WASHED, PULP AND DRY, NATURALS ARABICA COFFEE
Deep in the Highlands of Western Cameroon, among seemingly endless chains of ancient volcanic peaks, lie a group of villages known as Boyo. Therein live farmers who cultivate, and in 9 months, harvest a high grade of coffee. This much sought-after coffee has taken European markets by storm. Consequently, the farmers have grown progressively poorer in the midst of ever-increasing prosperity of the traders.
This post is an overview of how we prepare some of our “special reserved”, reference batches of coffee. We draw from experiences we gather along the way to establish procedures and set parameters to guide other farmers in future seasons.
– To continually improve the quality and “cup” across our entire growing region.
– To develop a network of quality, traceable micro-lots to meet market demands.
After flowering, it takes 9 months for our coffee fruit to mature and ripen. During those nine months, farmers have to combat weeds, pests and any disease and ensure that the trees are properly nourished. How the farmer and other handlers treat the fruit and its seed (what is roasted and ground into the coffee we eventually drink) greatly influences the quality and how good the coffee tastes.
As the coffee fruit (cherries or berries) are ripening, we clear the base of the trees in preparation for the harvest. During the harvest season, farmers work from the early morning hours after sunrise,selecting just the optimally ripe fruit and carefully plucking them from the cluster of cherries.
Harvesting continues into late afternoon when the harvested cherries are prepared for drying (NATURALS), pulping and drying (PULPED NATURALS) or pulping, fermenting, washing and drying (WASHED). This preparation consists of dumping the harvest in a deep trough of water to remove floating debris and underdeveloped or insect eaten cherries (called floaters), leaving only cherries of uniform density and ripeness.
For 2013 we prepared a limited quantity of the dry NATURALS. Having harvested and selected the ripest cherries and prepared them as mentioned above, we sun dry them on screened raised drying beds. While this might appear to be a simple process, it is very labor intensive, requiring constant attention to move the drying cherries around for uniform drying, vigilance to avoid fermentation and/or the development of mold and cherry-by-cherry sorting to remove those that are insect infested. When light to medium roasted, these NATURALS are bright and exhibit prominent fruity notes absorbed from the pulp during the ripening and drying process. The coffee we prepared this way is now in limited quantities.
The pulping process separates the skin and pulp surrounding the seeds from the seeds. The seeds at this stage are surrounded by a slimy substance called the mucilage.
As they are pulped, they are collected in a basket (or tank for larger operations) and immediately taken to the screened, raised drying beds. The mucilage covered seeds lie on the drying bed overnight in a well ventilated area protected from rain. Thanks to cool mountain temperatures (50 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit), fermentation does not occur. The following morning the slimy seeds are exposed to the sun for drying. Like the cherries, close attention and frequent movement of the coffee is needed for several days (7 to 14 depending on weather) to ensure uniform drying and to avoid fermentation or mold formation. The coffee at this point is still in parchment form (the seeds are still surrounded by their protective husk on which the mucilage has dried out). We keep drying this parchment coffee until the moisture content is reduced to 10 to 12 %.
While the mucilage covering the coffee seeds is hard to dry, it ferments easily. As it ferments it breaks down and can easily be washed off the beans with fresh water after a few hours, leaving the beans (in parchment) ready for drying on screened, raised drying beds. Handled this way the coffee is referred to as WASHED Arabica coffee. Even though this is the least labor intensive of all the above processes, it too requires much skill and attention to detail to produce a high quality market coffee:
– Just the right amount of fermentation to clean off the mucilage;
– Washing with clean water;
– Drying on screened raised beds;
– Swift and uniform drying of the parchment;
– Proper storage and handling of the parchment; etc.
Since all our coffee comes from well over 4,000 feet, the beans are of high density and allow roasters to be creative. Do not be surprised therefore to find Cameroon Coffee offered as a light roasted specialty in one location and as an espresso roasted single origin in another location.