffee beans from there. These will be specialised and use higher grade beans, resulting in a more intense flavour profile that is so much better than buying from places that roast in large quantities and using Robusta coffee.

Packing a punch

Packing the beans is extremely important to maintain the full freshness of the newly roasted coffee beans. There are two main ways that coffee beans are packed. They will either be ground according to the brewing process they were meant for, or left as whole beans to be ground by the consumer.

Speciality bags are used to lock in the freshness of the coffee, with the roasting date stamped on it to ensure you get the perfect cup of coffee every single time. Most people are afraid of grinding their own beans at home, so they will purchase the readily ground version. But those who are really into their coffee will prefer to buy the roasted beans and grinding them fresh just before using. This is also an essential factor of keeping flavour inside the bean itself as coffee beans are still releasing gasses before they are ground.

You would be surprised at the difference in the flavour of a cup of coffee when you choose to use whole beans and grind them yourself instead of buying ground coffee.

Finally – just feast on the coffee aroma

The beans have arrived at your local coffee shop and now you get to select your favourite blend. Be sure to select the right grind of coffee for the temperatures and coffee brewing process that you do at home – will dig a bit deeper into brewing coffee at home next time!

For more Sunday Circle magazine features check out these ideas for al fresco brunching or read all about Celia Melillo‘s chill weekend.

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