The Amazing Supply Chain of your Morning Coffee

2nd November 2022

For many of us, a fresh cup of coffee is what gets us out of bed every morning. Whether it’s made at home, picked up from a coffee shop on the way to work and hastily poured at the office, coffee is a part of our daily routine. But how does that coffee make its way to your breakfast? And what does Thermo King have to do with it? Let’s find out!

From plant to bean

A single cup of coffee takes about 70 beans, which travel through several distinct stages before they end up on your breakfast table. First step of that process is obviously the growing of the plant itself. After a seed sprouts, a coffee plant takes about 7 years to grow and yields its first crop. What we call ‘coffee beans’ are actually the seeds found in the plants cherry-like fruits. Once these cherries are collected, the green seeds are extracted and dried, to become the dark beans that get us out of bed in the morning.

From bean to container

Once the green beans are dried, hulled and roasted, they’re loaded into the burlap sacks that line the walls of your local coffee shop. These bags are packed into the massive containers that will carry the beans all over the world. Coffee is most commonly transported by ship. Since the most important aspect of freighting coffee beans is keeping them dry, a ship seems a rather peculiar choice. But the global demand for coffee is high, and raises yearly, so the large capacity of cargo freighters is still the preferred shipping method.

Ideally, coffee beans need to be transported at room temperature. The acceptable range is between 10°C and 20°C.  That seems rather wide, but keeping this temperature consistent is of vital importance. Coffee is grown in hot climates, primarily in the southern hemisphere and as said before, the most important thing when transporting coffee beans is keeping them dry. The beans want to absorb water, they want to make coffee. But water causes the oil inside the beans to break down, which destroys their flavour. And the main cause of water damage in sea cargo transport is not actually the ocean. It’s ‘container sweat’, created by rapid fluctuations in the ambient temperature. So, when shipping from the hot port of São Paulo to the frigid fjords of Norway, the temperature in a container has to be kept under precise control. If the container sweat drips down onto the burlap sacks and gets into the beans, the entire load becomes worthless.

Conversely, the temperature can’t be too cold. If you move in barista circles, they’ll always tell you that the one thing you cannot do is store your coffee in the fridge. The reason is, again, moisture. In a regular fridge, there is too much moisture around, that will creep into the beans and ruin their flavour. Over-intensive cooling of the cargo container during transport carries the same risks. Instead of on the container, the ‘sweat’ will form directly on the cargo, which just means the beans get ruined faster.

So, all this means that, aside from precise temperature control, ventilation is key. Thermo King’s Container Fresh & Frozen (CFF) offer improved temperature and humidity controls, keeping the beans safe along their long journey. More than 80 years of experience in refrigerated transport mean Thermo King is the best choice to protect your morning coffee.

From container to cup

After the cargo freighter reaches its destination, the last mile begins. The bags of coffee are shipped all over their country of destination, finding their way to coffee shops, supermarket shelves, artisanal coffee store, and eventually your morning cup of coffee. The conditions that were so critical during the sea freight are equally as important here. Units like Thermo King’s E-200 and B-100 can ensure that the beans are kept fresh along the last mile.

It takes a great amount of effort from people all over the world to make sure you get your morning cup of coffee. Cooled transport is indispensable along the whole supply chain to make sure your start your days with a boost of energy.

Discover how Thermo King can help you in the process from seed to coffee: contact your dealer