The steps to your cup: what's important and what's not

Coffee has a complex supply chain filled with hundreds of people, all of which have skill sets completely unrelated to one another. But let’s take a step back and view it through its three major macro steps. From 30,000 ft we can see the supply chain as: Farmer -> Roaster -> Barista.  

Just like any supply chain, all steps must be followed sequentially, and all are important. However, some are more important than others. You cannot grow good coffee in Greenland, it’s just not going to happen. For the same reason that Antarctica isn’t known for its pineapples, coffee likes to grow in particular climates. The farm in which a coffee cherry is grown is paramount to deciding the potential of the beans inside. Coffee likes altitude, hot & humid weather and plenty of shade. Which means coffee that’s grown on a freezing cold beach won’t taste as good. Let’s stay out of the science for why that is at the moment and focus on the supply chain. So, in summation, where a coffee bean grows and how’s its harvested and processed is going to set the stage for how good a coffee can taste. If this step in the supply chain is not up to par, there’s nowhere to go but down.

Next step, roasting. Here is where the green beans are put into a roasting machine. Typically, these machines are large drums that rotate over a gas-powered burner. I would argue that this step in the supply chain is just as valuable as the farming step (I’d be hung from my toes by plenty of people in the coffee community for saying this but whatever, it’s true). The reason I say that is because it’s the roasters responsibility to do justice by the farmer’s work. If she fails to recognize the needs of each particular coffee bean, she could produce a bad batch and ruin the perfectly good work of the farmer. The roasting process lasts around 8-15 minutes depending on the size of the batch. In these brief moments the roaster could be forced to make several dozen decisions. Each decision will either contribute or take away from the quality of the roast. A good roaster is a rare breed. Roasting is equal parts science as art which makes it a trade that can take years to master. Now that the beans have been roasted they’re ready for packaging and shipping.

Ok, so we’re now at the third and final step of the coffee supply chain, your kitchen. Lucky for us all, this is the least difficult step in the supply chain to get right. The barista (yea, that’s you because you’re brewing it) has only three things to get right, the hard work has already been done. (1) grind the coffee – this is optional, but we HIGHLY recommend grinding your own beans (2) get the coffee to water ratio right (3) brew the coffee. Now, many people believe that without a veteran barista hand gripping a Hario v60, specialty coffee can’t be made. I disagree wholeheartedly. This is coffee, not rocket science. We don’t need to be Elon Musk to make a good cup of coffee…All we need to get right are those three steps and there you have it, amazing coffee in your own home, made by you.

Three steps (granted we simplified a bit) to the coffee supply chain. Notice we didn’t add anything about spraying the farm with pesticides, roasting in 100 lbs batches, sitting in a warehouse for months, and sitting on a retail shelf for weeks. Equally as important as what’s put into this supply chain is what isn’t put into this supply chain. Coffee is a live crop. It needs to be treated that way. Treat it right and you’ll never taste anything like it. 

 

To better coffee, 

Alex Garrett