Coffee’s journey to your cup

A coffee bean takes a long and winding road between being picked off a bush and being tossed into your shopping basket. This is why many coffee brands don’t know which plantations they are buying their coffee from.

From plantation to the supermarket

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Before coffee is poured into your cup, it has passed through many different stages. First, coffee workers, using either a machine or their own hands, pick the red coffee berries from the bushes. Then the berries are washed, dried, processed and classified, usually on the plantation itself. At this point, the different varieties of green coffee beans are ready for export.

Some Brazilian plantations sell green coffee beans directly to roasters and coffee importers abroad, but most sell their beans to middlemen and exporters. Some plantations are organized into cooperatives that gather coffee from several hundred plantations; these cooperatives then manage the coffee’s distribution to exporters and roasters. The roasters sort, roast and grind the coffee before it is packaged and distributed to stores.

Because of the many and varied links in this chain, many large coffee brands do not know the names of the Brazilian plantations that grow their coffee.

Coffee harvest

On many plantations, coffee is picked by hand. The majority of Brazilian coffee pickers are seasonal workers, and about half work without contracts. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

More and more harvesting machines are replacing coffee pickers on Brazilian plantations. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

After the coffee is picked, the pulp is separated from the seeds – the coffee beans. One of the ways to do is is to wash and sort the berries according to quality, depending on whether the berries float or sink. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

The coffee beans are spread out on the ground and dried in the sun. The beans must be raked regularly to promote even drying. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

The dried coffee beans are now ready to be shipped from the plantation in 60-kg sacks. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

The coffee is shipped to middlemen, cooperatives, and exporters, or directly to buyers in importing countries. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.

The coffee is packed into smaller bags and is ready to be sold in supermarkets and other retail outlets. Photo: Maurilo Clareto Costa.