Thursday, 27 September 2018

The journey of a fair trade coffee bean


Brits are renowned as tea drinkers. But it seems as if Brits have been having a secret love affair with coffee. The British Coffee Association (BSA) recently revealed that Britain as a nation are being swayed by coffee more so than tea. In fact they highlighted that coffee consumption in Britain has increased from 70 million cups a day in 2008 to 95 million cups a day in 2018.

With coffee beans not grown in the UK it takes a lot of effort to get them here to satisfy the nation's love of coffee.


The journey of a coffee bean is a long one with the journey of a fair trade coffee bean being more varied and wonderful. In fact the journey of a coffee bean depends on which farm it cam from, the grower of the bean and how it was processed.

So if you are a fan of drinking fair trade coffee and are curious about the journey your fair trade coffee beans take so you can get your coffee fix read on.


Whilst may people know about the ethics surrounding fair trade coffee – treatment of workers and pay for growers, there are a lot more differences between how a large-scale coffee plantation will operate compared to a smaller fair trade coffee farm. In fact fair trade coffee farms production is more eco-friendly and more worker friendly thanks to use of waste water and the number of workers.

For example, fair trade coffee is made in a remote area of Guatemala where CIPAC's fair trade honey and coffee co-operative has in excess of 140 members working for them. Even though it is a remote area it is a wonderful area to grow coffee and many of the farmers there have inherited the trade of growing coffee beans from many family generations.


Getting beans ready to be made into the delicious fair trade coffee that we know and love take a lot of hard work by CIPAC's farmers. So what happens on the journey of a fair trade coffee bean from the fair trade coffee farm to our coffee mugs? Here is what CIPAC's fair trade coffee growers do to bring us our beloved coffee -

Harvesting coffee beans
Coffee harvesting seasons for many farmers is Winter. Where the farm is family-owned it is typical that the whole family gets involved in the process. During the coffee harvesting season the same coffee plant came be harvested up to two or three times as only ripe cherries are hand-plucked from the plant to guarantee high quality coffee. Harvesting the coffee is exhausting work with the harvesters having to traverse difficult terrain collecting the coffee cherries in baskets.

Coffee ripen at slightly different times during the harvesting season, with the time coffee ripens depening on factors such as type of soil, variety of coffee, climate and altitude. Some farms are in areas with their own microclimate which effects the coffee they produce giving it its own distinct, unique flavour.

Throughout the season, the same coffee plant can be harvested up to two or three times over. This is because only the ripe cherries are hand-plucked from the bush to guarantee a high quality coffee.


De-pulping process
After the coffee cherries have been hand harvested they are given to the farmers. Cherries are de-pulped within 24 hours of being picked, with the harvesters ensuring they get to the farmers to be de-pulped swiftly by travelling across difficult terrain to transport them.

Unlike large-scale plantations who use heavy machinery to quickly take off the coffee-cherry skins, farmers at CIPAC either use a small electric de-pulping machine that takes longer or their own energy. To ensure the highest quality of coffee the cherries are closely inspected before being de-pulped and any cherries that do not meet their high standards – not ripe or too ripe – of perfectly ripe cherries are disposed of.

Cleaning the cherries
To clean the cherries they are submerged in unique water pools that remove any remaining layers after the de-pulping process. Any beans that float in the water are removed to ensure that only the highest quality ones are used.

The water leftover from washing the cherries will contain toxic elements so cannot be disposed of by being thrown out. CIPAC do not waste it though as they re-use the dirty and skins to make an eco-friendly compost to use around the coffee plants.

Drying each coffee bean
Following the cleaning process the beans have to be dried so are laid out in the sun to dry them naturally. Farmers rake the beans out on wide, flat and clean surfaces and turn them often while the sun shines. They are carefully cared for and if there is a hint of rain or moisture about they are covered with a huge sheet. They are also covered every night to prevent dew getting on them. The drying out process can take several days, even longer if there is rain.

Transporting the beans
Once the coffee has dried they are now parchment beans. The farmers pack the parchment beans in large sacks which they have to transport to the nearest road to be collected by a van sent by the coffee co-operative. This task is exhausting and dangerous. Farmers in remote areas have to tackle dangerous terrain of winding mountain paths and huge cliff drops all whilst carrying a 30kg bag of coffee beans. If no coffee-cooperatives are available to sell their products to, the journey the farmer has to make is longer to find a trader.

Once the coffee parchment beans safely reach the co-operative storage site they are checked for quality, weighed and stored.


Transforming the beans
After arriving at a fair trade cooperative the parchment beans are turned into green beans. This process is very important and a huge milestone in ensuring quality. The beans are judged by their appearance and weight to ensure they are the highest quality. Finally, the beans are 'polished' to remove the last layer of skin covering the coffee beans.

Exporting
Buyers then sample the coffee beans in a process known as 'coffee cupping'. This involves buyers slurping the coffee to taste all the subtle flavours of the coffee, especially the unique varieties grown in areas with their microclimates that create coffee beans with different flavours. The finished beans are bagged and sold to an exporter.

CIPAC sells the coffee beans to Cafesca, a fair trade operator based in Mexico. Some of the beans are sent to another Mexican fair trade operator, Descamex who use the Mountain Water Method to produce decaf coffee (they are the only facility in the World to use this method). Working together Descamex send the decaffeinated beans back to Cafesca so that they can transform the coffee beans into instant decaf coffee – they also turn the other coffee beans not decaffeinated into instant coffee. The finished coffee is then sealed in jars, loaded onto containers to be put on ships and then transported to the UK to be sold by retailers such as Traidcraft.

So that is the journey of a fair trade coffee bean – a wild, wonderful and long adventure from bush to mug. While huge, large-scale coffee plantations use lots of workers and modern equipment, the fair trade farmers at CIPAC keep it simple – family run farms, hand-picking ripe quality cherries, drying the beans naturally under the heat of the sun, less chemicals and far more care and attention!


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