The life of a

Journey a coffee bean has to take from the plant to your cup in the morning...


You may not realize this as you reach for that first morning cup of coffee at your favourite cafe but the beans that have been ground to make that cup have made an incredible journey.

That is, unless you happen to live on a coffee plantation in that narrow band of tropical and sub-tropical latitudes that will support the growth of coffee bushes. If instead, like the overwhelming majority of the world’s coffee consumers, you live in the temperate climates of the Northern Hemisphere, then your coffee had to go through some serious traveling to make it to your cup.

The discovery of coffee has been attributed by some to an Ethiopian shepherd who noticed, several hundred years ago, that his goats “danced” after they consumed the fruit of a certain kind of shrub. The shrubs that produce these fruits, coffee cherries, have since been exported to every corner of the globe that would support their cultivation. This, of course, has made the journey one step shorter for the individual beans that go into your cup.

Harvesting - Stage One

First the coffee tree grows from a planted seed in the ground. From 4-8 weeks it develops into a seedling and after 3 years the tree will start to grow their fruit known as cherries. After another 3 years, the tree will be full with fruit and ready for harvesting. This is usually done in bulk coffee plantations in over 50 coffee producing countries around the world.

Coffee trees only grow in tropical and sub-tropical regions. Brazil being the largest, it produces just over 28 percent of the world’s total output. A well grown coffee tree can produce over 1 kg of raw coffee a year; however it needs perfect temperatures between 17º and 23º as well as good rainfall and soil conditions. Coffee grows as a red cherry carrying two beans inside, which is the golden product.

The harvest is completed by hand to ensure that only the ripe cherries are picked for processing. It is a very labor-intensive process, and this has something to do with the final price of coffee as a commodity and as an eventual consumable.

Picking - Stage Two

To keep up to with the current coffee demand in today’s world, we all need to contribute towards more than 5,000,000 metric tons per year. That’s a lot of afternoon tea! The average lifespan of a coffee tree is 20 years, and each will produce around 40,000 beans during this period.

World coffee exports amounted to 10.24 million bags in November 2022, compared with 9.38 million in November 2021. Exports in the first two months of coffee year 2022/23 (October/22 to November/22) have increased by 1.6% to 19.56 million bags compared with 19.25 million bags in the same period in 2021/22.

The next stage is to take the bean from the tree. The bean is the seed of the coffee plant, and comes from inside a red or purple fruit known as the cherry. The plants are grown several feet apart, and are almost always handpicked. A good coffee picker can pick up to 50-60 pounds of coffee per day.

Tasting - Stage Three

From this point, the coffee bean goes through a tasting test for quality in every stage. Known as “cupping”, an experienced coffee taster could test hundreds of coffee beans and taste the fine difference between them.

Processing - Stage Four

With the dry (or natural) method, the cherries are spread out on mats in the sun. They are raked often to ensure even drying, until the husk and pulp are dried out and easily removed by hand.

The next stage in the journey of the coffee bean between plantation and cup involves the processing of the cherries. At harvest, the green coffee bean is surrounded by the pulp and husk of the coffee cherry. This must all be removed prior to preparing the beans for export. There are two methods that are currently employed to remove the husk and pulp from ripe coffee cherries: the wet method and the dry method.

With the wet (or washed) method, the coffee cherries are softened in vats of water and then processed through a machine to remove the husk and pulp. The dry method is the old way, and is often considered to be the best way of processing coffee cherries.

Filtering - Stage Five

Once the cherries have been picked, it goes through its first filter. This can be done in different ways depending on the outcome of the required coffee taste. One method creates aged coffee, and involves keeping the bean in a ventilated environment for 1-6 years. This gives the beans a less acidic taste and that syrupy richness.

Hulling - Stage Six

Coffee hulling is an optional step in coffee production. Coffee hulling occurs in the late stages of coffee processing; it is usually done between milling and polishing, although some people consider it to be a part of the milling process or skip the polishing and move directly onto cleaning and sorting.

Processed beans are removed from their parchment layer either through pickers or machines. This involves removing the entire dried shell of the cherries by hand or having a machine crunch off the outside layer.

Processed beans are removed from their parchment layer either through pickers or machines. This involves removing the entire dried shell of the cherries by hand or having a machine crunch off the outside layer.

Polishing - Stage Six

This is done to improve the appearance of the bean. At this point, the beans can be shipped; however the following methods are optional depending on the time and money available to spend at this stage. Any silver skin that is left untouched will be put through the polishing machine.

Cleaning - Stage Seven

Machines blow the beans into the air which will separate them into different sized filter bins. The beans closest to the air source are the heaviest and least affected by the pressure; the lightest are blown into the furthest bin. Another machine will then sieve the bean, sorting it by size. These are then placed onto a tilted machine desk and shook until the heaviest, most vibrant beans are separated from the rest.

The bean is then taken into the cleaning and sorting process. There are a few different machines that have their own jobs. First the beans are sorted by density and size. This will remove all unwanted objects from the batch. This includes things like nails, stones, sticks and dirt that may have become mixed with the coffee.

It’s almost there, but not quite ready for your coffee cup just yet! For the final step it’s sorted by colour. This is done by hand and is the trickiest tasks so far. Teams will pick discoloured and other damaged beans from the pure. The other option is to use machine to detect dark and light objects with sensors. A tiny puff of air will shoot the bean into its designated home.

Exporting - Stage Eight

Finally it is given the name “Green Bean” indicating it is fresh and ready to be exported. The beans are packed in burlap bags then shipped to all corners of the globe and coffee houses around the world will be supplied with the final product. Coffee is traded on the commodities market, and also directly, it's the second most actively traded product after oil, with more than 20 million people working in the industry.

Increasingly, direct traded coffee, with incentives for farmers like fair trade price guarantees, is becoming the norm for higher end and gourmet coffee. Most mass produced coffee is still traded on the commodities market, however.

Roasting - Stage Nine

Roasting is usually occurs in the importing country, and involves the beans being roasting at 280 degree celsius. When the coffee beans go through this process, the sugars within them start to caramelise. This is where the flavours are persuaded from the beans core. This is why it is so important to get these to the consumer as quickly as possible, so you can taste that perfectly rich flavour.

Once the coffee has been sold to a coffee company, it is shipped and processed again. At this stage, coffee can be subjected to a decaffeinating process, and then roasted, ground, flavored, and packaged prior to making its way into distribution.

After roasting, the beans are immediately cooled either by air or water. Roasting is generally performed in the importing countries because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible. 

Grinding & Brewing - Stage Ten

he objective of a proper grind is to get the most flavor in a cup of coffee. How coarse or fine the coffee is ground depends on the brewing method.

The length of time the grounds will be in contact with water determines the ideal grade of grind Generally, the finer the grind, the more quickly the coffee should be prepared. That’s why coffee ground for an espresso machine is much finer than coffee brewed in a drip system. 

After grinding the beans it’s straight to the brewer with them. Whether the coffee is brewed in an espresso machine at your local coffee shop or the drip machine in your kitchen, this is make or break time.

It’s in this final stage where all the hard work that went before either culminates in a cup of amazing coffee or is undone by lousy pressure or wrong water temperature.