coffee plantation workers walking through plantation to harvest coffee

What actually happens on a coffee plantation?

Coffee has gained widespread popularity and is now consumed by millions every day. But have you ever given any thought to the origins of your coffee, or the journey it takes to get from the bean to your cup?
Farms where coffee is grown are called "coffee plantations," and they can be found in equatorial countries like Brazil, Colombia, Ethiopia, and Vietnam. Coffee cherries, which contain the beloved coffee beans, are harvested from the coffee trees grown on these farms.

So, what happens at a coffee farm? Take a look at the entire process from beginning to end:
breathtaking landscape of a coffee regionBefore beginning the process of planting and cultivating coffee, it is important to find an appropriate location. Coffee is grown between 600 and 2,000 meters above sea level in a warm, humid climate with well-drained soil. AAfter settling on a spot, the next step is to actually put the seeds into the soil. Most coffee is grown from seedlings that have been nurtured in a nursery until they are ready to be transplanted to the farm. This can take a few months and requires constant attention from the grower as he or she tends to the seedlings' needs by providing them with ample water and fertilizer.

green coffee cherries on a coffee treeAfter the coffee seedlings have matured enough for transport to the farm, they are planted and cared for with great attention to detail. T o promote robust growth and a plentiful harvest, it is necessary to water, fertilize, and prune the plants. A coffee plant's development into a mature plant that produces coffee cherries can take several years and a lot of effort on the part of the grower.
Pests and diseases can also threaten coffee plants, so it's crucial to keep an eye out for and deal with them as they arise. Chemical pesticides are one option, but organic fertilizers and the introduction of predator insects are two other viable and increasingly popular options.

Harvesting: There are several different methods for collecting the ripe coffee cherries from the coffee plants during the harvesting process. Common methods include handpicking, in which workers select the ripe cherries one by one, strip picking, in which all the cherries on a branch or tree are removed at once, regardless of ripeness, mechanical harvesting, in which machines collect the cherries, and picker-assisted harvesting, in which handpicking and mechanical harvesting are combined. The method employed will be determined by factors such as farm size, type, and location, as well as the accessibility of relevant resources and technology. While most coffee trees only yield a harvest once a year, some can produce two or more harvests. Thereafter, the cherries go through a series of processes to get them ready for consumption.
coffee farmer picking ripe coffee cherriesProcessing: Coffee processing is the steps involved in transforming raw coffee fruit (coffee cherries) into the finished product (coffee beans), and the process chosen has a major impact on the flavor of the finished product. Coffee can be processed in one of two primary ways: either wet or dry, with each method imparting distinct qualities that ultimately influence the final product's flavor.
In wet processing, the coffee cherries' skins are washed away to reveal the beans beneath. First, imperfect cherries are removed, and then the good ones are soaked in water to loosen their skins. A machine called a depulper is used to remove the cherry's outer layers and expose the beans, at which point the beans are extracted from the fruit.
Once the beans have been cleaned, they are transferred to fermentation tanks where they will spend the next 48 hours fermenting. During this time, the remaining cherry layers decompose and wash away, leaving the beans clean and ready for drying.
After the fermentation process is complete, the beans are washed and then either kept in large tanks or spread out on patios to dry. Depending on factors like temperature and humidity, drying can take anywhere from a few days to several weeks. After the beans have dried completely, they are graded based on appearance and quality before being packaged for shipment.

wet processed coffee beans being washed
Wet-processed coffee is known for its fruitier, sweeter flavor, brighter acidity, and sleeker finish. Its complex and nuanced flavors make it a popular choice among specialty coffee roasters.
Dry processing, also referred to as natural processing, involves letting the coffee cherries dry in the sun or using mechanical dryers to dry the beans completely. In order to ensure uniform drying, the cherries are typically spread out on large patios or raised beds and turned frequently.
The beans are removed from the dried cherries by hand or with a huller machine. After being graded on size, shape, and quality, the beans are then packaged and shipped.
dry processed coffee laying out to dry

Dry-processed coffee is typically more robust and earthy in flavor, with a lower acidity and fuller body. Due to a lack of water, wet processing is not an option in many areas, but the dry method is preferred there because it produces a product with more robust and flavorful characteristics which has become a desired flavor in these regions. 

Packaging and shipping: The coffee beans are prepared for shipping after processing. Burlap, jute, or plastic bags are commonly used to store and transport coffee beans before being loaded onto transport containers. To ship the beans, they can either be roasted before packaging or left in their raw, green state.

green, dried coffee beans being packaged for shippingCoffee beans are shipped to many different countries all over the world. The method of transport for the beans depends on their final destination and the requirements of the importer. Coffee beans can be sold in a number of different ways, including through brokers who mediate transactions between exporters and importers and through direct sales in which an exporter deals directly with a buyer.

So, the next time you sit down with a steaming mug of coffee, think about where it came from and how far it traveled to get to you. We are so proud of our farmers because they work so hard at every stage of the coffee growing process, from planting and tending to harvesting, processing, packaging, and shipping.

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About the Author

Justin Kramp is a coffee fantatic and the owner and founder of Final Grind Coffee Co. He loves drinking single-origin specialty-grade coffee from around the world while researching interesting topics in the coffee world to share with his readers like you.

He founded Final Grind Coffee Co. in college in a quest for better coffee in a more convenient way.

To learn more about Justin and Final Grind Coffee Co., click here!