A farmer must make four critical decision points to produce quality coffee. The first one is relatively permanent: The farmer chooses where (Location) he will grow the coffee plants. Costly adjustments can later be made regarding which slope to concentrate on or what area is more productive or finding an ecological balance for the overall health of the farm. The second quality decision is what species and cultivar of coffee to grow (Seed). Because of coffee’s low prices during most of the twentieth century, choices have often been made on the basis of productivity and disease resistance but not quality. Such decisions can be reversed, but at great cost in time and money.
The third quality decision is how coffee is grown (Grow): mainly the complex care and nutrition, in tropical conditions, for each plant in its environment. It takes nine months to get from flowering to harvest, twice that for grapes. Damage to the ecosystem, whether due to lack of resources, poor craftsmanship or natural causes can have a crippling impact. The final decision stage is the harvest (Harvest) where much can and often does go wrong. The cardinal rule is coffee must be picked ripe, yet this is rarely the case. The small coffee fruits, called cherries, are often in clusters with cherries of varying degrees of ripeness side by side. Each ripe fruit must be hand-picked. A cherry contains only two coffee seeds inside, which we call beans.
So, as the graph at the top of the page illustrates, while a gigantic volume of coffee goes through the farming cycle, very little of excellent quality comes out by the end of the harvest!