How is coffee actually made?

This is a question we often get asked, it’s not something people usually have to worry about in their day to day lives, so most people can be forgiven for not knowing how coffee is made! In this post you’ll learn how the coffee gets from the farm into your cup. So grab a cup and continue reading to find out.

1. The farm

All coffee that ends up in your cup begins its life on a farm. Many countries across the world grow coffee but some of the most popular ones are: Brazil, Honduras, Kenya, Ethiopia, Guatemala and India. Coffee needs a nice temperate climate to grow, so this is why you often find coffee producing countries to be in the tropics or near the equator. It is important to note however, that the temperature cannot be scorching hot, so in the hotter countries the farms are moved into the mountains to a higher altitude where the climate is cooler.

On the farm, workers plant the coffee plants and maintain them during the growing period, a freshly planted coffee plant usually takes three to four years before it starts bearing fruit, but after that it is usually ready to be harvested each year for the next fifteen.

As the plant grows, it will begin producing small fruits called cherries, workers wait for them to ripen and turn red before harvesting them. Inside these fruits are several layers: Outer skin and pulp, parchment, and mucilage (or silver skin). After that is the bean itself, which is called the “green bean”.

Coffee cherry on a branch
A coffee cherry on a branch.

After the fruits are harvested, the workers have to remove the red flesh of the fruit to get to the actual bean itself (this is what you will eventually end up drinking!). There are a few techniques for how this is done.

Natural – the cherries are left to dry under the sun on a raised bed or patio, they are turned frequently by workers and covered up overnight in case it rains and spoils the beans. During this process the fruit ferments and imparts flavours into the bean. Natural processes coffee tends to be sweeter and fruitier because of this.

Washed – This is where the fruits are removed from the beans by a machine, pulling away the outer skin, the pulp, the parchment, and the mucilage. The beans are then washed with water to make sure all of the layers of the fruit are removed leaving only a green coffee bean.

Honey processed –  This is a combination of the two processes above, the skin, pulp, and parchment are removed, but the mucilage is left. The beans are then left to dry just like in natural processing. This results in a more complex flavour profile than washed coffee but is often not as fruity as naturally processed coffee.

One of the benefits of natural and honey processing is that it uses a lot less water than the washed processing, which in coffee producing countries that are often very dry, can be quite important.

Green coffee beans next to roasted coffee beans.
Green coffee beans next to roasted coffee beans.

2. The boat

Once the coffee has been processed and quality controlled, it is put into burlap sacks, often weighing 69kg.

Burlap sacks on a shelf
How coffee is stored in burlap sacks.

At this point coffee importers from around the world will have already placed their orders so the farms know who the beans should be sent to. It may be the case that an exporter is involved, minimising the involvement by the farm, allowing them to concentrate more resources on producing quality coffee. The beans are sent to the port and loaded onto the ship. At this point the beans are labelled “afloat” and coffee roasters like us get very excited at the prospect of having new coffee to try in the very near future. When the beans land at their destination, quality control checks that they’re suitable for sale and then ships them out to roasters for the ultimate step in coffee preparation: the roasting.

3. The roastery

Once we, the specialty coffee roasters, get our hands on the bean, the coffee is about to take its final step on its journey to your cup. This is the last time the beans are processed before they get put it in bags ready for our online coffee delivery service to drop it off at your house.

We have a large machine called a roaster which is essentially a large metal drum which is rotated over a heater, this can be electric or gas, and it heats up to around 200-250°C.

A coffee roaster.
A coffee roaster

The beans are held in a hopper above the drum until the machine is warm enough to roast them. When the drum reaches an appropriate temperature, the beans are dropped into the drum and heated for about 12 minutes (roast times vary depending on the bean) and our expert roasters keep an eye on the temperature throughout the roast to ensure the beans are heated evenly. 

It is very important that the roast is controlled properly, different phases of the roast change the beans’ chemical makeup quite profoundly. Toward the end of the roast, heat needs to be applied a lot more sparingly than at the start, this would increase the sweetness of the bean, however there’s no real hard and fast rule about how it’s done as every coffee is different. Our roasters have to spend time experimenting with different beans and different roast profiles until we get the taste we want. That’s why roasting coffee is a hard skill to master!

Once the beans are roasted, we drop them into the cooling tray which has a fan underneath – this is to rapidly bring them back down to room temperature. Once the beans are ready, we put them into a container while the beans are quality controlled. After the successful quality control exercise, the coffee is bagged up and sealed, ready for you to buy online.

4. Delivery

After this, the only thing left for us to do now is deliver the coffee to your door! Whether you’re a cafe that needs to buy wholesale coffee, or a coffee fan who loves to drink specialty single origin coffee at home, we have you covered. Head over to our shop to see what’s on offer, and remember delivery is free if your order is over £20!