More and more people want to know where their food comes from, and we think it’s a great trend! Learning more about farming and how much effort goes into producing the food and drinks you love can give you an even greater appreciation for them.
It can also help you make more intentional, informed decisions about the food you eat. Not all food is created equal, especially when it comes to coffee! Some coffee growers cover their plants in pesticides and grow them in less than ideal conditions, which affects the flavor and quality of the beans.
But knowledge is power, and in this article we’re going to teach you where your coffee comes from and how to spot coffee brands that are producing high quality beans.
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How to Grow Coffee?
Coffee beans grow on coffee plants, a type of bush that has dark green, waxy leaves. Coffee plants thrive in tropical environments, so most coffee is grown in warm parts of Asia, Africa, Central America, and South America.
One of the weirdest things about coffee is that it needs harsh growing conditions to develop the subtle, nuanced flavors that us coffee lovers crave. If coffee beans grow and mature too quickly, they don’t have a chance to develop the complex sugars that give them so much of their flavor.
That’s why coffee is grown in places that other plants usually aren’t—on mountains at high elevations and in the shade. Coffee growers are intentionally trying to slow down the growth of their coffee plants so that they produce better beans!
Some coffee growers, however, plant their coffee in big fields cleared of all trees so they can fit more coffee plants on their plot of land. This practice requires a lot of pesticides and really hurts the quality of the coffee. We’ll teach you how to avoid coffee grown this way in the coffee buying tips section!
How is Coffee Harvested?
Harvesting machines can be hard to use high up in the mountains where coffee is planted. It’s easier for a person to navigate the steep slopes, so a lot of coffee is still picked by hand.
Pickers might selectively harvest the beans, meaning they only pick the ripest, readiest beans. You can also strip pick coffee beans, which means that you take all the beans off the coffee plant regardless of whether or not they’re ripe. The former is a much more expensive way to harvest beans, so the coffee costs more, but it is better quality.
Coffee Buying Tips
If your coffee beans are grown at a high elevation and roasted properly, they’ll taste amazing, just like you’d expect! The problems come in when coffee growers don’t follow the process outlined above in order to increase profits.
To maximize the amount of beans they can grow on their plot, some growers will clear big plots of land of all their trees and grow their coffee plants directly in the sun. Coffee isn’t supposed to be grown this way because it will get too hot in the direct sunlight and mature too quickly, leading to lower quality beans.
Coffee plants grown in the sun are also require more pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Insects overpopulate the plants when they’re grown in the sun, so farmers have to spray them with more pesticides. More chemical fertilizer is also required because there isn’t any tree cover in the fields. When it rains, the plants aren’t protected from rainfall, so a lot of the fertilizer gets washed away and needs to be reapplied.
If you’re not a huge fan of bland, flat coffee or lots of chemicals being sprayed all over your coffee, look for coffee brands that say “shade grown” or “organic.” Those coffee plants are grown in the shade, so they’ll have superior flavor. You should also try to find bags of coffee that say “hard beans” somewhere on the packaging. Hard beans are grown at high elevations of at least 3,000 feet, so they’ll taste better than ones grown at lower elevations and have lots of those complex, nuanced flavors you love!
Although some people love dark roasted coffee like us, it’s worth pointing out here that the coffee beans used to make dark roasts are often lower in quality. Since dark roasts have so many intense, smoky flavors that cover over the original flavor of the beans, coffee growers stick a lot of their lower quality beans in dark roasts. If you want a cup of coffee full of the highest quality beans, go for a cup of light or medium roast instead of dark roast.