The Adventures Of A Fair Trade Coffee Bean

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Coffee has become an integral part of our daily lives It’s the beverage we Brits love the best as recent figures from the British Coffee Association (BSA) reveal that the UK’s coffee consumption has increased from 70 million cups a day 10 years ago, to 95 million cups a day in 2018. 

However, before being brewed at home, your coffee would’ve traveled a long distance. They travel up and down mountains, through valleys, and over dangerous rope bridges, even before being processed. 

The journey of the coffee bean surprisingly differs each time — with a variety of factors impacting this; from farmers to the transportation process. 

The processes that fair trade coffee farms follow is different to what huge plantations follow. However, it’s not just the ethics, offer of training and education, fair wages, and dedication to treating seasonal workers fairly that often set them apart. From the number of harvesters to the way farmers re-use their waste water – the fair trade coffee bean production process is eco-friendly, in tune with the earth, and makes the most of farming methods that have been used for hundreds of years. 

In Guatemala for example, CIPAC is a fair trade coffee co-operative with over 140 members. The landscape here is remote, rugged, and mountainous, with an ideal climate and high elevation for coffee growing. Many coffee farmers have inherited their coffee plants from family members, and practice skills passed down throughout the generations. 

However, there’s a complex process that is required before turning beans into coffee. So, what exactly happens on the journey from bush to mug? Let’s follow some of CIPAC’s fair trade coffee growers to find out… 

An Insight To Harvesting 

From the end of December to the end of February, farmers harvest their coffee cherries. On family- owned farms, the whole family might get involved. Coffee ripens at a slightly different time within this period, depending on the climate, the altitude, the type of soil and the variety of coffee. Some farmers even live in areas with their own microclimate, which means the coffee they produce has its own particular and quality flavor! 

Believe it or not, coffee can be harvested around three times from the same plant. This is because only the ripe cherries are hand-plucked from the bush to guarantee a high quality coffee. On large coffee farms, the harvesters must travel up steep hills and down into valleys to collect the cherries in a basket — which can be exhausting. 

An Insight To De-Pulping 

Once harvested, the cherries must then be delivered to the farmers where the de-pulping will take place. The cherries need to be de-pulped within 24 hours, and the harvesters often have to travel up and down hills and across rickety bridges to reach the end destination. 

Although sometimes cherries are delivered to big plantations with de-pulping machinery, often farmers must use their own energy. The coffee beans are closely inspected as they’re poured into the machine, and any beans that don’t look quite ripe enough or are too ripe are taken out. 

An Insight To Washing 

To remove the final wet layer covering the coffee bean, de-pulped cherries are washed in coffee water pools for at least one day. Some beans will float in the water and these beans are always removed. However, these water pools then contain toxins — meaning it must be disposed of correctly. But farmers at CIPAC know what to do – they re-use the dirty water and skins to make an eco-friendly compost to use around their coffee plants! 

An Insight To Drying 

Coffee beans are then left to dry out in the sun. The farmer chooses an area that’s wide, flat, and clean, and spreads the beans out with a rake. They turn the beans with this rake while the sun shines, and then hurry to cover them with a huge sheet if there’s a hint of rain or moisture about. As well as this, they also cover the beans every night, to keep off the dew. 

An Insight To Transportation 

To distribute, farmers take sacks of parchment to the nearest road. Farmers in the most remote areas must make their way along dangerous winding mountain paths and encounter huge cliff drops. Can you imagine having to walk along a cliff-edge while carrying a 30 kilogram bag of coffee beans? 

If there isn’t a co-operative to sell to, sometimes farmers must make tougher journeys to enable them to sell to a trader. However, once the beans reach the co-operative storage site safely, they’re then weighed, checked for quality, and stored. 

An Insight To Parchment Beans To Green Beans 

Co-operatives then have the duty of processing parchment beans to green beans. This is the most important quality milestone yet, and involves the fair trade coffee beans being judged by their weight and appearance, to make sure they’re of the best quality. Finally, the beans are ‘polished’, which removes the last layer of skin covering the coffee beans. 

Sampling is key to purchasing coffee as a trader and buyer. ‘Coffee cupping’ involves a buyer slurping coffee in an attempt to accurately taste all the subtle flavors of the coffee, especially for the special varieties grown in areas with their own microclimates. These samples are sent to the co-operative, so they can easily vouch for the quality of the coffee to buyers who will then export them! 

In CIPAC’s case, beans are sold to fair trade operator, Cafesca. From there, some of the beans are sent to another Mexican fair trade operator, Descamex, who are the only facility in the world to use the Mountain Water Method to produce decaf coffee. Descamex send the decaffeinated beans back to Cafesca, who transform all the coffee beans into instant coffee and instant decaf. 

Then, their journey comes to an end! Coffee beans go on quite the adventure before making it into your mug. And while the huge coffee plantations use lots of workers and modern equipment, the fair trade farmers at CIPAC like to keep it simple. Family-run farms. Hand-picking only the ripest cherries. Drying the beans naturally under the heat of the sun. Fewer chemicals, and far more character in each delicious cup.


I hope you enjoyed this article about fair trade coffee farmers and beans on a tight budget.

Interested in more articles about coffee and caffeine? 

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