For our partner farms in Hainan, it takes nearly 8 pounds of coffee cherries to make 1 pound of roasted coffee. Our pickers average 10 pounds per hour. That is little more than 1 pound of roasted coffee that is harvested each hour. It takes so long because the cherries are selectively picked – only the red ripe cherries are picked.
Once the cherries have been selected they are cleaned and sifted so that any debris (sticks, leaves, etc) are removed. The cherries are then placed on raised drying beds. It might take up to four weeks for the cherries to dry to the right moisture content.
During this time the cherries must be constantly monitored to make sure they get the right amount of shade, sun, wind, etc. There are many different environmental factors that can influence the flavor profile at this stage so careful attention is given to the coffee. They must also be continuously turned so they do not dry unevenly.
Once the bean has been properly dried it needs to be prepared for grading. In the picture above you can see the structure of a coffee cherry:
- centre cut
- bean (endosperm)
- silver skin (testa, epidermis)
- parchment (hull, endocarp)
- pectin layer
- pulp (mesocarp)
- outer skin (pericarp, exocarp)
In some areas on Hainan parts 7,6,5 are removed via machine. If the equipment is good this is safe for the bean. If it is old equipment or not perfectly calibrated it can lead to chipped beans causing defects. The farms that produce the highest scores simply remove these layers by placing the beans in sacks and walking on them with sandals. The average farmer in the region is less than 60kg so too much weight isn’t a problem.
Once the outer layers are removed the beans are at parchment (4). At this point machinery is almost always used. A huller simply rubs the beans together to crush the parchment and blow it off.
The beans are then ready for grading. In order to follow specialty grade international standards the beans are then placed into sieves and sorted by size. They are then weighed by the amount of each size and the percentage is recorded. They should then be separated into 300gram samples. It is at this point you really begin to see the quality of the lot. The beans must be meticulously sorted so that quality is guaranteed and that a 300gram sample is characteristic of the whole lot.
Specialty green coffee beans have no more than 5 full defects in 300 grams of coffee. No primary defects are allowed (i.e. a soured or moldy bean) and the moisture content must be between 9-13%.
In summary, to produce one pound of specialty grade coffee a Hainan farmer works around the clock for 12 months to nurture and protect the trees and the soil (they obviously produce more than one pound). They hand pick the cherries only choosing beautiful red and ripe ones. They dry them for up to four weeks continuously monitoring all environmental factors. They carefully remove three layers from the cherry. They then de-hull the husk from the bean, carefully sort and grade, and weigh out samples for distribution. All for your enjoyment!