Here at Mandela Coffee, all of our coffee beans come from fair trade sources. They are handpicked by farmers in Guatemala and Colombia during optimal harvest times. We know that the high standards of these farmers mean that our coffee is of the highest quality. But what are the differences between the different types of coffee harvesting? Let’s sit back, brew a cup of Mandela Coffee, and take a closer look at the hands behind picking coffee beans.
Where Has Your Coffee “Bean”?
Coffee is the second most traded item in the world. It comes in second place behind oil, and is followed by natural gas in third place. Looks like coffee really is an important energy source! Mandela Coffee sources its beans from Latin America, but coffee can be grown all over the world. Currently, it is being grown over 75 different countries.
The world’s coffee is grown in the “bean belt”, between the tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. This area has the necessary high temperatures needed for coffee plants. The area also is home to different elevation levels, with coffee growing the best at medium to high elevations. Higher elevations produce denser beans, meaning a higher concentration of sugars and flavors within them. These beans are of a higher quality and taste. Softer beans are of a lower quality with their less nuanced flavors. That’s why our beans come from the Sierra Nevada region of Colombia and the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountain range in Guatemala.
The Twin Coffee Plants
Coffee can come from two different kinds of coffee plants: the Robusta plant or the Arabica plant. The Robusta plant is hardier than the Arabica one, as it can be grown under more extreme conditions. However, it produces beans with a different taste. Robusta coffee has been described as rubbery, or as having the taste of burnt tires. Part of the reason for this more bitter flavor is Robusta’s higher caffeine content. This higher caffeine content in the beans also makes the plant more resistant to bugs and pests. In addition, Robusta beans contain less sugar. Because of this less desirable taste, only about a quarter of the world’s coffee comes from the Robusta plant. Its beans tend to be mixed into cheaper coffee blends. However, this isn’t to say that all Robusta beans are of lower quality. Robusta plants grown carefully under the right conditions produce the beans that give a full-bodied flavor to Italian espresso coffee.
The Arabica plant is the more widely preferred coffee producing plant, due to its production of beans with a sweeter flavor. It also requires more specific growing conditions and care. Here at Mandela Coffee, we are proud to say that all of our coffee comes from 100% Arabica sources.
A Bean’s Beginnings
Coffee beans are the seeds of the fruits, or cherries, of the Coffea plant. They grow within the cherries, protected by the outer pulp layer. These cherries grow best in the rainy seasons of coffee-growing countries. When the cherries ripen, their color turns from a light green to a darker red. It is then clear that the fruit, and the inside beans, are ready for harvest. There are multiple methods for harvesting coffee cherries, with handpicking being the most sustainable. Farmers go out and pick only the ripe cherries, leaving the unripe ones for future picking. This method ensures that the cherries are harvested at the right moment, leading to beans with the best possible flavor. The flavors of of ripe cherry beans are more mellow, while the flavors of unripe cherry beans are quite bitter. The other harvesting method, strip harvesting, leads to harvesting of both ripe and unripe cherries. Therefore cheaper, commercially grown coffee often has a more bitter taste than handpicked blends. Strip harvesting also prevents all of the coffee fruit from reaching full maturation.
There are three types of strip harvesting: manual stripping, mechanical stripping, and mechanical harvesting. Manual stripping is where workers strip all of the cherries of a Coffea plant at once with their hands. The fruit is then collected in baskets or canvas bags. Mechanical stripping is where workers use a mechanical tool to knock all of the cherries off of a coffee plant at once. The tool used looks like a metal set of hands with long fingers, to capture any stray fruit. Mechanical harvesting involves mechanical harvesting machines. These machines plow across fields like tractors, knocking coffee cherries into collecting bins with swinging mallets. All three of these strip harvesting methods fail to maximize harvesting like handpicking does. They also fail to ensure ripeness or quality of the collected fruit. In fact, in Costa Rica, the handpicking harvesting method is required by law!
Coffee Cherry Processing
After the coffee cherries are harvested, the outer fruity pulp needs to be separated from the beans. This can be done in one of two ways. The first is dry processing, the oldest method of coffee fruit processing. It is this method that is used in producing our Colombian coffee. The coffee cherries are sorted and cleaned before being laid out in the sun to dry, a process that can take several weeks. This drying process is crucial for ensuring the proper amount of moisture of the beans within. After drying, the beans are separated from the outer layer of the fruit by a hulling machine.
The second method of coffee cherry processing is wet processing. This is the method used to produce our Guatemalan coffee. The difference in coffee fruit processing contributes to the differences in flavors between our two coffee varieties! In wet processing, the beans are removed from the cherries before being dried. Farmers know that the cherries are ripe if the pulp can be easily removed. If not, the the unripened cherries are then filtered out.
At this point, the processed coffee beans can be decaffeinated. The caffeine is extracted while the beans are still green, before the roasting process. Then, caffeinated or decaffeinated, the beans are shipped to our roasting locations in Virginia and Pennsylvania!
All of these steps, from harvesting coffee cherries to separating them from their pulp, require intensive labor and skill. Here at Mandela coffee, we are proud to say that our partners complete these steps with care, using sustainable methods. There truly is an art to handpicking- an art embodied by every cup of Mandela Coffee.
Have you ever visited a coffee plantation, or do you have a story to share? Do you have any thoughts about our coffee sources? Feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Mandela Coffee Team