Coffee farming is an unforgiving and challenging business. Like wine grapes, coffee crops from the same farm can taste drastically different from year to year. There are a variety of main factors that contribute to a good crop:
Altitude & Sunlight
Most good Arabica coffees grow at altitudes over 2000 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.
For coffee to grow properly, it must be planted in nutrient rich soil. Coffee trees need extensive supplies of nitrogen, calcium, and magnesium to stay healthy and robust. The soil should have good drainage while remaining moist at all times—trees grown in sandy soil will produce inferior coffee.
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 and humidity are very important factors in the flavor development of a crop.
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 that all of the only 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 on 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.