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The life cycle of a cup of coffee.

Trace the globe-spanning journey of coffee as it goes from plant to brew, and the complex infrastructure that makes it possible.

By Betty-AnnPublished 9 months ago • 3 min read
The life cycle of a cup of coffee.
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The process of making a simple cup of coffee, a daily ritual for many, belies the intricate and expansive web of individuals, communities, and industries involved in bringing this beloved beverage to our mugs. The journey of coffee beans from their humble origins in places like the Colombian town of Pitalito to the bustling cafes of cities like New York is a testament to the global supply chain and the dedication of countless people. In this narrative, we will explore the journey of coffee, highlighting the efforts of those often overlooked in the coffee-making process.

It all begins in the idyllic landscapes of coffee-producing regions, where family farms have cleared local forests to cultivate neat rows of Coffea trees. These shrub-like plants, first domesticated in Ethiopia, bear small berries known as "coffee cherries." Since cherries on the same branch ripen at different times, they are best harvested by hand. In places like Pitalito, laborers toil tirelessly at high altitudes, often picking over 25 kilograms of cherries per shift, earning meager wages for their strenuous work.

Once picked, these cherries are transported to a wet mill. Here, machines meticulously separate the seeds from the fruit and sort them by density. The heaviest and most flavorful seeds sink to the bottom, where they are collected and left to ferment in water for a couple of days. Workers then wash off the remaining fruit and spread the seeds out to dry on large mesh racks, a process that can take up to three weeks. While some farms employ machines, Pitalito relies on the hands of its workers to ensure even drying.

By Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Once the coffee beans are sufficiently dried, they embark on the next leg of their journey, traveling to a nearby mill equipped with specialized machines. An air blower resorts the seeds by density, sieves filter them by size, and an optical scanner meticulously sorts them by color. The beans are then subjected to a crucial evaluation process known as "cupping," where coffee professionals called Q-graders assess taste, aroma, and mouthfeel to determine the beans' quality. Based on these evaluations, the beans are graded and prepared for shipment.

The beans, now dried, sorted, and graded, are loaded into burlap sacks weighing up to 70 kilograms each, which are then placed in steel shipping containers. These containers, each capable of carrying up to 21 metric tons of coffee, set sail on cargo ships operated by crews of over 25 people, beginning their journey to coffee-consuming nations worldwide.

The United States, notably New York City, stands as one of the largest importers of coffee, consuming millions of cups daily. Upon arrival in New Jersey, coffee beans are subjected to customs checks. Dockworkers unload the containers, and a fleet of eighteen-wheelers transports the coffee to nearby warehouses and roasteries.

By Mike Kenneally on Unsplash

Inside the roastery, beans enter a roasting machine, stirred by a metallic arm and heated by a gas-powered fire. Sensors monitor moisture levels, chemical stability, and temperature, while skilled coffee engineers make manual adjustments throughout the twelve-minute roasting cycle. This process releases the oils within the beans, transforming them into grindable, brewable beans with a rich aroma and dark brown color. After roasting, the beans are meticulously packed into five-pound bags, ready for delivery.

The journey is not yet complete, though, as each coffee company has a head buyer who meticulously selects beans from around the world. Logistics teams manage delivery routes, ensuring the beans reach cafes and stores across the city. Finally, dedicated baristas serve this caffeinated elixir to scores of customers, adding the finishing touch to the coffee's long journey.

However, amid this remarkable journey, it is imperative not to forget the often-overlooked individuals who toil behind the scenes, from the coffee pickers working for low wages in challenging conditions to the dockworkers, roastery employees, logistics teams, and baristas who contribute their efforts to make your daily cup of coffee a reality. The global network behind this beloved commodity is intricate, but it's essential to recognize and value the people who make it all possible.


About the Creator


I am grateful for the small things in life and would like to share what I can with others.

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    Betty-AnnWritten by Betty-Ann

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