Farming

Coffee farming is an unforgiving and challenging task. Like wine grapes, coffee crops from the same farm can taste drastically different from year to year. It is the farmer’s job to mitigate those inconsistencies, while working to improve quality, and increase yield. There are a variety of factors that contribute to a good crop:

Altitude & Sunlight

Most good Arabica coffees grow at altitudes over 2,000 feet above sea level. High-elevation coffee trees only have sunlight for part of the day, slowing the development of the coffee cherries. This slower growth increases the flavor oils that give coffee “acidity” (not sour or unpleasant – it is the winey flavor that coffee connoisseurs prize). Generally, the higher the altitude, the brighter the coffee will be. Coffee trees at lower altitudes or on flat terrain are exposed to more direct sunlight, causing the coffee cherries to develop faster, resulting in less acidity and more body.

Soil Conditions

For coffee to grow properly, it must be planted in nutrient-rich soil. Coffee trees need extensive supplies of nitrogen, calcium, potassium, magnesium, and countless micro-nutrients to stay healthy and robust.

Climate

Coffee is a tropical tree and is only grown between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn. It requires warm temperatures year round and even the slightest frost can kill a whole crop. Sunlight, humidity, precipitation, even wind, all play a role in a coffee’s development.

Processing

Coffee is unlike most fruits in that it will not ripen after being picked. For this reason, it can only be harvested when it is ready for processing. The coffee cherry is ready when it turns a bright red color. Often, cherries on the same branch will be different colors, so the picking must be done in stages over the course of several weeks to ensure only the ripe cherries are picked.

After the coffee cherries have been picked, they will go through either a wet or dry process to prepare them for shipping. Wet processing is typically used for higher-quality coffees. During the first stage of this process, the coffee cherries are dumped into large water tanks. Unripe and poorly developed cherries will float, while the fruit that is ready for further processing will sink. During the next stage of processing, the first layer of skin and some pulp is removed by pressing the fruit through a screen.

The remaining layers of pulp are broken down by soaking the coffee in fermentation tanks for several days. The coffee is then washed thoroughly before drying by machine or under the heat of the sun on raised beds.

Dry processing is a simpler method. The coffee cherries are placed on tables or patios and allowed to dry in the sun for up to 14 days. The cherries are mixed regularly with rakes so all of the cherries are evenly dried. It only takes a few improperly dried cherries to cause ferment in the coffee and ruin a batch. When the skin is dried, it is removed and the coffee moves on to be graded by hand or machine to eliminate any imperfect beans.

After processing, the dried coffee beans are packed in burlap sacks and prepared for ocean freight. Their next stop is our roasting facility, where the production stage of their development begins.

Perfect for light coffees with naturally high acidity, this method will bring out sweetness and subtlety.

  1. Make sure your Chemex is clean and residue-free.
  2. Fold your filter (half, moon up, half again) and place it in the Chemex.
  3. Wet the filter with warm water to remove any particulate and the perfumey smell of the double-bonded paper. Dump the water and rinse the Chemex again with more warm water.
  4. Place 29 grams of freshly ground coffee (regular grind) into the filter.
  5. Boil 473 mL (16 oz) of cold, fresh water. Pour a small amount of just-off-the-boil water (200°F) over the grounds, soaking the top. Very little water should get through on this initial pour. The top of the coffee should dome (this is called ‘blooming’).
  6. Once the bloom has collapsed (30–40 seconds), begin pouring the rest of your water over the coffee in a slow, circular motion.
  7. Take your time. Once you’ve poured all of the water, allow the filter to stop dripping.
  8. Don’t hesitate. Drink it while it’s hot (or decant into a thermos).

Try with heavier-bodied coffees with depth and less natural clarity—Sumatra Ketambe Dark or other dark roasts.

  1. Make sure your press is clean. Warm the pot and the plunger through with hot water.
  2. Put 22 grams of fresh, coarse ground coffee into the bottom of the pot.
  3. Boil 355 mL of fresh, cold water (you’ll have to start with a bit more). Pour just-off-the-boil water (200°F) over the grounds slowly and in a circular motion, so as to stir the coffee while you’re pouring.
  4. Once you’ve finished pouring the water, stir to ensure that all of the coffee has been evenly soaked.
  5. Place the plunger on top of the press, but DO NOT press down.
  6. Wait 4 minutes (enough time to listen to your favorite song—unless you’re into punk, in which case you can listen to it twice).
  7. Depress the plunger slowly. There should be some resistance. But, if there is too much resistance, the coffee may have been ground too fine and you could be in danger of shattering the glass pot under pressure.
  8. Decant the finished coffee immediately. Allowing it to sit in the pot can over-extract the flavors and lead to a bitter coffee.

Ideal for coffees with good balance, but leaning more towards sweeter roasts. High-grown Central/South American coffees are a good bet—Colombia Las Hermosas.

  1. Make sure your Aeropress is clean and free of residue.
  2. Place the plunger inside the brew tube and leave the Aeropress upside down.
  3. Rinse the paper filter, black plastic filter and tube with hot water to heat everything up.
  4. Grind your fresh whole bean coffee (1 gram of coffee for every 17 mL of water) and pour the grounds into the upside down tube.
  5. Boil fresh, cold water. Wait for it to cool a bit and then begin pouring the water over the coffee. Start with just enough water to saturate the coffee grounds and stir to ensure there is no dry coffee left.
  6. Immediately begin to slowly pour the remaining water and fill to about an inch below the top of the Aeropress. Give it one more stir, then let it sit for 2 more minutes.
  7. Place the metal filter with the paper filter inside onto the Aeropress.
  8. Plunge at a steady, slow rate until all of the coffee is in the mug.
  9. Enjoy! If the coffee is too strong, don’t feel bad about diluting it a bit to taste with some hot water from your kettle.

All coffees work here, but since you’ll typically use a brewer for larger gatherings, blends are always a solid choice—Island Reserve, Privateer Dark or Sunday Morning.

  1. Make sure your coffee pot and filter basket are clean and free of any residue or old grounds. It also helps to heat them both up so you don’t lose the temperature of your brewed coffee too quickly.
  2. Wet the filter to get rid of any paper residue.
  3. Grind your fresh, whole bean coffee. Use 1 gram of ground coffee for ever 17 mL of water you’ll be brewing or 1 gram to 15 mL if you feel like a stronger cup. Always use fresh, cold water for brewing.
  4. Hit the ‘brew’ button. Wait patiently.
  5. Drink with vigor.

Suggested for coffees with good balance, but leaning more towards sweeter roasts. High grown Central/South American coffees are a good bet—Colombia Las Hermosas or Guatemala La Soledad.

  1. Make sure your dripper is clean and free of residue.
  2. Wet the filter with warm water to remove any particulate and paper flavor. This will also heat up the ceramic.
  3. Place 37 grams of freshly ground coffee (slightly fine grind) into the filter.
  4. Boil 591 mL of cold, fresh water. Pour a small amount of just-off-the-boil water (200°F) over the grounds, soaking the top. Very little water should get through on this initial pour. The top of the coffee should dome (this is called ‘blooming’).
  5. Once the bloom has collapsed (30-40 sec.), begin pouring the rest of your water over the coffee in a slow, circular motion.
  6. Take your time. Once you’ve poured all of the water, wait for the filter to stop dripping.
  7. What are you waiting for? Drink it while it’s hot (or decant into a thermos).

Cupping

Cupping 101

Cupping is how we evaluate a coffee’s aroma and flavor profile in its purest form. To do this, 8.5 grams of freshly ground coffee, one day off the roast, are steeped with just-off-the-boil water for five minutes. Then, it’s slurp, spit (so as not to over-caffeinate), repeat. While it is useful to taste coffees brewed, cupping allows us to taste everything that coffee has to offer thanks to its unfiltered nature. We use it to help in purchasing, finding defects, developing tasting notes, testing production, and creating blends, so coffees will be cupped literally dozens of times in its life cycle.

Roasting

Roasting 101

Roasting coffee – much like growing, processing, and brewing – is a combination of art and science. While we employ all kinds of technology to ensure quality and consistency, we also need to trust our gut to get the roast right. It may seem like a simple process, but it is not simply about turning green coffee in to roasted coffee; it is about how we get there. The time and temperature to which heat is applied to different coffees can drastically affect the cup, so we take every roast as an opportunity to build upon the last and continue to learning how we can improve.

Characteristics of a Good Roast

Every time I think I’ve got a region figured out, a coffee comes along that shatters my expectations.  Keeping an open mind and sense of curiosity is absolutely essential to becoming an accomplished taster.

I’m a firm believer that understanding is developed through the act of comparison. Learning to talk about the character of a coffee from a particular origin requires one to have some frame of reference.

It’s important to know what makes Kenya coffee great and how it is different from other coffees. In other words, what does it mean to taste like a “Kenya”?  What tastes distinguish a Guatemalan coffee from a Nicaraguan?

Eventually, a phrase like “this tastes like a bourbon from the Santa Ana region in El Salvador” can have some real meaning.  It is important to remember, though, that dogma has no place in coffee tasting.