The Bean Belt is a horizontal strip across the world between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn.
It is within this belt almost all coffee plants are grown. There are two main coffee types grown commercially; Arabica and Robusta.
In subtropical regions at latitudes of 16-24° from the equator, in areas with well defined dry and rainy seasons and at altitudes of between 1800-3600 feet. This gives a single season and single harvest per year. With lower rainfall in the dry season, dry or natural processes are common.
Closer to the equator with latitudes less than around10° and higher altitudes between 3600-6300 feet. In these areas, where there is frequent rainfall, two coffee seasons are possible in one calendar year. However, this frequent rainfall makes it impossible for natural drying to take place, so wet processes and mechanical drying processes are more common.
Robusta can be grown at much lower altitudes (sea level-3000 feet) approximately between the 10° lines both North and South of the equator. Robusta is more tolerant to warmer weather than Arabica coffee, it produces greater amounts of cherries, has more caffeine but doesn't produce coffee that tastes as nice as Arabica.
The Life-cycle of the Coffee Bean
Before the Coffee bean is ground down, peculated and poured into our coffee cup it goes through a series of processes spanning over a period of months.
The Coffee tree starts its life as a seed and after 4 to 8 weeks it develops into a seedling. At this stage the seedling needs, be handled with care making sure the soil remains moist and does not attract too much sunlight. After about 9 to 18 months the coffee tree will grow to about 12 inches tall. It is a further 3 years before the tree bears fruit, (known as cherries), and a further 6 years before it is fully mature and producing fruit fully. At this stage the trees are ready for harvesting. This is done manually by the locals and usually all hands are on deck.
A good coffee picker can pick the equivalent of 50 to 60 pounds of coffee earns in a day. The average life in a day. span for a coffee tree is about 20 to 25 years, yielding around 2000 beans per year.
Once the cherries have been picked, they are ready for sorting. This can be done in different ways depending on the outcome of the required coffee taste. The first way is for ‘Aged coffee’ only and involves keeping the green bean in a well-ventilated warehouse for 1-7 years. This gives the beans a less acidic taste and a syrupy richness.
Dry Processing involves drying the cherries in the sun, then removing the pulp, parchment and dried skin. This can take up to two weeks and the beans must be continuously raked to prevent mildew.
Wet Processing this method involves putting the cherries in water; any ones that float are removed as defective. The cherries are then pressed by a machine which only allows the seed and some pulp to pass through the holes. The remaining pulp is removed leaving the beans which are then left to dry leaving about 10 - 12 percent moisture content.
Machines are used to remove the parchment layer from the wet processed coffee beans. The dry process involves removing the entire dried husk of the dried cherries
A polishing machine is used to remove any silver skin that is left on after the hulling process
Cleaning, Sorting and Grading
Before the beans are exported, they are sorted again by sizes and weight, and then they are checked again for colour flaws or other imperfections. Any beans with the slightest imperfection will be removed.
Exporting the Coffee
The beans are now referred to as Green beans and are ready for exporting. Their is approximately seven million tons of green coffee produced worldwide each year.
Tasting the Coffee
At every stage of coffee production the coffee is repeatedly tested for quality and taste. This process is referred to as cupping and takes place in a room specifically designed for this process. An experienced cupper is can taste hundreds of samples of coffee a day and still taste the subtle differences between them.
Roasting the Coffee
This is normally done in the importing country because freshly roasted beans must reach the consumer as quickly as possible. The process of roasting the coffee beans involves roasting them at 550 degrees Fahrenheit. The beans are kept moving throughout the entire process to stop them from burning. When they reach a temperature of about 400 degrees, they begin to turn brown and the caffeol or oil that is locked inside the bean starts to emerge. This process is what produces the flavour and aroma of the coffee. Once the beans are removed from the roaster they are immediately cooled with by air or water.