Follow a fair trade coffee bean
No longer are Brits confined to a tea cup. According to the British Coffee Association (BSA), the nation also drinks its fair share of coffee! In 2018, we’ re drinking 95 million cups of coffee every day. It’s important then, as such heavy consumers of the product, that we know where our beans are coming from, and that the process is ethical.
There are many paths a coffee bean can take to get to your mug. From a larger coffee plantation to a small fair trade farm, the journey can differ in terms of ethics, education, wages, and even environmental issues. For example, in fair trade coffee production, the practices used have often been used for hundreds of years and work in harmony with the planet.
CIPAC is one such fair trade co-operative, dealing with coffee and honey farms in Guatemala. Guatemala has the perfect climate and rugged, remote landscape for coffee growing. The farmers here have often inherited their farms through their families, along with the skills of the trade.
In this article, we’re going to follow the journey of one such coffee harvest.
Starting the harvest
The latter weeks of December are the beginning of the harvest season for coffee farms. 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 flavour!
The same plant can often yield more than one harvest during the season. 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.
De-pulping the cherries
The harvest is then sent to the farms. 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.
CIPAC farmers won’t use the sophisticated de-pulping machines bigger coffee plantations have access to. Instead, their de-pulping machines are either electric or manual. 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.
To remove the last layer on the beans, the de-pulped cherries are soaked for 24 hours. Some beans will float in the water and these beans are always removed. After washing, the leftover water will contain some toxic elements that means it can’t just be thrown onto the plants in their backyard. 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!
The beans are then dried 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. This process can take several days, or much longer if there’s rain!
After drying, the result is called ‘parchment beans’. The farmers take the sacks of parchment beans to the nearest road, where they’ll be a collected by a van sent by the coffee co-operative. 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 30kg bag of coffee beans? Plus, if the farmers aren’t selling to a co-operative, they might have to make an even longer, more dangerous journey to reach a trader, particularly if the price for coffee is low.
The co-operative weighs, quality-checks, and stores the coffee beans upon arrival.
Turning parchment into green
The final stage sees the co-operative processing the parchment beans into green beans. This is the most important quality milestone yet, and involves the 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.
From this, samples are taken for a process called ‘coffee cupping’. ‘Coffee cupping’ involves a buyer slurping coffee in an attempt to accurately taste all the subtle flavours 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! Finally, the finished beans are bagged, and sold to an exporter.
The CIPAC coffee beans are sold to Mexican 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. Once the finished coffee is sealed in jars, they’re loaded onto a container, then onto a ship, and then transported to the UK.
And that’s how a fair trade coffee bean travels! 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.
This is a collaboration post