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  • How many people does it take to make a cup of coffee?

  • For many of us, all it takes is a short walk and a quick pour.

  • But this simple staple is the result of a globe-spanning process

  • whose cost and complexity are far greater than you might imagine.

  • It begins in a place like the remote Colombian town of Pitalito.

  • Here, family farms have clear cut local forests to make room

  • for neat rows of Coffea trees.

  • These shrub-like plants were first domesticated in Ethiopia

  • and are now cultivated throughout equatorial regions.

  • Each shrub is filled with small berries called "coffee cherries."

  • Since fruits on the same branch can ripen at different times,

  • they're best picked by hand,

  • but each farm has its own method for processing the fruit.

  • In Pitalito, harvesters toil from dawn to dusk at high altitudes,

  • often picking over 25 kilograms per shift for very low wages.

  • The workers deliver their picked cherries to the wet mill.

  • This machine separates the seeds from the fruit,

  • and then sorts them by density.

  • The heaviest, most flavorful seeds sink to the bottom of the mill,

  • where they're collected and taken to ferment

  • in a tub of water for one or two days.

  • Then, workers wash off the remaining fruit and put the seeds out to dry.

  • Some farms use machines for this process,

  • but in Pitalito, seeds are spread onto large mesh racks.

  • Over the next three weeks, workers rake the seeds regularly

  • to ensure they dry evenly.

  • Once the coffee beans are dry,

  • a truck takes them to a nearby mill with several specialized machines.

  • An air blower re-sorts the seeds by density,

  • an assortment of sieves filter them by size,

  • and an optical scanner sorts by color.

  • At this point, professionals called Q-graders select samples

  • of beans to roast and brew.

  • In a process called "cupping," they evaluate the coffee's taste, aroma,

  • and mouthfeel to determine its quality.

  • These experts give the beans a grade, and get them ready to ship.

  • Workers load burlap sacks containing up to 70 kilograms

  • of dried and sorted coffee beans onto steel shipping containers,

  • each able to carry up to 21 metric tons of coffee.

  • From tropical ports, cargo ships crewed by over 25 people

  • transport coffee around the world

  • But no country imports more coffee than the United States,

  • with New York City alone consuming millions of cups every day.

  • After the long journey from Colombia to New Jersey,

  • our coffee beans pass through customs.

  • Once dockworkers unload the container,

  • a fleet of eighteen-wheelers transport the coffee to a nearby warehouse,

  • and then to a roastery.

  • Here the beans go into a roasting machine, stirred by a metallic arm

  • and heated by a gas-powered fire.

  • Nearby sensors monitor the coffee's moisture level, chemical stability,

  • and temperature, while trained coffee engineers manually adjust these levels

  • throughout the twelve-minute roasting cycle.

  • This process releases oil within the seed,

  • transforming the seeds into grindable, brewable beans

  • with a dark brown color and rich aroma.

  • After roasting, workers pack the beans into five-pound bags,

  • which a fleet of vans deliver to cafes and stores across the city.

  • The coffee is now so close you can smell it,

  • but it needs more help for the final stretch.

  • Each coffee company has a head buyer

  • who carefully selects beans from all over the world.

  • Logistics teams manage bean delivery routes,

  • and brave baristas across the city serve this caffeinated elixir

  • to scores of hurried customers.

  • All in all, it takes hundreds of people to get coffee to its intended destination

  • and that's not counting everyone maintaining the infrastructure

  • that makes the journey possible.

  • Many of these individuals work for low pay in dangerous conditions

  • and some aren't paid at all.

  • So while we might marvel at the global network behind this commodity,

  • let's make sure we don't value the final product

  • more than the people who make it.

How many people does it take to make a cup of coffee?

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B1 TED-Ed mill roasting fruit nearby aroma

The life cycle of a cup of coffee - A.J. Jacobs

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/04
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