By Samuel Brooks, Temple Coffee Educator
Welcome to Part 2 of Coffee from Cup to Farm! Let’s do a quick recap from Part 1: You’re in a cafe, your beverage inspires a myriad of pleasant sensory experiences and emotions that lead you to ponder how the coffee you’re drinking came to be. The drink came from the Barista who followed the instructions from the Quality Control Team who got the coffee from the Head Roaster who got the green (unroasted) coffee from our Green Coffee Buyer. This leads us to Part 2: Importing, Exporting, Processing, Growing/Harvesting.
When Ed (our green coffee buyer) finds a coffee he likes, it’s really frowned upon to bring it all back in his carry on luggage. So what’s the alternative? This is where the importers come in. Importers transport green coffee in bags that weight up to 150 lbs via shipping container. They receive coffee from the exporter and bring it to our door in Sacramento. The importer communicates schedules and costs with both Ed and with the exporter from the country of origin. Importers are often misrepresented as being nonessential “middlemen” of the coffee industry.
But in truth, without these guys it would be impossible to connect the farmers to an eager and growing specialty coffee market. They play an essential role in helping the farm get top dollar for their crop and contribute to the overall industry by incentivizing excellence. This is really good news, since now the market is influenced by quality rather than just accessibility. The Importer travels to the origin country (usually to a port city) and transports the coffee internationally. This requires coordination and direct communication with Ed and the coffee’s Exporter.
Exporters are an essential pillar to the coffee industry. They connect great farms to grateful roasters who utilize importers to transport their coffee.
It’s ideal for the farmer to work through their local exporter because they can sell their entire crop upfront and begin planning and working on the next season’s harvest. Also, the exporter can help the farm get top dollar for each season’s crop. Exporters are constantly meeting new farmers, connecting with roasters, coordinating logistics, and helping facilitate the magic of the free market at its best – connecting delicious supply to thirsty demand.
Any given exporter works with multiple farms of various sizes and helps to connect their green coffee to its final destination. Exporters help give small farms a global stage on which the product of their dedicated efforts can get the esteem and cash money it truly deserves. The exporter is in regular communication with Ed and the farmer about upcoming crops from the farm and the needs of the roaster. They also coordinate with the importer to arrange shipment schedules and price points.
Coffee is a fruit. The coffee bean itself is actually the seed or pit of the coffee fruit. We often refer to coffee fruit as the “cherry”. Coffee processing is when the cherries have their fruity outer layer removed and are then laid out in the sun to dry. It sounds simple but this process can be done a number of different ways, and each method has a different effect on how the coffee will taste. I could go on about these methods forever, but I’ll compromise by letting you know how the Costa Rica Sonora Venecia was processed.
The Sonora Venecia is a honey process coffee. The coffee cherries are picked and sorted to remove any overripe, underripe, or damaged coffee cherries. Then the coffee cherries are pulped and some, not all, of the mucilage is removed from the bean. Next the coffee beans are laid out to dry on large patios and are rotated regularly to ensure even drying. Finally the beans are hulled to remove the last layer of parchment and then placed in large burlap sacks to be shipped to the exporter. It’s called honey process because the partially pulped beans have a sticky amber-colored coating that is reminiscent of honey. I should mention that oftentimes the exporter is the one who processes the coffee cherries, because having a coffee mill can be a lofty investment for a small farm.
For more information, feel free to check out the Sonora Coffee website.
We’ve made it to the farm, the final part of our journey!
Unfortunately the Arabica coffee plant can’t just thrive anywhere (otherwise I’d definitely have a tree in my backyard). Arabica coffee should be grown at an altitude between 1200-2000 meters above sea level and must be relatively close to the equator (between the tropic of cancer and the tropic of capricorn). An ideal environment for growing coffee has a defined rainy season and harvest season, although this isn’t always the case. If weather is sporadic or abnormal it can cause some of the coffee plants to produce ripe fruit at differing times.
This can be compensated for by coffee pickers’ care and attention to detail during harvest, but ultimately will make the process more difficult and expensive. Coffee plants thrive in biodiversity. Growing coffee at Sonora Estate is no exception, with 35% of the estate made up of wild forest reserve. All of the coffee there is shade grown, meaning the coffee trees grow alongside other trees that provide shade and protection from extreme weather. Producing shade grown coffee is a fairly common practice for specialty coffee farms. Alberto and Diego Guardia (father and son) own and operate Sonora Estate, and we’re honored to be connected to them and share their passion for specialty coffee.
We started this blog post by sitting in a cafe drinking damn good coffee. That would be a great way to finish it; taking part in that wonderful sacred tradition. Raise a toast to the barista, recipe maker, roaster, buyer, importer, exporter, and farmer. They all added their hard work and passion to making excellent coffee. A core value that we have at Temple Coffee Roasters is that great coffee is not an accident. From how it’s farmed to how it’s brewed, the global family of coffee professionals have the privilege of working together to create something truly wonderful.
Thanks for reading. I hope every coffee experience you have is special. Because every cup of coffee has a special story behind it.
If you want to continue on in your education about the many varieties of coffee, where they thrive, and general coffee facts, check out the World Coffee Research.