Coffee Beans from Seed to Cup

So, it's important to know how the coffee machina works.

A little info on the Bean

As most of you know, coffee is in fact not a bean, but a seed. That seed grows very well in tropical environments. The coffee seed has two major varieties: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica beens are heartier in flavor, but tend to have less caffiene then their counterparts. What most of us drink today is the Arabica bean. This is going to be the french roast you get at the local coffee shop or the medium roast coffee you buy in the bulk at your local grocery store. Robusta is a bit stronger and bitter than Arabica. We mainly use this for instant coffee. Because of the strength of Robusta, some coffee houses will add it to their espresso blend to increase the caffiene content.

Where the bean grows

A tropical plant, coffee is grown in the tropical belt. It's considered the most widely traded crop in the world (according to Wikipedia anyhow...). Brazil still holds the title for the largest exporting country and the US holds the title for the largest importing country (although Germany is not far behind). The bean is grown between sea level and 6k feet elevation.

At the Plantation

There are different techniques of growing coffee. Shade grown coffee is coffee grown under the canopy of other trees. The whole idea here is for the coffee to grow in a sustainable environment while not being subjected to pesticides. Organic coffee is coffee that is grown without the use of pesticides. Fair Trade coffee is coffee that is bought at a fair price from the farmer. Farmers have been getting ripped off for years from big corporations. Fair trade coffee ensures that the farmer gets his dividends as well. Single origin is coffee that comes from one farm. Carbon Free coffee is coffee that is imported and sold with a carbon footprint conscious. Bird friendly coffee is similar to shade grown coffee and in some ways interchangable. The mindset with bird friendly coffee is to provide an overhead canopy that is friendly to birds but still have a space to grow coffee underneath.

Picking and Processing

Coffee cherries are usually hand picked for processing. Processing is the removal of the outer layer of the cherry. Remember, coffee is a seed and just like any other seed, you have to remove the outer layers first to get to it. There are two main methods: wet and dry. Wet processing the skins are removed and the bean is placed in water. Bad beans float, good beans sink. Dry processing the entire bean is dried first. From there, the beans are sorted by size and distributed while remaining green.


Distribution starts at the plantation level. In recent years we have seen a rise of co-ops. This is where fair trade comes in. The co-op sets a price or a market standard for importers to meet. Importers purchase the coffee from the co-op, place it on a ship and ship it off to a port. Once the bean arrives at a port, it goest through customs. After customs the bean is sold to other importers or directly to the roaster. The roaster then roast the bean and sells it to a retailer.This where you want to buy your bean (unless your into roasting). When you buy from the roaster directly, it ensures that you get freshly roasted coffee. Freshly roasted coffee is by far the best coffee you can put in your cup.

How to Know what Bean to Buy

When I first started the coffee truck, I wanted to carry a medium roast coffee and use Americano's for dark roast, if someone wanted it. That lasted one week. Here's why:

In my opinion, coffee is subjective. Meaning, everyone likes a different coffee. I offer the coffee that I like and if other people like it too, then they'll return! The problem with offering coffee that I don't enjoy is that I cannot test the quality. If it taste like junk normally, how can I tell if it's good or not? I make drinks that I enjoy drinking and hope the others will like it as well.

The best piece of advice I could give is go to tastings. Bring some water and some crackers, sit down and drink the coffee. If you like it, buy and few pounds and try it out for a week. It's easy to get wrapped up in $5 a bag vs. $5.25 a bag. Remember, you're going to be drinking this stuff everyday, so might as well get what you like.

Q & A

What do you think about carrying/selling a brand name coffee? ie. Marley Coffee, Hawaiian Coffee Co....

It's not a bad idea, but I don't think you'll get a whole lot of business seeking you out because of it. Most people buy coffee because it's convenient. Starbucks totally understands this. So as long as you like those specific brands, go with it. But if you're not into those, I would encourage getting the one you like. You'll be more passionate about it.

Tags: coffee