Case and I, and our friend Rachel who just left for the airport and who we already miss, got back yesterday from a little vacation to coffee country. While we were there, we visited the finca of Don Elias, a 75-year-old organic coffee grower who processes his coffee by hand. He showed us his finca and how he does his work. I loved it.
Don Elias grows two types of coffee – Colombian and Arabica – but he says they both have the same flavor. He grows those two because they produce high yields, and that’s what he needs to stay in business. The Colombian beans turn yellowish-green when ripe, and the Arabica beans turn red. Don Elias says after he plants a coffee sapling, it takes about two years for it to first produce a harvest. Then it will produce twice a year for the next eight years. Then the harvest will get weaker, so he trims off all the branches, and lets the tree regenerate. Then its good for another eight years.
After he harvests the beans, he uses a handcrank machine to peel the outer shell off (which he saves for compost). The beans have a layer of goo on them, which he lets them sit in overnight, so they ferment a bit. Then he washes off all the goo.
The beans then still have a second shell on them, which you can peel off by hand. But Don Elias uses his coffee grinder, opened wide, to peel off the shell, which he then blows away from the beans. Then he either sells the beans to a co-operative, or toasts them himself for his own resale. He toasts them over a wood-burning stovetop, stirring the beans constantly as they cook, so they don’t burn, and pulling them off the heat if they get too hot. He has no thermometer, so just eyes it. He says he toasts one kilo of beans every hour. The beans, which look small before they’re toasted, get bigger and gain their coffee scent and color while toasting. Then he puts them back in the grinder (and lets the occasional visitor do the grinding).