The Story of Coffee Production


There are two main methods of processing coffee, "Wet" and "Dry". Wet processing is the most common and widespread in coffee producing countries, and the purpose of this document is to give you a brief explanation of the steps involved from seed to brew.

Wet processing can be broken down into a few different stages. A small thumbnail and a brief description of each can be found below. Click on the image to view more in-depth information. In many countries, farmers have no processing equipment themselves. Instead, they farm the coffee and truck it to a processing plant where it is wet-processed and either bought from the farmer for resale or returned to him. However, some larger estates have their own processing equipment and do everything in-house. In this tutorial, we will cover the former - which I documented on my most recent visit to Antigua, Guatemala.

On the farm:
The coffee seed is planted and allowed to grow in the nursery before being re-planted in in the coffee farms. It takes several years for a coffee plant to reach maturity. During the harvest season, workers pick the ripe coffee fruit from the branches and drop it into large baskets around their waists. They are paid based on the amount of coffee they pick each day. The farm's pickings are then transported to a processing plant, or "beneficio" in Spanish.

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Processing and Drying:
When the coffee fruit arrives at the beneficio, it is emptied into the unloading bay where it is pumped with clean water to the de-pulping machines. There the good cherries are separated from the bad and the first "grading" occurs. Bad cherries are carried away for separate processing and sold as "segundas" (seconds) for less. At the de-pulping machines the majority of the pulp is removed from the inner seed and the whole mix is carried to the fermentation tanks. In the tanks, the fruit undergoes a natural fermentation which removes the sticky mucilage from the seed itself. After around 24-36 hours, the tanks are emptied and the parchment covered coffee seeds are laid out on the cement to dry in the sun for several days.

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Sorting, Grading & Bagging:
When the coffee has sufficiently dried, it is milled - that is to say, a husk (called the parchment) is removed from the green coffee seed using a very large milling machine. It is then sorted and graded using a variety of machines that measure bean size and density, as well as quality. It is bagged with coffee beans of the same size and quality from each lot.

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Sampling and Rating:
From here, samples called "muestras" are sent to the "catador" (taster in Spanish). He first examines the green beans for defects and counts the defective beans in groups of 8. If the coffee has too many defects, it is sent back to the grading machines to reduce the number. Otherwise, the sample is milled and lightly roasted with a small milling machine and sample roaster. The catador "brews" three cups of coffee using 12 grams of ground beans dumped directly into the water - a process called "cupping". He then scoops the coffee from the cups using a large spoon and slurps the coffee loudly, aspirating the liquid over his tongue. He rates the coffee accordingly and the coffee is either purchased or rejected and given back to the individual who brought it.

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