UPDATE May 19th, 2014: Many news sites have recently picked up the story of the coffee rust epidemic. To help our customers to better understand what this means, we are re-posting Jeff’s Trip Report from El Salvador, originally published on February 20th, 2014. San Salvador, El Salvador As always, when I arrived in El… Continue Reading
Coffee farming is tough work, but working to grow coffee from seed to harvest is only part of the job. Once the coffee is harvested, the real work starts: Processing.
Processing coffee is the act of removing the layers of skin, pulp, mucilage, and parchment that surround a coffee bean – the raw ingredient that the farmer will sell. How a grower chooses to process the coffee will have a profound impact on how that coffee tastes.
Given PT’s and Bird Rock are currently offering coffees that have gone through several different processing techniques, we thought it might be a good time to go over what these techniques are and how they affect the flavor of the coffee. While there are several ways to process coffee, with countless variations of each, I will stick with the main ones we usually carry plus a few interesting twists on traditional methods that we now have in stock from some of the talented growers that we work with.
Most of the coffee we sell is “washed” or wet-processed. For this process, the freshly-harvested coffee cherries are de-pulped, which removes the skin and most of the fruit around the bean. The coffee then is placed in tanks where it is allowed to naturally ferment for 18-24 hours. This fermentation works to remove mucilage which is a sugary, slimy substance that surrounds the bean.
Once the grower determines that the coffee has had enough fermentation, the coffee is washed with fresh water which stops the fermentation process. Then the coffee is dried on Kenyan (raised) beds or patios before resting for 60-90 days in warehouses. Coffees that are washed tend to be floral and more citrusy.
At Bird Rock, our Guatemala La Joya is washed while at PT’s, the new Mama Cata Toña from Panama is another wonderful example of a wet-processed coffee.
The second most common process that we carry is natural or dry-processed. For naturals, ripe cherries are laid out on a patio or on Kenyan beds, fruit intact, and the coffee is allowed to slowly dry. Once dry, the fruit is stripped away from the bean. Coffees that are dry-processed tend to be fruitier and can be very intense and berry-like.
Both PT’s and Bird Rock are offering a coffee from Ethiopia, Gedeo, which is a good example of a classic, naturally-processed coffee. This particular coffee works wonderfully as Espresso, evidenced by Bird Rock’s roast winning a Gold Medal at this year’s Golden Bean Awards.
There are differences in the cup between PT’s version and Bird Rock’s so this is a nice opportunity to experience the effects roasting on different machines can have on the same bean.
Bird Rock uses a Loring Roaster while PT’s uses both a vintage Gothot roaster and newer Dietrich IRs. These roasters, by the way, apply heat differently to the green coffee so even though the final roast degree of the bean is the same on each roaster, the acidity, body, and complexity are altered based on how the coffee roasts.
One variation on the Natural Process is called Wine-Processed. With a Wine-Processed coffee, instead of harvesting the cherries at the peak of harvest, the cherries are allowed to over-ripen on the shrub, thus giving the cherries a higher concentration of sugar.
Honeyed Coffee has grown in popularity over the last few years, especially in countries like Costa Rica and El Salvador. For Honeyed coffee, the harvested cherries are de-pulped, then the coffee is immediately placed on beds for slow drying – bits of pulp/fruit actually dries on to the coffee. Depending on how much pulp is left on the coffee, Honeyed can be classified as Yellow, Red, or Black. Coffee processed in this way, tends to be fruity like a natural and a little creamier in mouthfeel than a washed coffee.
PT’s Loma La Gloria Red Honeyed is a nice example of this style.
More Variations on a Theme:
In the coming weeks Bird Rock and PT’s will be rolling out several new coffees from the famed Finca Kilimanjaro in El Salvador. Two of these coffees demonstrate unique approaches to the Washed Process.
ETHIOPIA-style [Bird Rock]: With normal washed-process coffee, no water is added until after the coffee has fermented. The water is used to clean the coffee and to stop the fermentation process. At Kilimanjaro, they have been using water at different stages of the process to better manipulate the final cup character. For the “Ethiopian-style,” once the coffee is de-pulped and placed in tanks, the coffee is covered in water for 48 hours so the coffee is actually fermenting underwater. During this time, the water is drained and fresh water is added every 12 hours. Once the coffee is washed and fermentation stopped, the coffee is placed back in tanks and covered with water again for 24 hours before drying.
BURUNDI-style [Bird Rock]: This approach requires a 24-hour DRY fermentation, meaning that the de-pulped coffee is placed in tanks without being submerged in water, just like the regular washed-processed. However, for their Burundi-style, the coffee is washed every 12 hours…which just means they add a little bit of fresh water and turn with a wooden paddle. While the initial 24-hour fermentation time is average for most washed coffee, here the coffee is washed midway through the process and THEN the coffee undergoes continued fermentation underwater.
This is a wonderful time of year to enjoy coffee and to be in the coffee business. We usually see our best coffee coming in during the summer and fall and this year is no exception. The variety of different processing techniques we are offering right now can make for a wonderful educational experience as well.
UPDATE: We are no longer receiving direct donations to the Finca Santa Maria fund. Thank you so very much for your support! We far exceeded our initial goal will have an update soon on the total amount received. You can read Armando’s letter of gratitude here. For Maritza and I, it was just another travel… Continue Reading
Boquete, Panama – December 10, 2012 I’ve been traveling to Panama for nearly a decade now. It’s one of my favorite trips each year. The producers here are very educated, up to date the latest farming and processing techniques, agronomy and the science of coffee. So I took it as one of my many goals… Continue Reading
I got one of “those” emails a few weeks back that seemed a little strange at first . It was a “last chance offer” to respond to an opportunity from Google. Apparently a representative of Google had tried unsuccessfully the prior week to reach me via email only I didn’t respond. I hate it when… Continue Reading
Republished with permission by Mike Perry, Klatch Roasting One of the great things about the coffee industry is the friendships and relationships. Even though we all compete and strive for the perfect roast or espresso, we still work together and help each other out. Often we travel together and even buy lots of coffee together.… Continue Reading
El Salvador Cup of Excellence supporters – Nine years ago when El Salvador joined the Cup of Excellence family, many nay-sayers said that this country could not identify small farms and did not produce the kind of unique quality that was worthy of a Cup of Excellence award. El Salvador has always had great processing… Continue Reading
Big news for another one of our Direct Trade partners. Juan Diego De La Cerda of Guatemala – Finca El Socorro y Anexos – finished in the top 5 of the Coffee of the Year competition when the winners were announced by the Specialty Coffee Association of America and the Roasters Guild yesterday. I just… Continue Reading
I was enjoying a rare day off at origin today – in Panama City this time – when all of the sudden I began to get these nagging feelings of guilt about not updating our PT’s blog more often. I hate it when that happens! A self imposed guilt trip ruining a perfectly good day… Continue Reading
Finca El Socorro, Guatemala In 2010 we introduced you to a Guatemalan offering that we at PT’s were thrilled to launch as our newest Direct Trade Relationship coffee. Finca El Socorro Maracaturra made it’s way into our roasting plant mid September and was gone before we knew it. As sad as we were to see… Continue Reading