The growth and processing of coffee

Can you smell it? That first, fresh, hot cup of coffee that wakes you up in the morning is so delicious. Or maybe it’s that aroma wafting for you as you finish off a fabulous meal with the perfect closer. A special cup of Coffea Arabica, or Arabica coffee. What flavor is your favorite?

Coffee. It’s what holds many people together through a difficult morning, or what relaxes others at the end of the day or after a meal. How does an individual go from that first sip to a love affair and a lifetime searching for and finding that perfect flavor, aroma or brand that speaks salvation?

Are you a coffee connoisseur, or will you drink any coffee anytime? There are two main types of coffee: Coffea Arabica, or Arabica coffee, and Coffea Canephora, also known as Robusta coffee. But how does it get from the plant to your cup? It’s actually an interesting process.

Robusta coffee is grown mainly in the lowlands, and it yields more cherries, or drupes, which results in a much higher pound per plant yield each year than the typical Arabica plant. This coffee plant is also more resistant to disease, contains more caffeine and matures more quickly. Because of this, it is less expensive to grow and process, and is used most commonly for commercial grades and institutional uses. This type of coffee is what typical individuals will find in their cups if they are purchasing from major chains which focus on low prices.

If you’ve been planning to expand your coffee horizon or you already prefer a more quality fragrance and taste, then Arabica coffees are your best bet for satisfying your taste buds. These coffee plants produce more complex flavor characteristics which will satisfy even the most gourmet appetite for caffeine. Arabica coffees are highly sensitive and must have specific growing conditions for optimal production and yield.

The Arabica coffee plant is indigenous to Ethiopia and Yemen, and was the first species to be cultivated and grown in southwest Arabia over one thousand years ago. Today, many Arabica coffees are successfully grown in South America and other parts of the world.

They are grown high in the mountains, sometimes referred to as “mountain coffees,” and must be in zones between 10 degrees north of the equator and 10 degrees south of the equator for best results. These mountainous regions are generally located in rain forest or jungle areas, where the temperature remains between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round or during the growing and harvesting seasons.

The Arabica plant needs approximately six inches of rainfall per month and there is generally a peak rainy or wet season with high humidity, mists and clouds in the most successful growing locations. The soil must be fertile and well-drained, and moderate winds help the plant produce between two and three pounds of green coffee per year.

When grown in the ideal areas of the world, plants can be planted, tended and harvested year-round for optimal yield. Once planted, it takes approximately five to seven years for an Arabica coffee plant to produce its first flowers, which are white and smell much like jasmine. When a plant begins to grow, it is important to keep the plant from producing the drupes, or cherries in the first few years, or it will produce more inferior coffee berries, or fruit. To avoid this, the plants are hand-pruned and weeded. They are also fertilized, many times with coffee pulp, to encourage the highest and best yields.

The green cherries ripen to red and are usually hand-picked one at a time, as the cherries ripen at different times. Occasionally the cherries are shaken to the ground, resulting in both ripened and unripened drupes being harvested, but this does not result in the most superior gourmet coffees.

There are usually two beans, or seeds, in each cherry, which are covered by skins or membranes. The outer skin is called the “parchment” and the inner skin is called “silver skin.” This silver skin has many useful possibilities. One such possibility includes recent production of a biomass chip made from the silver skin by a toy manufacturer.

If there is an extra seed, or only one seed, it is called a “pea berry.” These seeds add to the yield, and account for the approximately 3000 beans it takes to yield one pound of coffee.

Once harvested, the beans undergo a processing system. The wet or “washed” processing system is used where fresh water is plentiful. The pulp is removed from the cherry, and the coffee beans are released. The beans are then allowed to sit in water for 24-48 hours to ferment. This fermentation process produces a fine, acidic flavor, which is what most gourmet appetites are searching for in coffee. The remaining pulp is then washed away and the beans are spread flat on a patio to dry.

The beans are usually stirred, sifted or rolled, to encourage the drying process, and can even be put into mechanical dryers which use wood, gas or solar power to speed the drying process.

Dry processing is used when there is little water available in an area. The drupes are picked, and the skin and pulp are removed by hand tools or machinery. The beans are then dried on a patio for several weeks. While traveling through small jungle towns in Peru or Colombia you may have the opportunity to see beans spread on a patio, and you may even have to walk across them to get where you are going, for they are usually simply lying out in plain sight and children are often there to play around them or care for them.

For a very unusual flavor, a different, and rarer, type of dry processing can be used. First, the cherries are allowed to ripen and dry while still on the tree. This natural process takes several weeks, and then they are removed and de-pulped. This process results in a most unusual flavor and is often how the richer, more expensive gourmet coffees are processed.

Once the beans are thoroughly dried, they are polished and graded according to origin, size, quality of preparation and taste, or “cup quality.” Then the beans are bagged and ready for sale, or in the case of most Robusta coffees, they are often ground, bagged and then retailed. Many times they are roasted and possibly flavored before being bagged and sent to your local store. Many companies now offer home delivery through direct mail services which provide consumers with gourmet coffees without the hassle of a trip to a pricey, and sometimes difficult to find, gourmet shop.

The next time you take that first sip, imagine the beautiful jungle countryside where that sip originated from. Whether you are a coffee connoisseur, or you just enjoy a cup of strong, hot coffee, it will relax you or jazz you up for your day, depending on what you drink.

For a quick start, imagine the caffeine pumping through your veins, sending you off on a successful day at the office. For the calm morning, after-dinner coffee or relaxing evening, visualize those beautiful white flowers, the exotic smell of jasmine, and enjoy a moment!


  1. Coffee production
  2. Coffee vs. Green Tea
  3. 10 Steps from Seed to Cup – National Coffee Association of U.S.A.

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