Farm to Cup: Harvesting and Milling

A coffee’s story begins at origin. And so that’s how I started drinking coffee for the past four years. I have been occasionally drinking coffee before, but it became a regular routine just last year. A day is not complete for me without at least a cup of coffee. After returning to normal single life from a lengthy toxic relationship, coffee became my new passion aside from weekends mountain hike, trekking, and photography.

I’m no expert when it comes to coffee but not that naive not to know the basics of coffee making, sourcing and knowledge of coffee varieties. Coffee is much like starting on drinking an alcoholic beverage, we all started from light flavored drinks to beer, tequila, vodka and other high alcohol content beverages.

We all went through a process. In coffee and familiarizing with the taste, it is usually starting in order from drinks like mocha, flat white, latte, brewed coffee from different origins and then later on, a single to double shot of espresso. So whether you are drinking a mixed coffee, three in ones or simply brewed coffee, it is beneficial to know how they are made, the origin, the whole process from the farm to your cup. A little knowledge about your coffee intake is not that bad to spend time reading about.

Last week we went to La Trinidad, Benguet to look for a possible location for our short independent film and also, for the coffee. A coffee bean is actually a seed. When dried, roasted and ground, it’s used to brew coffee. If the seed isn’t processed, it can be planted and grow into a coffee tree.

Coffee seeds are generally planted in large beds in shaded nurseries. The seedlings will be watered frequently and shaded from bright sunlight until they are hearty enough to be permanently planted. Planting often takes place during the wet season, so that the soil remains moist while the roots become firmly established.

Depending on the variety, it will take approximately three to four years for the newly planted coffee trees to bear fruit. The fruit, called the coffee cherry, turns a bright, deep red when it is ripe and ready to be harvested.  There is typically one major harvest a year. In countries like Colombia, where there are two flowerings annually, there is a main and secondary crop. But in Philippines, here in Benguet, specifically in La Trinidad it is usually just once a year from the month of September to November or January to March.

Once the coffee has been picked, processing must begin as quickly as possible to prevent fruit spoilage. Depending on location and local resources, coffee is processed in one of two ways.

The wet method removes the pulp from the coffee cherry after harvesting so the bean is dried with only the parchment skin left on. First, the freshly harvested cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean.

The dry method is the age old method of processing coffee, and still used in many countries where water resources are limited. The freshly picked cherries are simply spread out on huge surfaces to dry in the sun. In order to prevent the cherries from spoiling, they are raked and turned throughout the day, then covered at night or during rain to prevent them from getting wet. Depending on the weather, this process might continue for several weeks for each batch of coffee until the moisture content of the cherries drops to 11%.

If the beans have been processed by the wet method, the pulped and fermented beans must now be dried to approximately 11% moisture to properly prepare them for storage. Before being exported, parchment coffee is processed by hulling machinery, polishing, grading and sorting.

Hulling machinery removes the parchment layer (endocarp) from wet processed coffee.  Hulling dry processed coffee refers to removing the entire dried husk, the exocarp, mesocarp and endocarp of the dried cherries.

Polishing is an optional process where any silver skin that remains on the beans after hulling is removed by machine. While polished beans are considered superior to unpolished ones, in reality, there is little difference between the two. Grading and sorting is done by size and weight, and beans are also reviewed for color flaws or other imperfections.

The milled beans, now referred to as green coffee, are loaded onto ships in either jute or sisal bags loaded in shipping containers, or bulk shipped inside plastic lined containers. For the part two of this post, I will be discussing the steps from where we ended to testing, roasting, grinding and brewing the coffee.

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