Thursday, February 7, 2008

Processing Coffee

Processing Coffee

The question of how to process just-harvested coffee is answered only in part by geography, and by the resulting natural resources... it’s also a question of tradition.

A farmer of high-grown coffees on a finca or co-op in Central America wouldn’t Removing leaves and stems as the coffee is washed.dream of dry-processing his hard, dense and fruity beans… he’d probably sooner leave them on the tree (which, in countries like Yemen is a not an altogether unusual practice).

And while it might occur to the farmer in Sumatra to wet-process his beans, to gently ferment them to loosen the sweet pulp, and then to carefully sun-dry the result (precisely as that finca in Costa Rica or Guatemala has done for generations) it’s likely our farmer in Sumatra wouldn’t find much of a market for his beans. While there’d be nothing wrong with the resulting coffee, neither would it have the cup characteristics long associated with the origin.

But even tradition can’t begin to explain why coffee growing regions that may not have an abundance of water resources – Kenya, say, or Ethiopia – have come to rely on wet processing for their specialty coffee crop. Sorting coffee in EthiopiaIt can be argued that these regions have an ample natural resource… the sun! As it happens, there are regions within Ethiopia that that dry-process and sun-dry their coffees, to wonderful effect… it’s just this process that gives us the celebrated Ethiopian Harrar coffee.

Ultimately it’s all about the coffee itself, and the potential found within. Dry-processing yields lovely mocha-like flavors in an Ethiopian coffee – winey and wild and fruity – but wet-processing yields something altogether different: explosively perfumed aromatics, sparkling citrus, vibrant, flowered fruit… flavors and aromatics that make Ethiopian Yirgacheffe arguably the most distinctive coffee in the world.

While geography and tradition still play a role, theirs is a bit part compared to the starring role commanded by the coffee crop, itself.

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