Monday, December 21, 2009

Seed Prep Theory Part II

This might seem really obvious but it did strike me as insightful recently.

When you eat an avocado you eat the fruit and discard the seed. When you drink roasted coffee you discard (via de-pulping then fermentation) the fruit almost immediately after it is picked (this of course only refers to de-pulped methods).

Therefore what is important in the coffee cherry is the seed. So like last time, I feel that methods of drying that mimic seed prep techniques should yield superior tasting coffee. Now, this doesn’t follow exactly the natural path of coffee seed prep. In coffees natural life cycle the cherry has two possibilities: eaten and the seed is by an animal or fall of the tree to the ground. Most coffee geeks know what happens to the coffee that is eaten by small cat like animals or monkeys – some people like to pay lots of money to drink the coffee after the feces is cleaned off of the beans! Coffee that is left on the tree usually dries on the tree. The fermentation period is long and slow as the cherry over ripens on the tree. Then the cherry eventually falls to the ground. At this point the coffee is rather dry (probably 25% moisture). Then the leaf litter that traps the coffee keeps the coffee seed moist. The cherry skin either parts or rots off the bean. Then 45 days later the coffee buries its head in the ground and shoots the dry parchment and remaining bean up in the air. According to Illy’s book about espresso, the fruit’s purpose in the life cycle of coffee is for dispersion the coffee seed. The amount of sugars dually encourages animals to eat the cherry and aid in the fermentation.

If you take the seed prep revelation and apply it directly, then the best tasting coffees would be a Brazil natural (aka Raisin or Pasa process dried on tree until they look like little raisins the finished on a patio) or Full Natural (aka Dry Process) because those methods follow the natural life cycle most closely. I enjoy Full natural, I’m actually a big fan of the good Full Naturals. Brazil natural, meh, it can taste really good in espresso.

What am I trying to say? Well it is simply a marriage of cupping with a little agronomic inspiration. I’m not totally convinced at what point coffee should be picked for peak flavor. If you are super strict in picking, your picking cost could easily double. Again it is seeking that balance of two forces quality and economy. So if the coffee is picked at a certain level of ripeness and then processed in ways that encourages the seed to reach its peak potential. For example, if you are processing avocado for seeds it is better to let the fruit over ripen because that allows for better germination (you can also cut off the point before planting). Furthermore we all obsess about ripe cherries, but the cherry skin is removed within eight hours of picking. So it really isn’t the color of the cherry that we find so important. Its in the seed! The real question is at what point of development do we want the coffee picked? Here is a time line aiming for a blood red cherry: a month before the cherry is picked the skin starts to lighten and turn towards yellow, at two weeks out it is yellow with hints of red, at one week it is half red and all the green should be gone at a few days it is red but not blood red, then it turns at striking blood red color. (If you leave it on the tree four or five more days it will turn burgundy). Then, in less than eight hours the cherry skin is removed and the seed rocketed into the fermentation stages. What people don’t talk about is what is happening to the seed as the cherry skin ripens.

Also I recently heard a theory that blood red skin on the cherry produces a more acidic coffee and burgundy produces a sweeter coffee that has little acidity. . . I think bananas provide a good example. A solid yellow banana should be balanced in flavor, (in the US they are rather starchy) little sweet, smidge savory, and a tiny bit lively (acidic). When the banana has a few black spots the flavors have shifted to super sweet and there is no sign of that lively element. Does the production of sugars consume “acidity” (as in flavor) as a it ripens?

So how does a farmer push the coffee seed towards full flavor potential? I don’t know. But I do think that the answer lies in cupping lots of experiments while knowing what buyers and consumers what and provide an environment that is seed prep inspired.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

All I want for christmas. . .

Is a weed-eater like this one.

Dear Santa I want this

or this one would work

Coporino and I chatting in the South of the DR about coffee production techniques

Byron you know what will 'finish off' coffee producers

No what?

Manual Labor. It is so expensive and will only get more expensive in years to come.

Yes, I've see it jump from 150DR pesos per day to 300DR pesos in just five years

There is this machine that does the same work as a man with a machete. Its gas powered. In two days one man can clean 2/3rds of a hectare. . .

REALLY! What does it look like?

It has the engine at one end and the this head that spins really fast on the other. The head cuts with a string or a 'kinfe'.

Ah . . . a weed eater.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

2009 Harvest Cupping Notes

First of all I would like to say thank you to all the people that took time out of their day to cup my coffees. Thank you: David LaMont,Tim Hill, Kim Elena Bullock, Tony Riffle, John Cole, Ben Helfen, Jamie Pair, Brandon Malcom, Ben Myers, Laura Vaughn, and Dave Delchamps. Above is one of the samples that Jamie and I roasted on the IMSA sample roaster.

Fully Washed (17 hour ferment, upper section of the farm, started drying on raised beds and finished on a patio, drying time 17 days): the notes through aromas were vanilla, honey, marshmallow, pleasant, strawberry. The acidity was medium plus and apple like. Flavors ranged from good tropical fruits, raisin, red grape juice, nutty. The body was balance and thin. The aftertaste was described as very drinkable.
Favorites 3

PostFermentation Soak (17 hour ferment, then washed, then place in running water for 24 hours, dried on raised bed for 3 days and finished on a patio, 13 days drying): aromas were sweet, fruit, chocolate, peanut. Acidity was balanced. Flavors were marshmallow, dried fruit and mellow. The body was described as drinkable with a finish that was super clean.
Favorites 4

Underwater Ferment (de-pulped and placed underwater in a clean tank for 24 hours, the water was changed 3 times, dried on raised bed for 3 days and finished on a patio,13 days drying): The aromas ranged from dry spices to chocolate to lemon. The acidity was balanced and flavors nutty, sweet, more chocolate and a hint of veggies. The body was delicate. It finished quick and nutty.

Pulp-natural (depulped and placed on raised bed, after two days the coffee was flipped, days 3-9 the coffee stayed on a raised bed, it took another 9 days on a patio to finish the coffee): Aromas were butterscotch, savory and wine. The acidity was medium. Flavors were sweet, graham cracker, applesauce, floral. The body of this was the crowd favorite heavy, round and coating, The finish was short and sweet.
Favorite 2

Full Natural (picked and placed on a raised bed for 8 days, then finished on a patio): It was in a class of its own, like naturals should be. Aromas were fruit laden descriptors: fruit jam, fruit loops, strawberry, sour apple, tang. Acidity was medium plus. The flavors listed were much like the Aromas: mixed berries, grape, sweet. The body was full, creamy and tart. The finish was clean and short.

Favorite 4

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Seed Prep Theory

On my last trip to the farm I spent a lot of time watching coffee dry. When I had full-time employment obligations in the US I was not able to spend as much time as I like on the farm. A one week trip to the DR would only allow maximum 3 maybe 4 days playing in the dirt. The rest of the time was spent in transport to Los Frios from Santo Domingo.

In the coffee circles that I get my inspiration from, there has been a shift in "appropriate" drying times from a maximum of 10 days up to 30 days. Just two years ago when I was asking all the processing questions to anyone who might know the answer they usually said that washed coffee should be dried between 5-10 days. Just before leaving on this last harvest trip I had a really enlightening conversation with Tim Hill from Counter Culture Coffee. "Yea Byron the Peru - Valley de Santurario and the Burundi - Bwayi from this year were both took up to 30 and 20 days to dry respectively," said Tim. In my opinion, the Peru was tasting super solid at the end of its green lifespan (6-8 months) and the Burundi was one of my favorite CCC coffees of the year. The Bwayi was also the only Burundi that had a post-fermentation-soak after the washing.

Then at SCAA in Atlanta, I had a chance to get a coffee drying tutorial from the owners of Virmax. They recommend that the growers build these raised beds with coffee stacked one over the other. After the coffee is washed the coffee is placed on the lower bed to drip dry. (If you are a grower and want to learn from my mistakes please contact me directly). It is really important that the coffee is spread very thin, no more than 2 beans stacked. Then as the coffee dries it is raised up to the second tier. Then after a week, the coffee can be raised up to the highest bed where it is dried in the sun under the plastic tarp.

This year in Colombia the micro-lot from the La Golindrina project at CCC is the result of an experiment with underwater ferment, done by a couple farmers. When Tim and Kim cupped the coffees from the coop, Organica, there were 3 stand out coffees on the table. All three came from the same farm! When Kim asked what was different the farmers said the only thing they did differently was to ferment the coffee underwater, they had heard that it had good success in other places and wanted to see if it made a difference there.

To prepare coffee seeds for planting: pick the cherries ripe, depulp, ferment, wash the muscilage off and dry the coffee in the shade until it reaches about 20%.

So my seed prep theory came to me when I was drying coffee. All of these new processing techniques are more akin to seed prep than the old theories of coffee prep. Older coffee processing techniques were all about pushing coffee through processing because it is much more cost effective. For example, one wash, as short as possible fermentation times, as short as possible short drying times, and less experimentation. If you follow the Virmax recommendations about coffee drying you could take the coffee off the middle bed and plant it because the processing until the last stage is exactly the same as seed prep. As I've mentioned before Virmax's advice won them First and Seventh last year at SCAA. Then if you look at all the post fermentation soak and underwater ferment that is showing signs of success it only further supports the theory because just prior to planting coffee seed it is ideal to soak them for 24 hours in water.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Act 3

Scene 1: ¡Manderina! ¡Dos por Cinco Pesos!11/19/09 11:11AM
Two vendadores -sellers- de Manderia and two motoconchisto -motorcycle taxis- and a tiny pickup truck selling Manderian oranges and the driver in the city of Azua Dominican Republic. A tiny pick up truck with two vendadores on the back corner of the truck riding "sidesaddle".

[through a loud speaker]
¡Manderina Manderina! ¡Dos por Cinco Pesos! ¡Dos por Cinco pesos!

[hands the seller a 5 peso piece and picks out two manderin, no words are spoken]

[walks around the truck, then picks out two manderin after some selecting]

You have to pay for those

I already paid the other seller

No, I made change for you, I didn't collect

Yes, I paid you.
[Grabs 2 manderins and turns away]*

[Squares his shoulders, puts his left fist forward]
You MUST pay for those.

[puts the manderin oranges back and squares himself as well]
I told you I paid your friend there.

[shakes is head no]

[steps between the men as they start to shout and wave their fists]
[others step in to separate the near brawl, the driver enters the truck and drives away with both sellers on the back grimacing at the motoconchistos]

[through a loud speaker]
¡Manderina Manderina! ¡Dos por Cinco Pesos! ¡Dos por Cinco pesos!

*If I had to judge book by its cover, I wouldn't trust what that book says. No fists were thrown, just chests and words.

5 DR pesos = $0.14 People are hungry. Even though it was "just" 5 DR pesos, it was still business. This is just one example of violence over small amounts of money. I could tell you about a fight over pigeon peas that resulted in a father of a family being killed, but I won't today.

Scene 2: T he Walmart of Coffee 11/19/09 12:30pm
Coffee Buyer -for Santo Domingo, countless workers -moving coffee often on their head in 130lb bags, countless coffee farmers sitting on their coffee waiting for their turn to sell it to Santo Domingo, Eloy -truck driver from Los Frios and good friend of mine, Fabio -coffee farmer from La Cucarita, me -selling about 500 lbs of coffee that isn't export quality.

[to a few coffee farmers]
Here we are all about transparency, clarity, and honesty. We have good scales and pay good prices for good coffee. I don't tolerate any other type of politics.

[nod in agreement]
We are happy to do business with you.

[moving coffee on to a 53 foot trailer, one bag at a time on their heads, they wear only sandals, one man is barefoot, the energy is positive]

How many bags so far on the truck?


OK all of this must go.
[pointing to the right, a stack of coffee that is 8 ft. tall, 15 ft wide, and 30 ft. deep]

[spring in to action as if coming off a break, even though none of them were idle before]

When are you going to get to our coffee?

We will get to it today, it might be tonight though, there are two trucks in front of you.

We should sell at parchment. It is the same price as pealed. I trust these guys.

How does that work?

They peal a small sample of the coffee look at the defects, weight the parchment coffee, discount for defects and humidity, and pay us. It could be really late before they get to us. What do you want to do?

I'm going to wait for my coffee to be pealed. I'm going to stay in Padres Las Casas so there is no rush.

I'll sell at parchment as well.
[he is obviously hungry even after I brought him some bread, he is one of those small town people who is visibly out of place in the big city of Azua until now his eyes only show hunger and lack of energy from our 6:30AM departure from Los Frios]

Pull samples and weigh the coffee of Eloy and his friend.

[pull a samples to be pealed]

[hovers over his coffee like a small boy waiting to hit the pinata, they weigh his coffee, he is in the way of the workers]

Give us some space.

That is my coffee.
[he says with pride and steps to the side]

Here is the sample of that guys coffee.

[buries his nose in the green coffee, flips the coffee like a chef flipping onions in a pan]
Looks good.

[his coffee did look good. possibly the best I'd seen that day. there were a fair amount of black beans and broca, but it had great color]

219kg parchment . . . 3.47quintales . . . $16,017 pesos
[he smiles as he writes up the receipt and looks at Fabio]
What to you think?

I guess I have to take it. I don't really have other options.

That is what is there.

[takes his receipt and walk towards the cashier. relieved to be paid for his product.]

[I'm sure Fabio is returning to debts in Los Frios, I wonder if he will make much money, with the internal price so high $1.41 for good C-grade coffee in parchment, he probably did make money this year, come next year he will do the same thing, but he has no control over the coffee price]

Eloy and Fabio leave to Los Frios. I sit on someone else coffee and wait my turn.

[This is the Walmart of coffee. They have wonderful systems that make money. This one of the most organized operations I've ever seen in the DR: it is a total numbers game, there is no free lunch here, or coffee even. I saw Eloy drink some coffee, but none was offered to me or anyone else. My only gripe with what I saw is that it was never made clear to the farmers the percent discount taken off for defects and most didn't seem to even ask. When they did ask, they had little room to negotiate. Santo Domingo is not about driving the quality up in DR coffee. They are concerned with what the buyer said at the beginning: Here we are all about transparency, clarity, and honesty. We have good scales and pay good prices for good coffee. I don't tolerate any other type of politics. Santo Domingo is concerned with obtaining C-market grade coffee to roast and sell internally. The good stuff is exported.]

Saturday, December 5, 2009

tasting God

It is rare, but sometime I think I taste God in food. When a coffee makes me feel or tells me a story. When Nerva (my Dominican mom) makes a meal that satisfies more than hunger. When sushi seems to transfer the life force of the fish to me.

Dominicans can't live with out rice. I can't live with out rice. Every single day of the week I must eat rice. In a rather homogeneous society like the DR, you find yourself having the same conversation with many different people. Dominicans talk about food, they sing about food in songs, the typical meal of the day is also called, la bandera, the flag. Food is culture and patriotism. Me siento vacio hasta que yo como arro', e' como no he comido nada, I feel empty until I eat rice, it is as if I haven't eaten all day.

Above was lunch about 5 weeks ago: arro' blanco, huevo frito, aguacate, habichuela' guisa'o con taiota y cafe - white rice, fried eggs, avocado, stewed beans with chayote, and coffee.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

why farming is so messy:

These are not my words, “A farm is a lot like a lover, there is no template to follow, you can’t change every thing at once, it is a lot of give and take, and getting to know one another”. Joe from Love is Love Farm, an organic veggie farm in Dalton GA, said that. Both of us acquired our farms about the same time two plus years ago. Joe is a dear friend of mine and a talented farmer. When he said that, it really resonated with me. There is no Coffee Farming for Dummies for me to read, and if there was it would have to be a few thousand pages long. After two plus years of effort this project is only starting to take a personality. I like who it is becoming. And to keep the relationship analogy alive, the novelty has completely worn off. I’m committed and it isn’t always fun. I used to love talking about it with everyone. Now it is just something I do. I used to feel cool wiring money to the DR. I used to feel cool buying phone cards in bulk at this place that gave me a discount. I used to feel cool just walking the farm. I used to like cooking with firewood. Our honeymoon is over.

Now that my "cash cow" named Employment with Counter Culture Coffee has died, I'm in a position to invest more in the farm. There is a much better chance that I will get closer to profitability with the increased attention on the farm. With the more attention that is focused on the farm, I'm open to new ideas and advice. Per usual, it comes rushing in, but I usually have to filter all of it and most of the advice doesn't apply to my farm. Let me explain.

In an industry that makes widgets, production problems are solved by buying new machinery or hardware. The cogs in the system are replaceable. Industrialization is effective because the whole operation fits like a puzzle. With city utilities one can build the same puzzle just about anywhere. And when you loose a puzzle piece, you can buy a new one. And your results are usually seen immediately or at least quickly.

I was recently talking to a man from Mexico who's family owns a coffee farm. His silver bullet advice for my lack of intermediate shade: papaya. I'd never seen or thought of papaya as a way to provide intermediate shade and income. Beautiful thought, but papaya doesn't grow in my region. I can count on one hand the number of papaya trees that I've seen in Los Frios.

If the farm was in the the low valley and shared the same water source, soil type, weather and aspect as neighbors, then I could just copy my neighbors. I tried one bit of advice to use pigeon peas as an intermediate shade tree and nitrogen fixer. Pigeon peas do well in Los Frios as long as the soil is rather loose. When I told Antonio about the idea he didn't think it was such a bright idea. We planted pigeon peas last year, most didn't germinate because of the soil on the farm is dark and dense. Those that did germinate were cut down in the following cleaning.

The point of this post is an attempt to illustrate the uniqueness of each farm especially in the mountains. Farmers have to plant what will thrive in their micro climate.