A great cup of coffee starts even before the beans are picked. Coffee grows as cherry-like fruits on bushes ranging from five to seven feet in height, and most varieties yield berries ripening from green to red. Arabica and Robusta are the most common types, and arabica is the preferred variety for specialty beans. Although Ethiopia is a top producer of arabica coffee, the variety grown in Colombia is often considered to be of the highest quality.
Seeking out the ripest coffee cherries requires skill and patience. For specialty varieties, coffee is picked selectively before being dried and sorted. Sun drying, or natural drying, is the traditional method for removing moisture from coffee cherries, but a wet processing method may also be used. In this method, cherries are put in a water bath, and under ripe fruits floating to the top are separated. The remaining cherries are put through a machine or a fermentation process to remove the flesh and pulp before being washed again.
Regardless of the drying process, all beans must be hulled afterward to be ready for roasting. The green coffee beans are sorted again at this stage to ensure only the best beans are handed over to the roaster.