Each stage of coffee production has influence over the final taste of your coffee. Find out the story behind your favorite beverage through our quick illustrated journey of coffee from bean to cup.

1. Growing

Image by Neil Palmer (CIAT) (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Coffee seedlings in nursery. Credit: Neil Palmer, CC BY-SA 2.0

Coffees start their life as coffee seeds that are planted and cared for in shaded nurseries.

Young coffee trees

Young coffee trees

Once the seedlings are strong enough, they will be transported to a permanent lot where they will continue to grow into coffee trees.

Matured coffee trees. Image by Lukas(CC BY 2.0)

Mature coffee trees. Credit: Lukas, CC BY 2.0

Coffee trees are a needy bunch and the farmers will still need to pay close attention during this stage – weeding out leaves that are affected by pest or disease.


Coffee BlossomImage by TimWilson(CC BY 2.0)

Coffee Blossom. Credit: TimWilson, CC BY 2.0

It will take another 3 to 5 years before the trees start producing the first blossom. These coffee flowers cover the branches of the tree for 2-3 days and release a scent similar to jasmine.

Green Coffee Cherries. Image by Nathan leibel(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Green coffee cherries. Credit: Nathan leibel, CC BY-SA 3.0

6 to 9 months later small green cherries will appear.

Ripe coffee cherries

Ripe coffee cherries.

The coffee cherry turns bright red when it is ripe and ready to be picked.

2. Picking

Most countries have one coffee harvest season a year with the unique exception of Colombia, which has a secondary harvesting season. There are generally two methods used to pick coffee cherries.

Selective picking harvest only the ripe coffee cherries.

Selective picking with ripe coffee cherries.

Selective Picking – This labor-intensive process is used by most small coffee farmers where the cherries are picked individually by hand. Pickers rotate among the trees every 8 to 10 days, choosing only the cherries that are at the peak of ripeness.

Workers picking coffee by hand. Image by mckaysavage(CC BY 2.0)

Workers picking coffee by hand. Credit: mckaysavage, CC BY 2.0

It may require 3 to 7 pickings to complete the harvest. As you may imagine, this process is hard work where a picker has to be exposed to hot sun and bugs. Each picker’s daily haul is weighed and paid on the merit of his or her work.

A mixed of ripe and unripe coffee cherries. Image by Oxfam East Africa(CC BY 2.0)

A mix of ripe and unripe coffee cherries. Credit: Oxfam East Africa, CC BY 2.0

Strip Picking – In this method, all the cherries are stripped off the branches in one go by the coffee pickers. In Brazil, this process has been mechanized by using machines to shake and strip the cherries off the tree. Although more cost efficient, you can expect this method to produce coffee beans with lower cup profile due to the non-selective nature of the harvest.

3. Processing

Coffee is a unique agricultural product. We do not consume its fruit and instead put more value on its beans, which is actually the seed of the fruit.

For us to enjoy our favorite beverage, everything from the coffee that isn’t the seed must be removed and this extraction technique is referred to as a coffee processing method.

This image shows the anatomy of coffee cherry. Coffee production essentially is the process to remove each layer of the cherry to reveal the coffee bean. Image by Ytambe (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Anatomy of a Coffee: Coffee production essentially is the process to remove the outer layers of the cherry to reveal the coffee bean. Credit: Ytambe, CC BY-SA 3.0

There are three major coffee processing methods: Natural, Washed and Honey. Some coffee producing regions have a modified version of these methods but the general principles remain the same.

Check out our Coffee Processing Flowchart to find out the differences between each processing method.
Coffee Pulping


The skin and and pulp of the coffee cherries are removed mechanically using a pulping machine.

Coffee Fermentation


The de-pulped cherries are then left in the fermentation tanks for up to 3 days to allow the natural sugar breakdown of the mucilage layer. This process gives brewed coffee its body and sweetness.




The remaining mucilage is washed off leaving the parchment coffee.

Drying coffee with intact parchment


The coffee beans with the external parchment intact, are either sun- or machine-dried to approximately 11% moisture to properly prepare them for storage.

Parchment coffee before hulling. Image by mckaysavage(CC BY 2.0)

Parchment coffee before hulling. Credit: mckaysavage, CC BY 2.0

Coffee is usually stored as parchment coffee to protect its moisture level until it is ready to be sold.

Parchment coffee after hulling revealing green coffee beans. Image by mckaysavage(CC BY 2.0)

Parchment coffee after hulling revealing green coffee beans. Credit: mckaysavage, CC BY 2.0

Once the coffee is ready to be sold, the parchment will be hulled to produce green coffee.

4. Sorting and Grading

Manual sorting of coffee. Image by DFID(CC BY 2.0)

Manual sorting of coffee. Credit: DFID, CC BY 2.0

The green coffee is subsequently sorted by hand or by machine to look for defects. Sorting is an important process to remove defective beans which will affect the taste profile.

Automatic coffee sorting with machine. Image by mckaysavage(CC BY 2.0)

Automatic coffee sorting machine. Credit: mckaysavage, CC BY 2.0

The coffees will then be graded according to regional standards which usually emphasizes the size and physical appearance of the beans.

Coffee Cupping. Image by DFID(CC BY 2.0)

Coffee Cupping. Credit: DFID, CC BY 2.0

Specialty coffee will go through an extra quality control process called ‘cupping’ where it will be graded for the quality of its taste. Coffee cupping is usually conducted at multiple stages of the coffee production to ensure consistency of the quality.

5. Roasting

Freshly roasted coffee in cooling bin

Freshly roasted coffee in cooling bin.

Roasting transforms green coffee into the aromatic brown roasted coffee beans through the process of pyrolysis.

Learn more! Read: Roast Level: How Coffee Changes from Light to Dark.

6. Grinding

Roasted coffee beans ready to be grind.

Roasted coffee beans ready to be grind.

The process of grinding increases the surface area of the coffee which releases the burst of aroma and flavors.

7. Brewing

Brewing Espresso

Brewing Espresso

This is where you play your part as a Brewer in the final stage of coffee production. Brewing extracts the flavors from the ground coffee through the process of heat, pressure and diffusion.

Discover more! Check out: 13 Things Only Coffee Brewers in Malaysia Would Understand.

8. Serving

Serving coffee with latte art

Serving coffee with latte art

After a long and amazing journey, your coffee is finally ready to be served

Now that you know all the stages of coffee production, try and find out the story behind your next cup of coffee.

Besides appreciating the efforts of the men and women behind your cup of coffee, you will level up your coffee brewing and tasting skills as you start relating the variations of coffee production to the taste of your coffee.

Enjoyed this? You might also like: 7 Insider Tips on How To Buy the Best Coffee Beans.
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Anton Goonetilleke
Anton Goonetilleke
22/08/2020 18:48

Very good article. Unfortunately, I believe the last picture of the 4th section “sorting and grading” shows a Tea Tasting (cupping) table. Innocent mistake, but should be corrected.