The tradition of processing coffee has been passed from generation to generation in Peru. Check this out!
A medium cappuccino, please! This is one of the typical orders in a coffee shop. Many of us are very familiar with coffee beverages that are ready to drink. However, if I had to ask you a question about the raw material: where does it come from? Is it a root? Is it a bush? Is it a cherry? What would your answer be? Some of you might know the answer, but others might not. If you do not know the answer, do not feel bad about it. There is always something new to learn. In this article, I will give you a general idea about the production of coffee and how it gets to your table.
Everything starts with coffee beans. Dried coffee beans that are not processed can give birth to robust coffee trees. Farmers usually start sowing coffee in winter. At the beginning, coffee seeds are planted in large beds and shaded nurseries, then after about 4 weeks, the vigorous small plants are transplanted individually to a special plastic bag where they are watered until the coffee plant reaches 10-15 cm. At that time, the coffee plant is ready to be permanently planted in the fields.
The harvesting period arrives 2-3 years after a coffee plant has been permanently planted. During the first years of production, the yield per plant is low, but it keeps increasing year after year. The yield per plant also depends on how much care a farmer gives to each plant: how often a farmer eliminates the weeds in the fields, the frequency of fertilizing the plants (by using organic fertilizers such as compost, humus, guinea pig waste, guano of island, etc.), if a farmer prunes the plants correctly, etc. Another piece of relevant information about the harvesting season is that it demands a lot of labor. In developing countries such as Peru, the coffee harvest is done by hand. Due to the fact that coffee cherries do not mature uniformly, a human being’s judgment is required during the harvesting process. Also, most of the Peruvian mountains where coffee is cultivated are not machine friendly, and there is no access for vehicles. For these reasons, the coffee harvest is exciting but also challenging for coffee farmers.
Then, to have dried coffee beans, the wet or dried method is used. For the wet method, the coffee cherries are passed through a pulping machine to separate the skin and pulp from the bean. Then, a fermentation process is required for about 24 hours: during this process, natural enzymes degrade the slick layer of mucilage that covers the beans. Finally, the coffee beans are washed and exposed to the natural heat to dry. On the other hand, for the dried method, the coffee cherries are exposed to the sun to dry right after they were harvested without removing the skin. The last step of this method is to remove the dried skin by using a coffee machine peeler. (See coffee peeling machine in action). At the end, with both methods, the coffee beans should have 12 percent moisture in order to be stored or delivered for exportation.
Finally, the conversion of dried coffee beans into a cappuccino involves a series of steps. The unroasted coffee or green coffee is usually imported and processed by developed countries. For example, American roasters buy coffee from Peru, roast it, mill it and then sell it to companies such as Walmart, Kroger, Publix, BI-LO, coffee shop chains, etc. Then, the final consumer brews their coffee at home or buys directly from a coffee shop.
In summary, the production, processing and merchandising of coffee involve many participants: from coffee farmers in developing countries to consumers in developed countries. Coffee is a tree that produces cherries which are processed and transformed into dried beans. Then, these dried beans are roasted, milled and brewed in order to have your favorite cappuccino!
Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters. – Colossians 3:23
It has been a while since my last post. But there is a reason for this gap: MBA classes. This second semester has been the most challenging so far, and I am really happy it is over…
Now that I have a couple of weeks of vacation before I start one of my summer classes, I would like to give you some updates about the harvesting coffee season in Peru.
Harvesting coffee season has arrived in the rural villages of Jaen, Peru. The harvesting season starts in April in lower areas and ends around October in higher areas. Every coffee farmer has been waiting for this season with a lot of excitement. This season means a lot of work, but it also means money in the pockets of thousands of families. The harvesting is like an artwork and should be done manually. Families with a large number of members can help each other during this time, but small families have to look for helpers in order to harvest the coffee berries on time. It is crucial to harvest on time because by doing this, the quality of the final product would be valuable. For example, depending on the variety of coffee, a ready coffee cherry can be red or yellow.
After, the harvesting, a farmer should select one of the two types of processes in order to have dried coffee beans ready to export. The faster method is the wet method, which requires the removing of the pulp of the coffee berries by using traditional machines called coffee depulpers or “despulpadoras”, then the coffee beans require a day or less for fermentation, after that, the coffee beans are washed to remove the slippery mucilage. Finally, the washed beans are exposed to the sun to dry naturally for an average of three days. On the other hand, the dry method is a slower method that takes on average a couple of weeks. This method requires less work because after the berries are harvested, they are immediately exposed to the sun and the pulp of the coffee berries are not removed at the beginning but at the end of the process by using a different machine called coffee machine peeler or “piladora de café”. When selecting a method of processing the harvested coffee, there are trade-offs that a farmer should make: a faster method that involves more work would mean a faster way to have money in the pockets, or a slower method with few work but delayed cash in the pockets.
One of the crucial factors during the harvesting season is the weather. Farmers would really appreciate good weather. By saying that, I mean weather without rain because it benefits the harvesting and the drying of the coffee beans. As I mentioned in the lines above, the traditional method for drying coffee beans is by using natural solar heat. Coffee farmers cannot picture a harvesting season with a lot of rain. It would be devastating for them. I remember during my childhood that there was a time where it was raining consistently during the harvesting season and my parents and neighbors were really concerned about it. However, most of the time the weather has been friendly during this season.
As you can see, the harvesting season is a blessing for coffee farmers in Peru. It brings more hard work, but it also brings happiness and income among the families. During this time, families help each other, and the magnificent sun plays a crucial role during this time.
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” — 2 Corinthians 9:8
Can Peruvian farmers say that coffee beans are bread? They probably can. I spent a lot of time harvesting the red and yellow coffee berries during my childhood and youth. Therefore, I clearly remember that my parents used to encourage me to keep harvesting by telling me that coffee beans become bread. Being a child, I did not understand very well how that “transformation” worked, but what I realized was that every time my dad sold green coffee, he brought home bread with him – for those who have never been to a rural area of a developing country, bread is one of the most valuable kinds of food for children as it probably is for adults as well.
Peruvian coffee is more than bread. It is the main source of an income for many farmers in Peru. Thanks to coffee, farmers can satisfy their basic needs such as shelter, food, clothes, etc. It also helps with the education of their children. For these reasons, coffee means a lot for Peruvian coffee farmers.
Peruvian coffee is an atypical coffee. Climatological conditions make it a unique product in the region. It generates a broad production of organic and special coffee with high cup points. Another characteristic of the Peruvian coffee is that it attracts business people from different countries. As an example, many American roasters, coffee shops, and importers prefer having Peruvian coffee on their table. I also personally have seen Peruvian coffee in supermarkets like Kroger and Walmart in the United States.
To sum up, the coffee produced in Peru has a valuable meaning to its people and foreigners. A mix of internal and external properties make this product different from the others in South America. Peruvian coffee is bread; more than this, it’s unique. Hence, it is undeniable to state that Peruvian coffee is everything!