Seed to Cup
The Best Coffee From Seed to Cup
After the coffee cherries are harvested, there are two ways in which the beans (seed inside the cherry) are prepared for roasting:
The traditional and oldest method of processing coffee: the ripe cherries are spread over a flat surface and left in the sun to dry. The beans are raked at regular intervals to prevent fermentation and rotting. If it rains, the cherries must be protected from moisture to prevent mold, fungus, or uneven drying. After the cherries are dried, they are hulled and further prepared for export.
The wet method is employed immediately after harvesting. If a coffee is referred to as “washed”, it is wet-processed. The wet method utilizes fresh water throughout the processing. This method requires a constant supply of fresh, clean water and more resources than dry processing.
After the coffee beans are harvested, they are loaded into trucks and transported to a mill. (Small farm owners often pool resources to utilize the expensive machinery of the mills.) The cherries are unloaded into large tanks of water. Sticks, leaves, and lightweight cherries float to the top, while ripe cherries sink to the bottom. The floaters are pulled and spread to dry in the sun on patios. (Very little coffee is wasted; lesser quality beans are sold for lower prices, and used in cheaper blends or domestic coffees.) The ripe cherries are sent through a de-pulping machine, which strips away the fleshy outer layer. Mechanical graders, which separate beans by weight and size, sort the beans again. Normally, the consistently larger and denser coffee beans are considered to be a higher grade of coffee. (The more consistent the size and density of the bean, the more consistent the roast and flavor will be.) Exporters and Importers signify these with a system of “A” and “B” ratings.
The various sorts, or grades, of whole bean coffee are then fermented in large tanks of water for 12 to 48 hours, during which time natural enzymes break down the outer layer (parenchyma) from the parchment-like covering (endocarp). Fermentation time depends on the altitude where it is performed and some farmers simply grab a handful of beans to determine the time by feel.
The beans are then dried to retain 11% moisture content. Most farms will use concrete patios and the sun to do this, a process which can take anywhere from 7-15 days. The beans are raked to ensure even drying and must be protected from moisture. Some modern mills use mechanical dryers which expedite the drying process and allow greater control.
The coffee beans are then rested in silos. This step allows them to stabilize chemically, and moisture content is evenly distributed. This is another step to ensure the consistency of the final product.
In wet processed coffee, hulling refers to the removal of the dried parchment layer immediately surrounding the bean. Hulling dry-processed coffee refers to removing the husks or whole dried outer covering of the original cherry.
Polishing in not always done, but refers to the removal of any remaining silver skin on the bean. Some claim that polishing gives the end product a cleaner, more refined flavor in the cup.
Grading & Sorting
The beans are then further subjected to a variety of sorting which focuses on size, density, and color. Mechanical shakers are used to sort by density, and an electric eye searches for defects: scanning for pits, discolorations, broken edges, and other malformations. There are always defects in every lot, but one single bad bean can ruin a cup of coffee. Finally, high quality coffees are sorted by hand. Machines can never compete with a well-trained, discerning human eye.
It is impossible to understate the importance of properly processing green coffee. If anything is slightly mishandled at any step, entire harvests can be ruined. If beans are left too long unraked on a patio, they will begin to mold, producing a grassy, fermented taste in the cup. If dried too quickly, the acidity of the bean will fade greatly and it will taste dull and lifeless. When you witness the entire process from beginning to end, it is a wonder that a cup of coffee sells for as little as it does.
We roast coffee in small batches daily. Understanding the specific roasting needs for each crop of estate-grown coffee beans, we carefully roast by hand, using sight, smell, experience, and science to guide us. Our end goal is to reveal the prized flavor profile for each bean, which means letting the bean dictate exactly how it should be roasted. Because of this, many of our coffees are roasted to a Light or Medium level. The Sumatra, French Roast, and Sicilian Roast are tasty exceptions for those who prefer a darker, earthier, or smokier coffee.
Roasting coffee is an art form and at Rao’s Coffee Roasting Company, we make liquid art. Professionally roasting and brewing the world’s finest coffees for over 20 years, our Master Roaster is confident that our coffees will taste superb if all of the steps after roasting are followed correctly. As discussed in our regular training sessions with clients and staff, the grinding, brewing temperature, and water quality of each brew of Rao’s coffee are important in creating the perfect cup. Visit our Brewing Guide for more information.