The Adventures of a Coffee Bean
From a humble seed to a refreshing cuppa joe, the coffee bean goes through an interesting journey worth knowing – Let’s find out!
Coffee dates back to the early 9th century AD and perhaps earlier according to legends about its first use. The Oromo people in Ethiopia are known to have cultivated the coffee plant based on the accounts of travellers to the region. Although large-scale cultivation and export is known to have begun in the 16th century when coffee was imported by Yemen from Ethiopia. Gradually, the coffee cultivation spread to various tropical regions around the world. The coffee bean in reality is a seed that when planted grows into a coffee tree, averaging between 5 to 10 ft in height. One of the most valuable cash crops in the world, it requires ample of water to grow coffee. A primary reason why the wet season is an ideal time for plantation since the moist soil helps the roots to establish a firm hold.
Being a coffee producer takes a long-term commitment given how the coffee plant requires 4-5 years to reach full productivity and bear fruit, which is called as a ‘coffee cherry’. Once they are bright and red, the cherries are ready for harvesting. Picking coffee is a labour-intensive activity, although in select countries where the coffee fields are relatively flat as compared to the usual hill slopes, a mechanised picking process is also employed. Either way, two methods are applied for picking – cherries are strip picked off the branch or selectively picked by choosing only the completely ripe ones. A skilled picker picks 100 to 200 pounds of cherries per day, which can approximately produce 20 to 40 pounds of coffee beans.
The harvest is transported to processing plants on an everyday basis – merely the first leg of the bean’s long journey ahead! This logistical movement from the field to the processing facility needs to be quick in order to avoid fruit spoilage and eventual wastage. The cherries are then processed using either one of the two methods – Dry or Wet. In dry processing, they are allowed to dry in the sun to a point where their moisture content reads 11%. Whereas in the more elaborate wet method, the pulp is removed from the cherry leaving only the bean in its parchment envelope with the skin attached. Further rested in water-filled fermentation tanks from 12 to 48 hours so that naturally occurring enzymes can help dissolve the attached layer of skin. The wet beans are then spread out to dry in the sun until their moisture level drops to 11%. Parchment coffee is then milled through hulling machinery to remove the parchment layer, followed by an optional process of polishing. After a series of grading, sorting, and quality assurance procedures, only the finest milled beans are allotted a seat on the next leg of their journey – export.
Carefully packaging the milled beans is a vital task during exportation. Now called ‘green coffee’ the beans are stored in jute or sisal bags to ensure that their temperature remains constant, and their moisture levels are not affected. Based on demand, these bags are then loaded onto ships and transported by sea to their destination country, ideally inside plastic-lined containers. The consignments are required to undergo standard import procedures as defined by the law of the country before being transported to roasters.
Performing the process of roasting green coffee in the importing country is considered a best practice to enable the availability of freshly roasted beans in the market. Roasting machines capable of providing temperatures around 450 degrees Fahrenheits are employed for the purpose, as beans continue to move during the entire process to avoid burning. On reaching an internal temperature of ~400 degrees, green coffee beans begin to turn brown in colour while liberating a fragrant oil called ‘caffeol’ that is primarily responsible for giving the peculiar flavour and aroma to the coffee we consume.
When it comes to Qatar GWC is a major logistics solutions provider expertly handling food imports at various stages of their journey – freight movement, customs clearance, testing & inspection, and transportation to temperature and humidity-controlled warehousing facilities. From where goods are distributed to multiple locations with a hassle-free process managed through GWC’s advanced warehouse management system.
In what can be called the penultimate leg of their journey, the roasted coffee beans are packaged and transported to the market – retailers, restaurants, cafes, etc. With the largest fleet of specialized vehicles in Qatar, GWC plays a major role in managing Qatar’s food supply chains from our evolved logistical facilities that are strategically located in close proximity of major markets.
Eventually, coffee makers grind the beans under high pressure to extract all that flavour when brewing you a decent cup of coffee. So the next time you are at your favourite café, remember the journey of your coffee from bean to cup and the complex logistics behind making it possible. The cup of coffee in your hand is a result of the collective efforts of producers, processors, exporters, distributors, logistics providers, roasters, and finally master brewers!