Every day, we serve people coffee, putting a tremendous amount of care into each cup. But the barista’s act is the penultimate step in a long, and frankly arduous, journey. We can’t help but think that a daily coffee is actually a miracle—the result of thousands of little acts done right. Here are the fifteen steps that matter the most.
1. Find the right land
The kind of coffee we primarily buy, Arabica, needs rich soil, a temperate climate with sun and rain, and elevation—the higher the better. Coffee farmers adapt to environmental conditions, but the basic needs remain the same.
2. Plant a seed
We have to agree with Molière on this one: “Trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.” The best fruit comes from trees that are at least three-to-five years old. Some farmers have trees that are nearly 100 years old.
3. Watch the flowers turn into fruit
Blossoms of different cultivars vary in look, but all emit an alluring jasmine-like scent. Tens of thousands of flowers may cover a tree—harbingers of an abundant yield. Coffee cherry starts out green and then turns a deep scarlet when ripe.
4. Pick only the ripest cherry
Pickers search the same tree many times over the course of several days, or even months, picking a coffee cherry when it is scarlet, “like a ruby in a tree.”
5. Choose a processing method
Many small farmers send their coffee cherry to a mill for processing. Those that process on their farms often sell their coffee as single origins. If the coffee is washed (the more common method), then the cherry goes through a pulping machine, where the skin is removed, but the flesh—the pulp—remains. When naturally processed, the whole fruit is put on drying racks under the sun. Naturals are more fruit-forward because of this prolonged contact between seed and fruit.
6. Ferment the cherry
Coffee, like chocolate, vanilla, or sauerkraut, is a fermented food. Depending on the climate and farmer’s preference, fermentation can take a few hours or a couple of days, and can happen when the cherry is de-pulped or whole.
7. Wash and dry
For coffee that’s washed (also called “wet processed”), after the beans have been de-pulped and undergone fermentation, they’re rinsed and dried, on raised beds, a patio in the open air, or in a mechanical dryer.
8. Dry mill
Dry milling happens only after the washed or natural-processed coffee has sat for a few months to balance out moisture levels. Then, whatever is left on the coffee—whether it’s the thin and friable layer of parchment skin on washed coffee, or the entire dried fruit on natural coffee—is removed.
We can do this step anywhere in the supply chain because we have relationships with farms that go back many years. Our closest farmers sometimes plant parts of their farms with us specifically in mind. Our green buyer, Charlie, travels year-round, visiting old friends and looking for new farms and partnerships. In some countries, like Kenya or Ethiopia, we often buy at the point of export through nationally regulated systems.
11. Test-roast the green coffee
We have one person whose sole job it is to test all of the green coffee that comes through our door, even samples of coffee we don’t buy. Only once we do a test roast and taste the results do we know how a coffee really tastes, and how we might want to use it in our cafes.
12. Roast and test for quality
Our roasting team figures out the optimal roast time for a coffee, and then tests every subsequent batch to make sure the coffee is consistently delicious.
13. Grind for each individual drink
We don’t grind our coffee until we’re ready to brew it. That means that whole beans arrive in our cafes and remain whole until just minutes after a customer’s order. This is because a coffee quickly degrades once ground (unless it’s Perfectly Ground). Baristas dial in the grind throughout the day to make sure it is optimally delicious for each cup.
14. Brew slowly and with care
15. Share with a guest or a friend
Coffee takes a lot of work, but this is the moment that it's all for. One delicious cup—to savor.
This month, we're celebrating fifteen years of making delicious coffee.