There are two main coffee bean types: Coffee Arabica and Coffee Robusta. Around three quarters of the coffee grown around the world is Coffee Arabica. This coffee is grown at higher altitudes than Robusta and is also harder to grow due to lower tolerance to disease. However it tastes better and has better aromatic properties. It's also the coffee of choice for the majority of artisan roasters and baristas.
Coffee Robusta has around twice the amount of caffeine as Arabica coffee and is more disease tolerant. It can also be grown at lower altitudes. It is however an inferior product to Arabica in terms of flavour and aroma.
Other bean types do exist but are not typically exported from the country of origin.
Coffee bean harvesting and processing
Coffee harvesting occurs at different times of the year depending on where the coffee is grown. This seasonality means that although we can get fresh coffee beans at any time of the year, you might not be able to get your favourite coffee all year round as fresh as you would like it. Saying that, green coffee can last a very long time. I did read a story about coffee beans being uncovered in Egypt in a pharoah's tomb and they were still good to roast! Can't find the story now so maybe we'll put that one down to coffee folklore.
Coffee beans are actually the 'nut like' center of a coffee berry. These berries are harvested (typically by hand) and then processed in a number of ways:
Dry processing: is the oldest way to process the coffee berry. The berries are left out in the sun to dry out over a number of weeks to reduce the moisture content of the berry (leaving practically just the coffee bean)
Wet processing: the pulp of the coffee berry is removed after harvesting either manually or mechanically. A drying out process is still required to reduce the moisture content of the coffee bean.
Regardless of the processing method (above) the coffee is then further processed to remove any husk or additional layers and is graded before being packed ready for shipping. You can view our range of green coffee for sale here...
Packing and shipping
Coffee is normally shipping in grainpro bags (plastic bags within coffee sack) or just plain hessian sacks. Due to weight (coffee bags are heavy!) you'll find that most bags are transported by land or sea. This really isn't a problem unless something happens in transit e.g. excessive heat or cold or moisture levels aren't right. Typically though green coffee beans are pretty hardy.
In the UK there are a number of coffee bean importers. Some work directly with farmers and others with exporters overseas. Coffee quality is measured (usually before it's exported) and then tested when it arrives here in the UK to ensure some other coffee hasn't sneaked its way into the shipment.
When does fresh coffee crop arrive in the UK?
The chart below shows when new coffee crops arrive in the UK. Harvest typically takes place a month or two before the first coffee shipments arrive in the UK.
UK storage and distribution
When the coffee arrives in the UK it is warehoused (it's heavy and we drink a lot of it!) and then dispatched to roasteries across the UK. Green coffee typically has a shelf life of 9 months, so when you take into account the 2 month post-roast life it's possible to drink the same coffee for around 11 months of the year.