My first coffee crop – a diary

The maiden crop from my backyard coffee tree provided as many challenges as it did joys – yet I suppose I wouldn’t have had it any other way. Our most satisfying accomplishments generally make us work a little harder for them. The rewards? Well, just that little bit sweeter.

In toying with prospective titles for this post, one which immediately came to mind contained the words ”a producers diary”. Although (perhaps) technically correct, what is involved at scale in producing coffee, and the nature in which it supports growers, their families, and even entire communities, is a far cry from my little hobby. Such a title, even though tongue in cheek, would be a little disrespectful to those who derive their livelihood from such an endeavour.

Documented in a previous post was a chronicle of my initial foray into the art of coffee processing. On that occasion, it was a small lot picked from some of my parent’s trees which I processed, roasted, brewed, and thoroughly enjoyed. Never having processed coffee straight from a tree prior to that, it was certainly an experience which involved considerable learning by doing, albeit after a fair bit of prior reading. Of course, the most productive and effective means of knowledge acquisition was listening to my mother (something I’m sure she would confirm I was always very, very good at) – who has been processing her own coffee for many years now.

Apart from ending up with some pretty decent coffee to drink, one of the main reasons for such an undertaking back then was the coffee tree slowly growing in my own backyard. Eventually, it would also bear fruit, and with it the requirement to process the resulting crop, in the hope of ending up with something much the same in my own cup.

The Long Haul

True to the theory books – and my mother’s expectations – three years into its life the little-tree-that-could flowered and subsequently bore fruit. The next phase had finally begun, and with it, my own little vertical monopoly through the supply chain from seed to cup. Maybe not enough to retire on, but enough to at least retire to the lounge on, with a satisfying home-grown filter brew in my hand.

Growing – for the longest time

Year 1

While not a photo-a-day type record, I have intermittently documented in Day One the tree’s progression from that initial planting in March 2014, and looking back it has indeed been a journey. After one year the tree was a little over 40cm tall; two years along it was 95cm; three years after planting it measured about 140cm.     

Now approaching its fourth anniversary, the tree is heaving with a second crop, and is healthy and robust, standing just over two metres tall. This season’s micro-lot will be a little less micro, though I doubt I’ll need a team of pickers.

Year 2

Although unable to pinpoint the exact varietal of the tree itself, it can be traced back to a small coffee farm in northern New South Wales, with a plantation of Arabica trees largely comprising the SL 34 designation. While this information no longer seems available online, we’ll proceed on that assumption, though of course it is not critical to the outcome of what follows below.

Back to the initial crop, and although I didn’t expect much, could not have been happier once the tree flowered in November of 2016. Sure enough, after a brief period sporting beautiful white flowers, in the subsequent months the buds turned into green fruit, followed by further development and ripening. “They’ll be ready in about eight months,” said my mother. In the middle of 2017 (precisely eight months later), many of the cherries had turned a beautiful deep red, and in July picking began in earnest.

With the cherries reaching peak ripeness at slightly different rates, picking occurred over four successive weekends into the beginning of August, and processing followed in a similar way. The entire useable crop in whole cherry form weighed in at approximately 700g. Interestingly, this provided just under 100g of green beans (or 14% of the cherry weight) once processing and drying had been completed.

Although expected, this dramatic reduction certainly gave me pause. Thinking about the sheer volume of coffee consumed around the globe and the amount which must be grown to service this demand boggles the mind a little.

At this juncture, I must admit to never having been the most attentive gardener, and the timely watering, fertilising and general care was more regularly applied by my understanding wife than by yours truly. As I find with most things, to say I could not have done it without her is as much an expression of gratitude as a statement of fact.

Credit where credit is due

Success! That little tree grew, flowered and produced a decent crop of fruit.

Processing

Given the small (tiny!) yield I would be working with, the decision was made early on in the piece to process the crop using the washed method. Having successfully utilised this method in the past, I was fairly confident of doing so again. Washed processing also leaves less to chance (at least to this amateur) with variables such as optimal drying time and weather conditions compared to dry processing techniques.

While it is tempting to use other methods or even compare a washed process sample with a naturally processed one, perhaps that is for another year when the yield is much higher. Having detailed the washed processing method more extensively in a previous post, I will not restate things in detail, however should this be of interest – that link again:

Crop to Cup: the complete series

Further, having also mentioned natural processing, the first in a series of three posts detailing my initial experience using such a method can be found here:

Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 1 – Processing methods

Soon to be roasted

Over a number of weeks, I fastidiously worked my way through pulp removal, rinsing, and soaking/fermenting the beans in water to remove the sticky exterior mucilage before laying them out to dry. Once dry, the remaining husk or parchment was removed, followed by a couple of weeks additional drying time to reduce the moisture content, and we were then ready to roast.

Roasting

With each processing step resulting in ever diminishing returns as far as the overall crop weight was concerned, a further 10–15% was about to vanish into thin air with the usual moisture loss of roasting.

Now roasting a batch of green stock weighing a drum-busting 98 grams was always going to be a delicate proposition, and to be honest I’m equal parts pleased and relieved with how things turned out.

A little forward thinking about how I would be brewing, dictated the planned level of roast. If we think about it, 98 grams of green equals 80-something roasted. A grinder purge, then dialling in an espresso say, at 20g – even nailing it on the second round – and I’m through roughly 50 grams already. Once more and I’m pretty much done. Filter brewing with a V60 at my usual 16 or 22 gram dose, I am looking at four or five brews with minimal loss at the front end dialling in.

So with a filter roast profile in mind, a bright spring day saw the Behmor 1600 Plus set up, warmed up, and loaded with green coffee, not five metres from where it was grown. Very satisfying to think about as I sit here and write these words.

As I alluded to above, things went pretty well with the roast, yet as I come to the point of describing it for you in a little more detail, now realise I’ve thrown out my notes. Correct. For all the nerdy note taking and piles of notebooks and paper around here, I’ve called my own organisational bluff and thrown them out when tidying things up, inadvertently not scanning them first as I usually do.

I do recall the roast was quite short (as you’d expect with such a starting weight), somewhere in the order of about seven and a half minutes, or maybe 7:45, with first crack at about 6:30. The overall development time ratio would be around 16% or so. I do remember thinking at the time I’d have preferred a slightly longer overall roast time and additional development subsequent to first crack, however as you can imagine, was a little paranoid about taking them too far and losing the lot.

A delicate balance between enough for adequate development, without scorching the exterior of those oh-so-valuable green beans. The final yield? A no-bag-too-small 88 grams of freshly roasted goodness, ready to rest for a week or so before brewing.

Finally done – the image suggests the roast was a little darker than it actually was.

With a sigh of relief at having navigated perhaps one of the shortest, yet most stressful part of the journey, I was safe in the knowledge brewing would be a somewhat more relaxing process.

Brewing

They say the proof is in the cup, and I must admit to receiving a pleasant surprise here. Sure, I didn’t set the coffee flavour wheel spinning, however filter brewing with a V60 provided a sweet, delicate cup. Not knowing what to expect, my first sip drew an audible laugh and a wow – that’s actually not too bad.

I can be well satisfied in saying I’ve managed to produce a light to medium bodied coffee, which is quite well-balanced, sweet, and carrying flavours of chocolate, with a hint of spice. For all the effort which came before it – I’d say it was just about perfect.

There are only so many ways to stretch out 88 grams of roasted coffee, however what I did manage to consume over the subsequent fortnight was both enjoyable and highly rewarding nonetheless.

 

 The Finish

Three years ago I planted two small coffee seedlings in our garden near the back fence. Although one didn’t make it, the other flourished.

At the other end of that same garden is a lemon tree, which is also bearing a nice crop of fruit. It is there any similarity ends. The lemons will grow, ripen, and once picked, be ready to use – job done.

The coffee? Once ripe and picked from the tree, things are only just beginning. From that point on, there are all manner of ways to ruin it. Even if we do eventually make it through the processing, drying, roasting, storage, and brewing without robbing it of too much quality at each step – have we presented in the cup the best version of what that coffee is, or what it has the potential to be?

On this occasion, I’m hopeful I did somewhat of a reasonable job, although if the answer was a flat-out yes, then the motivation to improve on the next go around perhaps drops off a little. As I look out the window now and see a thriving tree filled with green fruit, I’m determined this next crop will not only be bigger – it will be a whole lot better as well.

Satisfying? Yes – just a little.

Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 3 – Results and Conclusion

Welcome to the third and final post in a three-part series on a small-scale coffee processing experiment I undertook in my back yard. The first two posts can be found here:

Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 1- Processing Methods

Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 2 – Methods and a little madness

A quick recap:

Late last year I picked a small crop from the coffee trees which are thriving at my parents house in northern New South Wales. Having processed a batch of the same coffee using a washed method a couple of years ago, I decided to try my hand at natural methods. The previous two posts and what follows below describe how things went for two separate batches: one “honey” processed, and the other a “natural” processed batch.

Part of the crop
Part of the crop

Results are in

In summary, the natural processed lot dried really well, however as I alluded to in Part Two of this series, the honey processing wasn’t quite as straightforward. I’ve broken things down a little further on each below.

Natural process

The naturals were a breeze to manage, and appeared to move fairly quickly in the early days of drying. It was fairly apparent early on some of the beans most likely commenced the process with less moisture content than others, as the darkening and progression from red to almost black which occurred within the first 7-10 days proceeded at different rates.

Once this first week or so had passed, the entire batch of naturals were mostly a uniform black colour, and the outer skins began to shrink and harden further. Looking back on some of the guidelines from the Part One post in this series — from Sweet Maria’s on climate suitability:

If a farm can dry coffee from ripe cherry to hard, dried pod in 20 days, it is probably well-suited to DP (dry processing) methods.

If I look at the naturals after 20 days, I think they would have been almost ready to go, and probably could have been removed from drying, hulled, and the bean then dried a little further at that point, resulting in a total drying time of around 30 days.

Natural processed batch across four time points.
Four time points: natural processing.

This is exactly what I should have done, however with a lot of my focus on the honey processed batch, it didn’t really occur to me to just pull the naturals from the drying bed and proceed with the next stage of processing. As I write this it sounds ridiculous not to have done this, however also in retrospect, I at least know what the longer end of the drying scale produces, and I’d rather have that knowledge in the bank and work on a shorter time period in future. Have I ever mentioned before I do these things to learn? I think I may have somewhere along the line.

In any event, the naturally processed batch had dried well, and it was onto hulling – or removing the outer skin, pulp and parchment layer. This was a fairly straightforward process, however with anything more than a very small batch becomes very time intensive. Piercing the skin with my finger nail, opening the dried pulp and pulling away all of the layers together left the just the green been, with a little silver skin which often clings, and is blown off during roasting.

Hulled and ready for roasting
Hulled and ready for roasting

In comparison with the washed processing method (of the DIY kind), if we are talking total effort and time, I found the removal of these outer layers all at once to be easier than the separate steps of pulping followed by removal of the dry parchment post-drying.

Honey process

It was with the honey processed batch that things were held up a little. I’ve mentioned in Part Two about the sticky outer coating of mucilage on the beans — and when I say sticky, I mean really, really sticky.

I had assumed after a week or so this would begin to dry out, which did occur as a warm dry day progressed, however as each day drew to a close and the air temperature fell, the stickiness returned. I even tried bringing them inside at night (stopping short of tucking them in after turning down the bed and laying a chocolate on their pillow) for a number of days however this really had no effect.

At the time I simply pushed on, assuming perhaps after a few weeks I’d have a dry batch, however this wasn’t so. Of course my error here was assuming an outer dry layer correlated with drying of the inner bean. I’ve yet to work out an exact relationship between the two, however I’d they are in some way related.

At around day 16 or 17 the first signs of dark spots began to appear on the outer surface of some beans. I proceeded on the basis I would either end up with a batch of beautiful “black honey” processed beans, or a heap of mould. I had my hopes on the former, however fully expected the latter. Remember at this stage things were still quite sticky, so I thought I had a way to go before they might be ready. In reality, it took another 10-12 days before the black spots began to increase. After around 38 days, it had well and truly taken hold of many of the beans.

Four time points: honey processing
Four time points: honey processing

So, by that stage I was indeed left with what appeared to be a pile of mould. The evenness in appearance of a true black honey processing method was replaced by what definitely appeared to be groups of black spores enveloping each bean. It was time to cut my losses and proceed only with the naturally processed batch.

A few lessons

First, I’d pull up stumps earlier on both batches of beans if I’d had my time again. Waiting for the honey processed batch to dry further was probably an exercise in futility. In doing so, I inadvertently left the naturals a good deal longer than planned (at least a coupe of weeks longer).

Also, plan on life getting in the way a little. By the time I had really decided the drying time was probably done, it was another week to remove the hulls from the naturals, and a further two until roasting. Not the end of the world, however when most things are limited to weekends, it’s not hard to blow out a scheduled timeline by weeks at a time. That said, I’d rather have that happen than not try this at all.

After all was said and done, I did actually venture back into the shed and remove the parchment layer from a couple of beans in the mouldy honey processed batch. Surprisingly, the bean appearance was reasonably good, however by that time I had already decided to abandon them — probably the wisest choice given the amount of mould on those outer layers.

If you are considering processing your own coffee at home, my advice would be to stick with a fully washed process, or if you are looking to dabble in some dry methods, perhaps go with a straight “natural” process.

Also, having now tried both wet and dry processing methods, I can offer the perspective that in a backyard DIY situation there is a little more work at the “front end” of the washed processing, however after that first week of pulping and washing, there only remains the hulling — or removal of the parchment layer once the beans have dried out.

By comparison, in a natural processed batch, there really is minimal effort required at the front end of the process, and come the time when the dried cherry is pulped and hulled, all layers come away pretty easily, and all you have left is the bean — ready to roast. On balance, looking at the total effort involved with each, I’d come down in favour of the natural processing method. Remember, the issues I had with turning the coffee during the drying process were all related to the honey processed batch. The naturals? As simple as running your hand over them or giving the drying frame a bit of a shake.

Concluding the processing

Reading through what I have written above, you may get the impression getting the coffee this far was all a little too hard, and perhaps not worth the time overall.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and I will definitely be processing more coffee naturally in future. Honey processing? Probably not — I’ll leave that to the experts in Costa Rica, and many other countries now processing this way.

For future batches though I’ll probably begin by limiting the drying time to around 20 days or so and see how the roast and taste compares with the current batch of 50 days duration. From there it’s only a matter of altering the time frames for further experimentation. I’m definitely looking forward to pursuing this further in future.

The remainder of this post will focus on the naturally processed batch, given the outcome of the honey processed lot detailed above.

Roasting

Once processing was complete, it was time to turn to roasting. Something which would be a fairly delicate task given the size of the batch remaining.

Remember, I began with 210 grams of coffee cherries in the each group. After the drying, the Natural crop had reduced in weight to 100 grams, and after de-pulping: 46 grams — a fairly small batch to roast. However, roast we must — otherwise everything to this point becomes fairly irrelevant.

A successful roast
A successful roast of the naturally processed batch

The plan was to brew the resulting roast by filter, so a light to medium roast was in order. For those who may be interested, checking back on my roasting notes, the total roast time was 11 minutes, with a development of 19%.

Drinking

Having climbed the mountain, we were now at the summit, and the amount remaining to brew? A healthy 37.5 grams of roasted coffee, which had rested for seven days post roast and was now ready to go. Given I had a few tasters (family members) around the table, we had one shot at it, so with the hope my grind setting and brew recipe were somewhat close to the mark, away we went.

  • Coffee: Nine South Estate 2015 Natural
  • Region: Alstonville1 NSW, Australia
  • Grower: L & J Denison
  • Elevation: 140 m
  • Processing: Sun-dried Natural
  • Crop year: 2015

So how did it taste?

The result: shared with those who produced it
The result: shared with those who produced it

In all honesty, better than I expected. Sure, it wasn’t the pinnacle of fruity naturally processed greatness, however overall I would describe it as very well-balanced, with medium to light body, mild citrus acidity, with the predominant flavours woody spice and a hint of chocolate. Although not overpowering, there certainly some of those earthy flavours which can be apparent in naturally processed coffee, and these were also evident in the dry aroma after grinding.

A very enjoyable brew, for which I admit to being quite thankful for given the process leading up to actually tasting the stuff. My group of tasters around the table? In summary, I’d say there was general acknowledgement the whole process had been a success, given what was now being consumed. Mostly, the “actually that’s not too bad/pretty good” comments you expect when taste testing something you may be a little dubious about initially.

Of course it would have been sensible at this point to have on hand a sample of the same coffee processed by the fully washed method wouldn’t it? It’s probably a little late to think of that when pouring the brew into the cups. Another for the “in retrospect – this is what I will do next time” file.

In conclusion

I began this natural processing experiment in the knowledge at some point in the next few years I will need to be processing the fruit produced on the coffee tree now growing so well in my back yard.

Where it all began
Where it all began

Having previously managed to process a batch using the wet or washed method successfully, I was keen to see how a naturally processed lot turned out in comparison. In summary, I’d say I have a way to go with both methods, with some experimentation still required as to the length of the drying time with my naturals; and more efficient methods associated with the wet processing. Of course the joy in all of this is the amount of taste testing required to assess the results from tweaks in my processes.

After completing my first foray into natural processing, I think I’ll leave the “honey” methods to the experts, having found this more difficult every step of the way, however I certainly plan to be using the power of the local sunshine for some more natural process drying in future.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this series of posts, and perhaps learned something from them — I know I certainly have. Signing off with a special message from the honey processed batch: ”thanks for sticking with me”.

 

  1. The town I grew up in before moving to Brisbane in 1990. ↩︎

Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 2 – Methods and a little madness

Welcome to the second instalment in a series of posts describing my use of dry processing methods to take a small batch of coffee cherries from the tree and into the cup. If you missed the initial post, you can find it here, along with a series of posts from a couple of years ago on washed processing methods which I have recently combined and republished.

Since publishing Part One some weeks ago, I’ve been crunching a few numbers (I do mean just a few: no complex algorithms or statistical modelling here), and hopefully can present something coherent about how this whole thing proceeded.

My expectations

To recap, I am experimenting with two dry processing methods: Natural processing, where after picking, the whole coffee cherry is simply laid out and sun-dried. Once the whole cherry has dried, depulping and hulling then follow. The second is Honey processing, where the flesh or pulp is removed from the cherry first, leaving the sticky mucilage layer on, with the beans then laid out and sun-dried.

At the outset, I planned to have the beans drying for three to four weeks or so, remove the pulp and mucilage from the naturals, and allow them to dry for a further week before roasting. The honey processed batch? Well, that was anyone’s guess, as I really had no idea how long it would take for the sticky mucilage to dry on the outside of the bean — particularly in a climate known for its humidity. Time would tell me, or so I hoped.

For that matter, I wasn’t even entirely sure as to how I would tell when the drying process had reached a stage where roasting would then be possible. I have mentioned the often quoted 12.5% moisture content in previous posts, however I do not have the necessary equipment to readily determine the exact moisture level.

Time and estimation would have to do.

Tools

I say tools — however there was really only one: my custom-made raised drying bed. Sounds pretty fancy when described like that, however it consisted of a flyscreen-covered picture frame sitting across the arms of an outdoor chair. Fairly rudimentary, however not a great deal of complexity is needed to ensure adequate ventilation and airflow.

IMG_4915 IMG_4923

Other than that, it was simply my iPhone for recording photos and data, Day One app as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, and a couple of bowls for both beans and debris when depulping the honey processed lot and eventually the same for the naturals after drying.

Methods

Before we get too much further not things, I probably should mention upon beginning this whole process, I had 420 grams of coffee cherries by weight at my disposal.

IMG_4919

These were split into the two groups evenly, with 210 g into each of the natural and honey processed groups respectively. Of course this reduced quite significantly in the honey group once the pulp was removed, however I did not check the actual weight again.

Initial processing

As you can imagine, the naturals required zero processing to prepare for drying, with the exception being to check for any bad fruit.

For the honey group, this amounted to depulping or removing the skin and outer flesh by hand, leaving the sticky mucilage covering the parchment layer on the outside of the seed or “bean”. Not an overly onerous task, however at any great scale would require significant time and effort — or machinery.

IMG_4929 IMG_4930

Once complete, out on the drying rack they went, with a Day Zero photo taken, and we were under way.

Drying

Over the course of the drying period I followed the same routine to ensure the beans were regularly turned, and also covered from any dew which formed in the evenings:

  • at around 6 am each morning the chair and drying rack were placed out in my back yard in a position of full sun;IMG_4934
  • a photo of each batch was taken and uploaded to Day One with additional humidity data from the Bureau of Meteorology (courtesy of the Pocket Weather Australia iOS app);
  • any additional comments were added to the entry;
  • upon returning home from work, both batches were manually turned, with the drying rack placed back under cover of the patio roof, ready to repeat the process each day until completion.

It was during this process a little bit of madness set in. As I have mentioned on numerous occasions, the mucilage remaining on the honey processed batch was quite sticky. If you’ve ever had to move and turn numerous small sticky objects you’ll invariably understand the ensuing challenge.

By hand, well… the beans simply stuck to my hand. By a plastic IMG_5086paint scraper… the beans simply clumped and stuck to that. Eventually, I resorted to simply turning them by one by one. Wait…what? Yes, that’s right, flipping over each little bean and placing it softly down again on its little bed for the night, only to have it face the searing sun again the next day.

One. At. A. Time. Like I said — madness.

Despite this insanity, the routine worked well over the weeks this IMG_4995whole process took, with the exception of a few days where I was either home late or in a rush, and didn’t stop to turn them or record data and photos. In any event, each night they were in and the following day back out. During some stormy weather for a few days during the middle of the drying period they were also left under cover during the day. Better safe than sorry.

Final processing

Once the drying process was complete, we end up with essentially the reverse to how we started. The naturals required depulping, and for the honey group, only removal of the final parchment layer to expose the bean inside.

Just to be sure I planned to then leave the beans a further week before roasting.

The data

The result of the data recording in Day One was a 64 page PDF export containing basic data such as day, date and time; weather information (temperature and description); a photo record of the bean appearance, and any additional comments I made for the day’s entry, which importantly included a record of the relative humidity at the time — a known enemy of natural processing.

Although there were 64 entries, these were made on 32 individual days, with two entries per day the result of taking separate photo of each of the natural and honey groups each day. Although it might have been nice to upload two photos on the one entry, that was not a feature available to me at the time, however it is now, with a fantastic recent update to Day One.

Drying progress one week in.
Drying progress one week in.

Further to this point, although the entries were made on 32 individual days, with a few days missed here and there for various reasons, the entire process spanned 50 days in all — perhaps a little long, however we will get into that later. Typically around the time I begin entering data into a spreadsheet is when I also realise a few additional data points or variables collected may have assisted the overall analysis a little — this time was no different. Upon adding the temperature data, it soon became apparent the numbers probably didn’t quite reflect the actual temperature during the day, when those little beans took one for the team, and spent many hours in reasonably hot sun.

When entering the numbers I found myself thinking it had been a very mild October compared with how I remember it feeling day-to-day. It wasn’t long before I realised this was largely due to the fact that the times I had available to snap the photo and add the Day One entry, were either before or after work. Of course both these times occurred when the temperature had either yet to rise, or was already falling — really, must an occupation get in the way of everything — particularly hard-core science?

Thankfully, gathering additional data retrospectively is what we have the Internet for. The Bureau of Meteorology kindly helped out with mean, maximum and minimum temperatures, and a few other pieces of information such as rainfall and average sunshine over the course of the drying period. Would all of this additional data make any difference to how I conducted the drying? Absolutely not, however I think it does provide you with some idea of the conditions at the time, and perhaps whether or not it might be something you’d try yourself relative to how things turned out.

So, those numbers:

  • Drying period 50 days through October/November (Southern Hemisphere Spring);
  • October mean temperature range 16.3 – 27.1 degrees celsius (actual temperatures 12.9 – 33.8 degrees celsius);
  • November mean temperature range 19.8 – 29.2 degrees celsius (actual temperatures 16.1 – 33.4 degrees celsius);
  • mean hours per day of sunshine: October 9.1 hours; November 9.2 hours;
  • Total rainfall: October 55.8 mm; November 74.2 mm

What good is recorded data without a few charts, so I have included daily temperature and humidity recordings below, along with my own bean turning degree of difficulty score — which I understand is quite complex, however if you look hard enough I think it tells a story.

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.29.10 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.29.29 AM

Screen Shot 2016-03-13 at 6.29.56 AM

Next: results and a few lessons

This post has started to become a little lengthy, so I have split off a closer look at the results and outcome for next time.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: the absolute best thing about writing this blog (beyond the knowledge that a few people actually read it), is what I learn along the way. Not simply from the research and dodgy backyard experiments that ensue, but how the act of writing makes me think a little more on the results, and what I might do differently or look into further next time. You know, that realisation you sometimes get: “well now that I say it out loud I’m not sure if it really is such a great idea”.

I hope you’ll join me for a few more realisations in the next post.


Coffee: A Natural Processing Experiment Part 1- Processing Methods

Regular readers will be aware I do a little coffee roasting at home, the majority of which occurs with green coffee beans bought online. A couple of years ago I published a five-part series on the techniques involved with washed processing of coffee, taking a very small batch through the processing stages from cherry off the tree and into the cup.

Back in November last year I republished these in a single post, in the knowledge I would be running through a similar experiment using natural processing methods. Around the same time I also put together a short piece about the app Day One, and how I planned to use it to monitor my progress.

One of my main aims in writing here is to push myself along in learning a little more about the specific details of my interests — in this case, coffee processing. To that end, it will help to look at some background information before I get started.

Coffee processing — what are the options?

Although the following is not a detailed explanation of each, it should serve as a general indication of the differences between the various processing options available after coffee is harvested from the tree. The three more popular methods at the current time are natural (dry), washed (wet) and honey processing. I will also briefly describe the semi-washed or wet-hulled method, and a semi-dry method: pulped natural processing.

The information that follows is a put together from the following sources, all of which I’d recommend for more detailed information and accompanying images:

Cafe ImportsCoffee Processes

D.R. WakefieldThe difference between semi-washed and fully washed methods

Perfect Daily GrindIndonesian Wet Hulled Coffee: Your One-Stop Guide

Origin Coffee RoastersBlack. Red. White. A Guide to Costa Rica’s Honey Process

Cafe BrittHoney Processed Coffee: What makes it so special?

Seattle CoffeeworksWhat on Earth is Honey Process?

James HoffmannThe World Atlas of Coffee (Book)

The article on the Seattle Coffeeworks blog is particularly useful to view the “anatomy” of a coffee bean, and provides a little more detail in describing each of the layers, which might be helpful in gaining a better understanding of some of the terms described below.

For reference, the following schematic diagram names each layer in the entire coffee cherry:

  1. 2000px-Coffee_Bean_Structure.svgCentre cut
  2. Bean or seed (endosperm)
  3. Silver skin (epidermis)
  4. Parchment (hull, endocarp)
  5. Pectin layer (mucilage)
  6. Pulp or flesh (mesocarp)
  7. Outer skin (pericarp, exocarp)

 

Wet processing methods

Fully washed

Described in its simplest form, wet processed or washed coffee involves extracting and fermenting the bean from the flesh of the pulp, followed by drying, or more specifically:

  1. The external fruit pulp (exocarp and part of the mesocarp) is removed by mechanical de-pulping machines;
  2. The remaining mesocarp or “mucilage” is insoluble in water and clings to the parchment layer strongly, needing removal by fermentation and washing, or friction in mucilage removal machines;
  3. The beans may then be taken through a second washing to remove any remaining debris;
  4. Drying is then undertaken on patios or raised drying beds.

(Note: this method is what I have described in my five-part series of posts linked to above; the above stages are all completed by hand rather than machine when done on a small-scale)

Wet-hulled or semi-washed

Typically a method used in countries such as Indonesia, where humidity is high, and rainfall abundant. Wet-hulling (giling-basah) is a traditional processing method used in these countries, and was developed due to the particular climate and conditions:

  1. After harvesting, the pulp is removed, leaving the mucilage and parchment covering the bean;
  2. Beans are fermented in concrete tanks or plastic rice bags overnight (this process assist with breaking down the pectin in the mucilage for easier removal);
  3. The beans are then washed to remove the mucilage (or sold to a larger processing mill to continue the processing);
  4. After mucilage removal, remaining is the wet parchment, hence this coffee may also be called “wet parchment coffee”;
  5. Sun drying occurs for 2-3 days, reducing the moisture content to 20-24% (wet processed coffees are dried to a moisture content of 11-12%, rendering the parchment brittle for easier removal);
  6. The parchment is then removed using machinery specifically designed for wet parchment coffee (greater friction is required);
  7. Further drying occurs in the sun by day, with the coffee stored in bags overnight to continue the fermentation until the moisture content is reduced to the desired level.

An interesting point to note here is a point about wet-hulled green coffee being recognisable by its “dark-green and patchy colour” which may also be described as blue. I’ve certainly noticed this in the green coffee I have purchased which was processed in Sumatra, and it is very bluish in colour — quite noticeable compared with green coffee from other regions around the world.

I’d highly recommend reading the original article on Perfect Daily Grind, as it goes into considerable detail around the origins of why the processing is used, possible defects, and advice for getting the most out of these types of coffees (including roasting).

Semi-dry processing methods

Although not typically a category you often see listed individually, semi-dry processing does use significantly less water than the washed or semi-washed methods described above.

Pulped natural

Pulped natural processing is apparently a common method used in, but not unique to Brazil — and you will certainly see this description on coffee originating from other countries. The actual stages are similar to the washed process described above, however the mucilage is removed with a pressure washing apparatus (taking care of steps 2 and 3 above), which removes the need for fermentation.

Without requiring large tanks and significant water for fermentation, the pulped natural method doesn’t quite fit in the wet processing category, however it is not fully dry either — therefore ending up in its own semi-dry category.

I must also point out that up until this point, I had not really looked closely at the subtle differences between pulped natural and honey methods of processing, however they are distinctly different, given the mucilage is removed in the former, however remains on in the latter (described further below).

Although consistency is apparently increased with pulped natural processing, as the risk of too much or too little fermentation is eliminated, thinking goes that this consistency possibly comes at the expense of flavour. Pulped natural coffees commonly tend to have lower levels of acidity in their flavour profile.

Dry processing methods

Natural

Natural processing is probably the most common of the dry methods, and involves leaving the coffee cherry intact, sun drying, then removing all outer layers from the bean:

  1. early_cherry_natural_processThe coffee is harvested, and in some cases drying has already been allowed to commence on the tree;
  2. The pulp or flesh is left on, and the cherry is dried intact, with drying completed on raised beds or patios until the desired 11-12% moisture level is achieved;
  3. The entire hull (dried pulp and parchment layer) is then removed mechanically;
  4. The remaining seed or green coffee bean is then ready for export.

As you can see, this method is the simplest in the form of steps or intervention required, however I am certainly not suggesting it is necessarily easy to do well.

Honey

Honey processed coffees are a further subgroup of those classed as naturally processed, containing additional sub-groups based on specific criteria. This method originated and became popular in Costa Rica, progressively spreading to other countries in recent years.

The term honey is believed to have derived from the stickiness of the mucilage on the outside of the bean, which has a honey-like texture. Believe me – its sticky alright. Here is a short video demonstrating this to some degree, as producer Graciano Cruz of Los Lajones Estate talks about the honey processing method.

Farmers may separate their crop after harvesting, with the aim of developing different flavour profiles based on varying the amount of mucilage left on the bean and altering drying times. These discrete groups provide the various classes of honey processed coffees:

  1. White honey — all mucilage removed from the coffee seed; sun-dried uncovered
  2. Yellow (or golden) honey — approximately 50-75% mucilage removed; gains a yellow colour; dried in minimal shade over 7-10 days;
  3. Red honey — approximately 25-50% mucilage removed; longer drying time and perhaps combined with cloud/shade cover; dried over 14-21 days;
  4. Black honey — no mucilage removed; 100% of the sticky outer coating remains over the seed; covered to elongate drying time up to 30 days.
3_honey_coffee_colour
Adapted from Cafe Britt, showing (L to R) yellow, red, and black honey colouration after drying.

A point to note on the above list: most articles on honey processing will point to variations that occur from mill to mill or between individual producers. For example, I have seen descriptions indicating black honey processing involves drying the beans covered, with a relatively quick drying time — yet others suggest the drying time is longer. The percentages above are also approximations based on different articles I have read on the subject.

Why use dry or semi-dry processing methods?

For me personally, the answer is a simple: because I am interested and would like to see how things turn out. On a larger, professional scale, the reasons are obviously very different, and in a competitive marketplace, are a little more involved.

Perhaps to oversimplify things a little here, the answer seems to come down to two main aspects: flavour and environment (in which I include both climate, and the producer’s location and built environment — that is, access to technology and logistics around production etc).

When we talk of flavour (obviously quite important in the coffee game), Timothy Hill, of Counter Culture coffee summarises the flavour thinking in relation to natural processing:

With the natural processing, you’re letting the fruit and the nutrients from the skin and the sugars go into the seed through the drying process

In general, there seems to be the philosophy whereby natural coffees are a truer reflection of the flavour of the coffee cherry itself. This is not to say washed coffee holds none of these inherent characteristics, however from a consumer’s perspective, it is not often the two can be directly compared. In saying that, more producers seem to be showcasing different processing methods of similar or same harvest lots side by side.

As far as the other factors I have mentioned in relation to climate, technology, environment and overall capacity of the producer, Hill also goes on to note:

…the setup cost is extremely low—you don’t have to have a pulper, concrete, the machinery, electricity to run it — if you’re running a pretty large-sized farm. The labor and how to do it right is really tough. So it definitely is easy to take on; it’s really hard to do well.

And from Sweet Maria’s on climate suitability:

Natural coffees are perhaps the original method to process coffee. If the first coffee grown as commercial crop, for trading, was in Yemen, the climate is well-suited to dry processing. The western parts of Ethiopia such as Harar are traditional dry-processing areas. Older coffee-growing areas of Brazil as well as newer ones (Cerrado) have distinct seasons ideally suited to dry process method. If a farm can dry coffee from ripe cherry to hard, dried pod in 20 days, it is probably well-suited to DP (dry processing) methods.

Compared to washed processing, the natural method is clearly better suited to areas where water might be a scarcer resource, given its considerable utilisation in the various stages of the wet processing method. It then flows on, that drier (read less humid) climates would also be well suited to natural processing, which they appear to be.

Clearly in my humble backyard experiment, set up and ongoing costs are not a consideration at any scale, however with the coffee tree in my backyard now over a metre tall, there will be a time in future when processing considerations come into play. Although my time and effort required to process any coffee I produce will be a consideration, I suspect the local climate will perhaps dictate which method might be best overall.

The Experiment

Although I have called this series of posts a natural processing experiment – I use that term fairly casually. The plan is to outline in basic terms the methods I’ve used; data collected; recount how things turned out; and perhaps consider what I may do in future. What you won’t see are the usual scientific journal headings under which these components reside, nor a formal write-up with p-values, correlations, effect sizes or the like.

In simple terms, what you’ll read about is how I had a crack at it, followed by a tale of what happened.

Considering my natural processing options from those listed above, some thought was given to whether the methods used would be readily reproducible; easy enough to accomplish in terms of equipment, technique and time; and amenable to some type of tracking. Finally, it would be nice to utilise more than one type of processing and perhaps compare the two outcomes.

Of course there were some limitations in what I planned to do — climate for one. Many articles mention humidity as an “enemy” of natural processing, with Indonesian producers having adapted their methods to account for this, as I’ve described in the wet-hulled processing above. Although I have no real control over this, the drying period occurring in late spring provided some hope of finishing this phase before the full brunt of Brisbane summer humidity arrived.

Also, I have no real means of measuring the moisture content of the beans, with devices capable of this more expensive than what I’d be prepared to outlay at the current point in time. It is also beyond the scope of what I wanted to do, however would have provided decent points of reference for both data monitoring and as an indicator of when the process might be done. To that end, based on what I had read to date: “that seems long enough” would have to do.

In the end, I decided to try natural processing (entire cherry intact and sun-dried), along with a sample of the honey processing method, most closely aligned with what I have described as “black honey” above (pulp removed, with the entire mucilage remaining on the outside of the bean). In retrospect, the black honey method may not have been the wisest choice in a humid drying environment, however trying to remove some of the mucilage first and to what degree, did not easily satisfy my “ease of use” criteria — whereas removing the pulp and simply leaving them did.

IMG_4931

So things were now underway. A small lot of coffee cherries halved into even smaller batches, one natural and the other honey processed. Hopefully I have done a reasonable job above in explaining the basic differences between methods to provide you with some understanding of each — no doubt many of you will already be fairly familiar, however I though it would be a good starting off point.

Future post(s) will report back on progress and ultimately the outcome of my own little experimentation into natural processing methods — hopefully you’ll check back in and see how things went.


Crop to Cup: The Complete Series

A little over two years ago I published a series of five posts outlining my initial foray into coffee processing. The technique I used at the time was a wet or washed method of taking recently picked coffee cherries through various stages to the point of roasting. While the end result was not outstanding in the cup, having been given the cherries with no information as to their exact source, type or quality, the whole process was always going to be a little hit and miss.

In saying that however, I was quite happy with how the actual processing techniques proceeded. I must admit to having quite an experienced mentor in the form of my mother, who has now been processing the coffee grown in the backyard for a number of years, culminating in a first place at the local Agricultural Society annual show just a few weeks ago.

As I am currently in the middle of experimenting with some natural processing methods, I thought it might be worthwhile combining those five posts (originally titled Crop to Cup Parts 1 through 5) and republishing them together. Hopefully what follows will provide a little context, and also highlight some of the differences between the two styles of processing when I eventually write about what I currently have underway.

Although none of the original posts were excessive in length, I have included a table of contents should you wish to jump to any particular section of the article.

What follows is essentially unedited from what was originally published, except to improve the formatting and for clarity. I hope you find it as interesting to read as I found it going through the process.

Table of Contents:

1. Introduction, Pulping, and Fermentation

2. Transition to drying

3. Drying

4. Parchment Removal (Hulling) and Roasting

5. Tasting

1. Introduction, Pulping, and Fermentation (Top)

photo (1) While the title of this post may sound rather exotic, the reality is I have been lucky enough to be given a small, recently harvested crop of beautiful red coffee ‘cherries’. Receiving such a gift carries significant responsibility, and I am determined to process, roast and cup the resulting brew with all the dedication and care I can muster. As regular readers will know, I have been roasting at home for some time now (purchasing green beans online), however to this point have not processed beans straight from the tree.

This is a whole new ball game for me. How to proceed?

photo (3)photo (2)

The first step was a call to my parents, who grow, and therefore regularly process, roast and drink their own crop. Next, an internet search to see what is out there on this topic. I was surprised to find the most helpful instructions on my state government’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry website. For additional reading on the types of processing methods, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) provides a good summary.

Wet or Dry Processing

Firstly, there are two options, wet or dry processing. What follows in the section below outlines the wet processing method I plan to use, said to “better preserve the intrinsic qualities of the bean”. This method is the one outlined on the state government website, and also the one my parents use.

In the dry processing method, the entire coffee cherries are dried in the sun for approximately 4 weeks (to a minimum 12.5% moisture content), followed by removal of all outer layers around the bean by hulling equipment. States the ICO:

The dry method is used for about 90 percent of the Arabica coffee produced in Brazil, most of the coffees produced in Ethiopia, Haiti and Paraguay, as well as for some Arabicas produced in India and Ecuador. Almost all Robustas are processed by this method.

Wet processing generally follows the procedure outlined below, though obviously on a fairly large scale for commercial operators. As opposed to the dry method, the seed is extracted and fermented first, the drying process then follows, again until the beans reach 12.5% moisture content. The beans are then stored, and the hulling process is completed just prior to export. Again from the (ICO):

The wet method is generally used for Arabica coffees, with the exception of those produced in Brazil and the Arabica-producing countries mentioned above as users of the dry method. It is rarely used for Robustas.

My wet processed micro lot

The wet processing technique I am using involves the following steps:

  • Pulping
  • Fermentation
  • Drying
  • Parchment removal (hulling)
  • Roasting
  • Brewing

Comparing the method my parents use with those online saw many similarities, with only some of the time frames differing a little in each stage. Today we will look at Pulping and Fermentation, and return in future posts as my drying process proceeds.

Pulping

Seed extraction in the pulping phase.
Seed extraction in the pulping phase.

Here we are removing all of the skin and pulp (flesh) from the cherry, and extracting both halves of the coffee ‘seed’ from inside, and should occur as soon as possible after harvesting. Be sure to discard any under-ripe (green) or overripe (black) fruit which will reduce the quality of what ends up in the cup.

This process can either be done by hand (squeezing each cherry between your thumb and finger), or in the bottom of a bucket using a piece of wood to squash the fruit, resulting in the seeds being forced out from the flesh. Adding water will then allow removal of the skins and one other critical element – any floating beans. Good coffee beans will not float, and those that do should be discarded as they are unusable, and will spoil the batch.

Removal of floating beans (left); fermentation (right).
Removal of floating beans (left); fermentation (right).

Fermentation

There is not a lot to say about this step, apart from the fact it should last anywhere from 18-48 hours to a few days, and involves natural enzymes breaking down the ‘mucilage’ (the outer slippery substance) around the parchment layer. Fermentation should be done in a plastic bucket or container (metal may affect the taste), with the entire bean mass covered by water. To test for completeness of this phase, washing a small amount of beans should see the ‘slippery’ coating disappear, resulting in a clean, gritty feel. If so, agitate and wash the remaining beans until he water is clear (again removing any that float), which may take several washes. Once washed and clean, the beans are then ready for drying.

At the time of writing this post, the pulping is completed, and the beans are sitting fermenting…

2. Transition to drying (Top)

Coffee drying in the sun. Dolka Plantation Cos...
Coffee drying in the sun. Dolka Plantation Costa Rica (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With the fermentation phase now complete, we move on to the drying phase of processing. You may remember from the first part of this series, coffee processing is broken up into the following stages, as described by both the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and my mother, who is very experienced and knowledgeable in these matters:

  • Pulping
  • Fermentation
  • Drying
  • Parchment removal (hulling)
  • Roasting
  • Brewing

At the completion of Crop to Cup Part 1, we left the beans fermenting in water at stage 2 above. I was a little unsure of how long this may take (72 hours or up to a week), though armed with the knowledge this phase would be complete when the mucilage (slippery outer layer) was easily rubbed away. Daily testing was undertaken, until on day 7 (exactly as predicted by my mother), rubbing one of the beans between thumb and finger resulted in a slightly gritty/pebbly feel rather than a slippery one.

Time to move on to drying.

Drying

Once the beans have fermented for long enough, they are required to undergo a final wash and rinse, before being laid out on drying beds. In aid of passing down the coffee loving tradition to the next generation, my son was enlisted to rub off the mucilage, with repeated washes then performed to remove any remaining on the outside of the bean. Agitating the beans and replacing the water over three washes was sufficient to achieve this. Washing

Looking back to our Department of Agriculture guide, the drying process is described as follows:

The beans should be spread out in a thin layer no more than 3 cm thick, stirred three times a day, and be protected from rainy weather. Drying in this way can take 5-30 days, depending on the seasonal weather pattern.

As you can see below, an initial drying of the beans was done on a small towel, before transfer to a drying rack to allow plenty of airflow around the beans. The rack is situated under cover to avoid any weather or dew, however sees the mid to late afternoon sun, which should assist with drying. Given the small crop I am processing, a single layer of beans was placed on the drying bed, with little chance of any mould formation (the reason for stirring daily), though I aim to ensure the beans are turned regularly.

Drying

I hope you will join me in a couple of weeks for the next post in this series, where we will be up to removing the remaining parchment layer and roasting our crop!

3. Drying (Top)

photo (4)

The first two stages of this process were outlined in Parts 1 and 2 of this series, along with the initial phase of stage 3, in which today we learn that patience is indeed a virtue.

Drying continued…

Every day I walk past my drying rack, checking (and turning) the beans, as the remaining moisture is drawn out, courtesy of the great weather we have been having of late in South East QLD. No rain to speak of (though many gardens need it), and fairly low humidity (compared to usual levels) have made for what I would consider perfect ‘bean drying’ weather. Although the beans have been undercover and would not be directly affected by rain, the increased humidity and overall moisture in the air would likely have required a longer period of drying.

The ideal drying time?

For further information here we again refer to our two main sources: The Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF)

Whichever method of drying you use, the parchment on the coffee bean will dry to a pale straw colour and be brittle to touch. At this stage, test the dryness of the beans by removing the parchment by hand off several coffee beans. If dry, the bean inside should be greyish blue in colour, hard, and likely to break when bitten between the teeth, if not soft and chewy. If soft, continue the drying process.

The “methods” of drying referred to above include the natural sun drying method I am following, or alternatively, a food dehydrator, which must be kept at 40 degrees celsius over the course of several days to complete the drying. Whilst a dehydrator may be a more rapid method of drying, some of the romance is lost, if I imagine hundreds of square metres of beans drying in the sun on a Colombian hillside. Though the strength of this argument wanes a little when my entire crop fits into my palms cupped together. Anyway, for the current crop, sun drying it shall be.

…and from my mother:

I usually leave it at least two weeks to dry out. Sometimes you might get away with 10 days or so, but two weeks just to be safe. Your best guide is to crack off the parchment layer with your thumbnail, and if you get a good split or cracking noise you can be fairly sure it is dry enough. Once I have removed this layer and simply have the green bean, a couple of days more drying will really finish them off.

We agreed that my planned two further weeks (making four in total) drying time would not be to the detriment of the end result (that is, be too long). The four-week time frame is due to a holiday occurring in the middle of this process, rather than specifically planning a drying time of this length. I do note however this does coincide with the upper end of the 5-30 day recommendations of the DAFF.

Drying – Two Weeks In

As noted above, after two weeks I am now half way through my planned drying time and testing a couple of the beans would appear to show that everything is on track. You will see in the picture below that the outer parchment is quite dry (it also comes away from the inner bean with a nice crack when pressure from my thumb is applied).

photo (5)

Referring to the DAFF instructions above, the bean is blue/grey in colour and feels reasonably hard, though I did not see the need to give it the ‘bite test’. In another two weeks I would expect the beans will be well and truly dry and begging to be roasted, at which time I will provide an update with another post.

In the mean time, have a look at my magazine Brew – Ways of Coffee on Flipboard for some great articles I have collected from around the web.

4. Parchment Removal (Hulling) and Roasting (Top)

The fourth instalment in this Crop to Cup series looks at the final steps of processing, followed by the roasting of our “microlot” of coffee, kindly received straight off the tree from a barista friend about a month ago. As with anything, good things come to those who wait, and four weeks after starting, we are almost to the point of tasting the fruits of our labour.

To date, we have worked our way through Pulping, Fermentation (Crop to Cup – Part 1), Drying (Crop to Cup – Part 2), Drying again (yep – it took a while) (Crop to Cup – Part 3), and we continue on below.

Parchment Removal (Hulling)

In Part 3 of this series, drying continued in preparation for the final “hulling” or parchment removal prior to roasting. After a further two weeks drying (four in total) it was time to remove the parchment layer.

As I have written in previous posts, the beans being “dry enough” and the parchment ready for removal, is determined both by observing an appropriate drying time (approximately two weeks to a month), and having the parchment split easily off the inner bean upon attempted removal. According to the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF):

Inadequate drying – greater than 12 per cent moisture – will cause mouldiness and stale aroma during storage.

Upon proceeding with the hulling by hand (or rather thumbnail and finger), it is clear this is quite a labour intensive undertaking. After 1 hour, the parchment layer was removed from our crop, and we were a step further along in the process.

Photo 13-10-2013 5 41 17 am

Given the time and labour intensive nature of this part in the process, the DAFF suggests the following:

Place the beans, a small quantity at a time, in a food processor or similar type of blender. Use plastic blades to avoid breaking the coffee beans. Blend at low speed for approximately 30 seconds to remove the parchment from the beans.

My mother uses a similar approach, blending on low-speed for 8-9 seconds, which she finds removes much of the parchment layer without damaging the green bean inside. Whether done by hand or machine, you will be left with a fine outer layer of “silver skin” remaining on much of the bean. Enlisting the assistance of my son to provide a quick rubbing of the beans between his hands removed this final layer. Blowing away any remaining silver skin completes the process.

Photo 13-10-2013 5 47 51 am

We were now ready for roasting!

Roasting

With a dry weight of 35 grams, there was certainly no margin for error, and had me thinking I really should be calling this a “nanolot”, as “micro” probably doesn’t go far enough (yes an hour of hulling for 35 grams of green beans – as I said – very labour intensive!).

So proceed with care I did.

Photo 13-10-2013 6 01 02 am

The roast was undertaken via my usual breadmaker / heat gun set up which I have previously written about. The heat ramp was very slow, and the total roast time 12 minutes, with the beans pulled out 3 minutes after first crack. The result looked like a pretty even roast, and was cooled and bagged. A few days rest and it will be ready for tasting.

Photo 13-10-2013 6 07 14 am

Check back soon for the much-anticipated taste test!

5. Tasting (Top)

Photo 22-10-2013 4 25 25 am

Here we go, the finale in the Crop to Cup series, where we sample the end result of the past 6 weeks caring for and nurturing (let’s be honest – processing) our microlot of coffee beans. As you can see by the image above, it was going to go one of two ways. Over this time we have worked through pulping and fermentation (Crop to Cup – Part 1); drying (Crop to Cup – Part 2, and Crop to Cup – Part 3); and hulling (Crop to Cup – Part 4) prior to roasting.

After such a long process, my concern was that I would be somewhat biased about the result. Also, given I had such a small amount, how was I going to brew? After setting aside half of the massive 27 gram (roasted) crop to return to the generous barista who gave me the coffee cherries in the first place, only enough remained for a single brew, whichever method I chose.

After much deliberation, I went with my Hario V60. My rationale being I wanted a method that would allow me to assess the coffee on its own merits rather than being combined with milk, and in the knowledge that the returned beans to my barista friend would be tasted as espresso. The V60 seemed like a good fit as I would be able to enjoy six or so weeks worth of care and attention for a little longer, rather than having an espresso that was both created and consumed in a flash. Though in saying that, I would also be in for a longer period of disappointment and torture if the resulting brew was horrible.

Photo 22-10-2013 4 30 44 am
So, how did it turn out?

The Taste Test

The coffee

Jen’s Australian Microlot
Harvest Year: 2013
Wet processed; sun-dried
Sorry, no further information regarding the exact origin of these beans!

Method

Hario V60 Pourover

The Result

The section I have been waiting to get to for some time now!

In summary, the resulting brew was fairly ordinary, however drinkable nonetheless. Overall, it lacked any real body and had minimal sweetness, even as the brew cooled. Underneath there were some very mild floral and herby notes doing their best to be tasted. Accompanying these were some earthy flavours which thankfully did not overpower the brew, though lingered in an aftertaste that was a little, shall we say … strange.

Generally speaking, none of the flavours really overpowered the brew, making it a little “flat” overall. Given the light to medium roast of the beans, perhaps in retrospect I should have roasted them a little darker.

Feedback from my barista friend on the espresso experience was not positive at all. The concentrated form of an espresso shot seemed to magnify everything that was wrong with the beans, particularly the lack of any discernible body. I am told it was quite a flavourless experience.

Conclusion; Know This

In conclusion, although a little labour intensive, processing from the original cherries into something I could roast and then brew was a very satisfying experience. Yes, the taste test above did not reveal anything outstanding, however the brew was certainly drinkable and knowing that both the roast and brewing variables could be tweaked and improved if more of the “raw materials” were available was a promising sign for any future attempts.

I must also note here that I am comparing this with some fairly high quality beans I routinely purchase from Ministry Grounds Coffee, my usual supplier.

If you have followed this 5 part series, thanks for sticking with it over the past couple of months. I hope it has given some insight into small batch coffee processing had you not already experienced it yourself. For me it will be back to the usual roasts and posts. I’m not sure if the labour intensive nature of processing from scratch suits my lifestyle. Then again, my mother did say there is a nice young coffee tree in a pot she is saving until my next visit.

Perhaps I am about to become a grower as well…