Coffee is one of the most fascinating and dynamic agricultural products produced on earth. It has a fascinating history, background, and of course, taste! But to truly understand coffee, it is helpful to get a good idea of the harvesting and planting season that green coffee beans undergo.
In this day and age, the era of mass-produced, factory farm beans is coming to a close to be replaced with the greener, more sustainable, more nature friendly, and more humane small farm methods of producing beans.
Here at Copan Trade, we select only the finest green coffee beans from local farmers and connect professional and superb roasters together. The result? A greener product courtesy of these incredible green coffee beans. But what are green coffee beans?
What Green Beans Are and How They Are Planted
While many of us think of coffee beans and conjure up an image of brown or black aromatic seeds glistening with natural fats, sugars, and oils, this is actually the final product of a much longer and more painstaking process. The green beans refer to the raw coffee beans when they are extracted from the coffee cherries. Let’s learn more!
Coffee beans are in truth, seeds. And the best places in the world for coffee of any variety or plant type to grow is around the equator and in tropical regions. Arabica plants thrive when they are grown at high elevations, preferably in volcanic soil. Volcanic soil works the best because of the beneficial nutrients and minerals it can provide the plants with as well as the good drainage the porous volcanic soil provides.
While coffee plants love tropical places, Arabica grows best in the cooler highlands and mountains. This slows down the development of the coffee cherries and lets them develop more deeply and richly. Arabica also thrives with constant and heavy rains, regular cloud, and forest canopy coverage.
Robusta plants are hardier and can grow in lowlands and in drier, hotter, sunnier, and more arid places, especially compared to their Arabica cousins. Sometimes coffee plants are grown in large growing beds before being moved during the rainy seasons to more permanent places.
The reason for the move during the rainy season is to allow the young saplings to send out their roots in softer soil. The plants may take anywhere from 3-4 years to grow and fully mature enough to produce coffee cherries.
Coffee plants, like many other fruit plants, bear flowers that eventually develop into cherries. These cherries are edible, and a tea known as cascara can be made from their skins. But in the interest of our discussion on coffee beans, the cherries serve as the vessel for the green beans which are then harvested.
When the coffee cherries have attained a bright red color, they are ready to be harvested. Generally, there is an annual major harvest each year, but in some regions, the plants may be harvested twice or more per year.
On factory farms, machinery is used to mass harvest the cherries. But on smallholding farms, it is usually done by hand. Harvesting by hand, though costly, and time-consuming leads to a better harvest. There are two major ways of harvesting coffee cherries found around the world in addition to human hands versus mechanical harvesting. They are:
This method can be done by human hand or by machines. The distinct quality of this method of harvesting is in regards to how many cherries are left on the branch afterward. In the case of strip picking, that would be none. All the cherries are stripped from the branch, which, though thorough, can lead to some unripe cherries or cherries that may have defects making it into the harvest.
This method is more critical, harvesting only cherries that are fully ripe. This method is almost always done by humans only. Harvesters will check out the coffee plants every week to every ten days in order to snag only the finest and ripest of the cherries. This process leads to a fine and artisanal final harvest, and thus is costlier than the strip method.
On average coffee, harvesters can haul in anywhere from 100 to 200 pounds of coffee cherries. This haul will result in anywhere from 20 to 40 pounds of coffee green beans, too. On some farms, workers are paid by how big of a haul they bring in, with each haul being weighed. After the final haul is brought in, then the next step in the coffee bean’s journey is set to begin, the processing method.
Beyond the Harvest
The processing method is the next leg of the coffee beans journey from the safety and comfort of the coffee plant’s branches to your morning cup of coffee. This step will see the coffee cherry stripped away in a number of ways revealing the hard, green, dense coffee bean inside. The planting and harvesting processes are tantamount to an amazing coffee process and are important aspects of developing both cherries and beans that are spectacular.