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Coffee Beans-Harvesting Of The Bean

COFFEE BEANS are, technically speaking, not a bean but a seed of a red or yellow fruit. The “bean” is the seed that is inside the fruit called a cherry. The fruity outer part is removed in processing leaving only the seed which is then dried or fermented and roasted.

The latitude at which coffee grows is from 25 degrees north to 25 degrees south of the equator. Coffee trees do best if there are no fantastic temperature changes and they do not get hotter than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. It takes about three years for a small seedling to to grow enough to start to produce fruit. Trees can flower throughout the year or all at once depending on the location. When the flower closes the fruit starts to form.

Coffee plants are grown to about 6 feet tall, then pruned to make it simpler to pick the berries. There are two major ways to pick the fruit. The first method uses machines that shake the tree or limbs. This is done when most of the berries are ripe (bright red color). By using machinery some under ripe and over ripe “cherries” get mixed into the harvest. Under ripe has less flavor and over ripe has a bitter flavor. The best method is to hand pick the “beans” or “cherries” when they are perfectly ripe with a bright red color.

Organic coffee is gaining popularity but is more expensive because of lower yields. Compost fertilizers made from natural ingredients are used instead of chemical types. To stop two common pests without chemicals wasps are used to kill Broca insects and a fungus is used to kill Roya leaf disease.

There are two different ways the fruit can be processed after picking. Sometimes the fruit is dried out in the sun (usually on concrete) for 1-4 weeks. The skins and pulp are then stripped out using metal tumblers leaving the bean or seed. The leftover beans or seeds are sometimes called Sumatras. The other method of processing is the wet or washed method. The fruit is removed from the seed with machines within 24 hours for best processing so the skins can be removed before they over ripen.

After the skins are removed they are place in water so the pulp left around the seed floats to the top. The seeds or beans are then place into water storage tanks for about 24-48 hours, after which they are fermented to loosen the final mucillage covering on the seed. Any fruity pulp or mucillage left is then washed away and the beans are dried. This method gives a more acid quality which is considered to be better or a more lively coffee.

Dried beans still have another layer left on them. The last layer is a type of husk called a pergamino.The beans are fed into machines, that use heat and a crushing action called milling, to remove this layer. At this point the beans are sorted for any defects, then they are sorted by size and for density. Sorting them by size is done with drum machines or flat vibrating screens which have various sized mesh or holes to sort the beans.

Sorting by density is called winnowing and is done with a machine called a catador or by the use of a densimetric table. This step gets out any impurities such as limb pieces or pebbles. The catador blows a powerful wind force at the beans. The beans are sorted into light, medium, and heavy groups. The light group is blown off immediately and the heaviest fall down and are sorted by sieves along the shaft. With the densimetric table air is forced through slots in a vibrating table. The various particles are sorted by the vibrating action moving the heaviest particles and the air blowing off the lightest particles, then they are sorted with baffle plates.

The final basic process requires sorting by color–this is either done by hand or photosensitive computerized machines. Beans are checked for discoloration at this stage. Terrible coloration indicates a terrible bean or another object that does not belong.

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Glenn Heitkoetter is a part time writer.

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