An insight to the life of a fair trade coffee bean
Posted: Oct 09, 2018
There’s a current coffee craze happening here in the UK — and it can’t be ignored. It’s the beverage we Brits love the best as recent figures from the British Coffee Association (BSA) reveal that the UK’s coffee consumption has increased from 70 million cups a day 10 years ago, to 95 million cups a day in 2018.
However, when it comes to fair trade coffee beans, they must travel an awful lot before being brewed. They travel up and down mountains, through valleys, and over dangerous rope bridges, even before being processed.
The coffee bean journey differs all of the time and is fully dependent on the farm, grower and processing aspect.
There are two type of coffee productions — those from small farms and those from plantations. However, it’s not just the ethics, offer of training and education, fair wages, and dedication to treating seasonal workers fairly that often set them apart. From the number of harvesters to the way farmers re-use their waste water – the fair trade coffee bean production process is eco-friendly, in tune with the earth, and makes the most of farming methods that have been used for hundreds of years.
With over 140 members in Guatemala, CIPAC is a fair trade honey and coffee co-operative.
This location is extremely remote and mountainous, which is great for coffee growing. Many coffee farmers have inherited their coffee plants from family members, and practise skills passed down throughout the generations.
What exactly happens on the journey from bush to mug? Let’s follow some of CIPAC’s fair trade coffee growers to find out…
Time to harvest
Believe it or not, coffee cherries are harvested between December and February every year. On family-owned farms, the whole family might get involved.
Depending on the climate, altitude and soil type — coffee can ripen differently. Some farmers even live in areas with their own microclimate, which means the coffee they produce has its own particular and quality flavour!
As well as this, coffee cherries can be harvested two to three times by the same plant. This is because only the ripe cherries are hand-plucked from the bush to guarantee a high quality coffee. On large coffee farms, the harvesters must travel up steep hills and down into valleys to collect the cherries in a basket — which can be exhausting.
Time to de-pulp
De-pulping starts when coffee cherries need to be delivered to the farmers. The cherries need to be de-pulped within 24 hours, and the harvesters often have to travel up and down hills and across rickety bridges to reach the end destination.
Farmers under CIPAC often use their own energy or electronic de-pulping machines to do the job — whereas massive plantations use expensive equipment. The coffee beans are closely inspected as they’re poured into the machine, and any beans that don’t look quite ripe enough or are too ripe are taken out.
Time to wash
To remove the remaining wet layer of the coffee bean, de-pulped cherries are soaked in coffee water pools for one day. Some beans will float in the water and these beans are always removed.
The remaining water contains toxins, meaning that it must be removed safely. But farmers at CIPAC know what to do – they re-use the dirty water and skins to make an eco-friendly compost to use around their coffee plants!
Time to dry
Once the beans have been washed and the toxic water has been removed, they must be left to dry naturally in the sun. The farmer chooses an area that’s wide, flat, and clean, and spreads the beans out with a rake. They turn the beans with this rake while the sun shines, and then hurry to cover them with a huge sheet if there’s a hint of rain or moisture about. As well as this, they also cover the beans every night, to keep off the dew.
Time to transport
After coffee beans have dried, we have parchment beans which farmers transport to the closest road; which will later be collected. Farmers in the most remote areas must make their way along dangerous winding mountain paths and encounter huge cliff drops. Can you imagine having to walk along a cliff-edge while carrying a 30kg bag of coffee beans?
Believe it or not, farmers who do not sell directly to co-operatives may have to take more dangerous journeys. Once the beans reach the co-operative storage site safely, they’re then weighed, checked for quality, and stored.
Becoming a green bean
Once the parchment beans have been collected by the co-operative, they will begin the process to turn them into green beans. This is the most important quality milestone yet, and involves the beans being judged by their weight and appearance, to make sure they’re of the best quality. Finally, the beans are ‘polished’, which removes the last layer of skin covering the coffee beans.
Before anyone makes a purchase, buyers will assess the quality of the product. ‘Coffee cupping’ involves a buyer slurping coffee in an attempt to accurately taste all the subtle flavours of the coffee, especially for the special varieties grown in areas with their own microclimates. These samples are sent to the co-operative, so they can easily vouch for the quality of the coffee to buyers!
This can then be sold to an exporter.
When looking at CIPAC, coffee beans are sold to an operator in Mexico named Cafesca. From there, some of the beans are sent to another Mexican fair trade operator, Descamex, who are the only facility in the world to use the Mountain Water Method to produce decaf coffee. Descamex send the decaffeinated beans back to Cafesca, who transform all the coffee beans into instant coffee and instant decaf.
There you have it. Coffee beans go on quite the adventure before making it into your mug. And while the huge coffee plantations use lots of workers and modern equipment, the fair trade farmers at CIPAC like to keep it simple. Family-run farms. Hand-picking only the ripest cherries. Drying the beans naturally under the heat of the sun. Fewer chemicals, and far more character.
James is an Outreach Executive at Mediaworks Online Marketing and covers a number of clients across a wide range of business sectors, helping them to grow their online portfolios through engaging content.