Every day, over 2.25 billion cups of coffee are consumed all over the world.
Coffee is enjoyed by millions of people many of whom drink the energizing beverage every morning. In America, the world’s largest purchaser of coffee, around 83 percent of adults drink coffee. Yet, the commonplace drink actually involves a startling amount of time, effort, and complexity at the early stages of production.
Let’s take a closer look at how coffee is grown.
One interesting thing many people do not know about coffee is that it is actually the seed of the coffee cherry. Coffee cherries, which bear a slight resemblance to grapes, mature over several months. The cherries change color as they develop and grow; they start bright green, then become yellow, orange, red, and eventually dark purple and black. The process of maturation takes about five to six months.
The coffee plants themselves can grow up to 15-20 feet tall, although most farmers trim them down to make picking easier, and their large, white flowers look like those of citrus plants. There are two different types of coffee plants that are commonly grown; coffea arabica and coffea robusta. Between the two arabica is far more popular, accounting for 70% of the world’s coffee, mostly due to its richer flavor and quality. However, some regions in Africa and most of Vietnam prefer the more bitter robusta variant.
Coffee farmers have to be careful with their plants; coffee trees cannot withstand extended periods of sunlight. Even just three hours of a hot afternoon sun can dry out and kill a coffee plant. Although they use canopies, many farmers also protect their trees by ensuring that their plants are well-watered, carefully selecting hardy variants of the plants, and placing their trees on slopes where they will only get sun in the morning.
Coffee plants also thrive the best in a specific climate; farmers make sure that the temperature and precipitation are okay for the tree to grow in. The plants grow best in elevations between 1,800-6,300 feet, temperatures between 59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit, and rainfall above 59 and below 118 inches.
Surprisingly, most coffee cherries are picked by hand in a hard, hot, and labor-intensive process, with only a few areas using mechanical equipment. Either way, there are two different systems growers use to harvest the product: strip picking and selective picking.
Strip picking, as the name implies, involves harvesting every single coffee cherry from the tree.
Quality does not matter in this technique; only quantity harvest.
In selective picking, only the ripe, quality cherries are harvested. Interestingly, machines are not used in this process; cherry pickers rotate between each plant, choosing only the ripe cherries to harvest. A good picker averages around 100-200 pounds of coffee cherries a day, which comes to about 20-40 pounds of coffee beans.
All of this complexity, and only for the first stage of producing coffee. After this, the beans still need to be dried, processed, milled, shipped, roasted, and more before they can reach your table. Next time you enjoy a hot cup of coffee, think about the time and effort involved in getting the product into your hands.