In the beginning…

From Seed to Cup: How Do Producers Grow Coffee?

An espresso: 20–30 ml of delicious coffee. It takes just minutes to drink it. But it takes years to produce it. From carefully selecting and planting the coffee tree through to harvesting, processing, and drying the beans, a producer’s work never stops.

But how do producers decide which coffee to grow? How do they harvest it? What’s involved in processing and drying?

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Coffee seedlings in the nursery at Fazenda Bella Epoca in Brazil. Credit: Ana Valencia

Choosing The Right Coffee To Grow

There’s more than one type of coffee. Some varieties produce high-quality beans but are susceptible to disease. Others are hardier. Some yield more coffee than others, some are sweeter, and some suit certain types of soil.

So, how does a producer choose which coffee they grow?

ICFC Panama biologist and coffee value chain analyst Valentina Pedrotti says it varies from country to country. The climate and local culture often decide a producer’s choice. Many simply grow what is common in that area or what has always been farmed on that land.

But the soil, altitude, humidity, and other climatic features have an impact on the flavor of the final coffee, so it’s important to choose wisely. Other considerations include the cost and expected market value of the beans, and if diseases and pests are an issue,.

In some countries, there are national coffee associations, such as The Colombian Coffee Growers’ Federation (Federación Nacional de Cafetaleros, FNC) in Colombia or Anacafé in Guatemala. Farmers may choose to grow a coffee variety recommended by these associations. The FNC, for example, invests in researching and developing disease-resistant varieties such as Colombia and Castillo.

And availability is a constant limitation. Take F1 hybrids, such as Starmaya. It’s high-quality, high-yield, and highly resistant to disease – the ideal coffee plant, in other words. Yet it’s a new variety and only a handful of producers currently have access to it.

With all these things to consider, it can be hard to choose the best variety. Arturo Aguirre of the award-winning Finca El Injerto in Guatemala says that it’s important producers understand their land. “You have to know where your farm is really well.” The location and soil are deciding factors on whether certain varieties will thrive.

Aguirre also says you should keep in mind that it takes around three years to know whether or not a new variety will thrive on your farm. After all, that’s how long it takes for a tree to mature.