You groggily roll out of bed when your alarm goes off and go through your morning rituals on autopilot. Without much thought, you make that morning cup of delicious coffee for that caffeine jolt, exquisite flavor, and morning warmth. While we might seek out beans that are Fair Trade, Organic, or ethically sourced, we might not give much more thought to that morning habit. As coffee roasters, we get the opportunity to spend a lot of time with coffee, thinking about coffee, and learning about coffee. Getting to enjoy coffee every morning is quite a miracle to us!
Coffee trees aren’t the easiest crop to grow by any means. When we talk about specialty coffee, we are referring to Arabica coffee. Robusta is the other main species of coffee- it grows easily and has double the caffeine of Arabica but doesn’t taste very good. It is a common filler in cheap and instant coffees. Arabica, in constrast, requires higher elevation for growing (1800-3600 ft), along with a lot of rainfall. This makes the region that Arabica coffee can be grow quite small.
Growing coffee from seed to mature plant takes a lot of time. From seed to being ready to move to production takes 6-12 months. It takes a full three years before a tree will start to fruit. Because of this huge time barrier to entry, once a farmer stops producing coffee, it is hard for them to go back. And for anyone who has grown anything, you know how things can easily go wrong.
Coffee trees are susceptible to pests and diseases with the two biggest right now being Coffee Leaf Rust and the Coffee Berry Borer. Both are currently in every major coffee region. Coffee Leaf Rust causes the leaves to turn orange and prevents photosynthesis which can kill the tree. The coffee berry borer lays is a beetle that lays eggs in the coffee seed, the hatchlings then eat the cherry, which reduces the harvest and the quality of the coffee.
Most coffee trees also only have one harvest a year. Beautiful delicate white flowers make way for the coffee cherry which takes a full 9 months to be ready to harvest. Coffee cherries ripen at different rates so proper harvesting has to be done by hand.
Processing coffee must also be done with care to avoid defect such as mold and to avoid a drop in quality. Processing coffee includes different methods to remove the cherry pulp from the seed and drying the coffee seed to an 11-12% moisture content to avoid rotting. After a period of rest, the coffee is then hulled, bagged and shipped. Shipping brings concerns of heat, moisture, and the coffee taking on undesirable flavors (think spices or petroleum). Bureaucratic hoops are always the fun final step.
And this is all before a single bean is roasted.
We are in awe and appreciation of coffee’s long journey from seed to us and the care it received from growing as a seedling through careful shipping on container ships to us. When we roast our coffee, we think about all that journey and seek to do well by that coffee bean and all those who touched it.
Photo by James Neuhalfen