Coffee is cultivated in different ways the world over, owing to diversity in local customs, climate and geography. The oldest and most traditional coffee growing methods are still used in parts of Central America and India, where Coffea plants grow alongside other types of plants, at high elevations, sheltered from the sun’s rays. This is in great contrast to a major producer like Brazil, where intensive, large-scale cultivation relies on sunlight, and where significant investments are required in irrigation and harvesting equipment. There is a greater environmental impact.
Coffee plants bloom in the rain, so flowers and fruit are found together, making collection a complicated affair. Hand selection of cherries (each containing two beans) one-by-one, called picking, is expensive, but conducive to higher quality. Under an alternative method, “stripping”, regardless whether it is mature or immature, is removed from branches and separated later. A related method, whereby branches are shaken mechanically, also requires further inspection and separation. Neither stripping nor shaking is necessarily efficient. Once collected, sticks, leaves, stones and other natural foreign bodies are separated from the cherries.
The beans are extracted from the cherries in either by washing or drying. Drying produces what the industry calls “natural coffee.”
Washed Coffee – fruit is mechanically stripped, then placed in water tanks where residual pulp ferments well and is easily removed. The now-separated seeds are then dried and shelled by removing the parchment.
Natural Coffee – fruit is dried in the sun for up to 20 days. Once the peels, pulp and seeds are all completely dry, machines are used to separate the beans.
The seeds resulting from both processes are green coffee beans, which are then classified according to size and shape. Generally speaking, the larger the bean, the higher the price it can fetch.
modified from Illy website