When sourcing our raw green coffee, we adhere to our philosophy of sustainability. Part of this philosophy involves close connection to and consideration for the earth and its seasons as well as the people who inhabit it. As our environment and global climate changes, the parts of the world from where we source our coffee see changes in harvest seasons and crop yields. They experience hardships and, occasionally, unexpected moments of fortune because of these changes. We believe it is our role to maintain awareness of their experiences, not only as a way to participate positively in the global community, but also to ensure our acquisition of the best and most equitably sourced product for our community year-round.
Cafe Imports, the company who connects us to our producers, is also highly committed to sustainability and fairness. Eventually, we plan to trade directly with coffee farmers around the world, but for now our relationship with Cafe Imports is one that serves us, our community, and the coffee farmers best. We stay connected with the harvest processes so that we ensure the freshest and highest quality green coffee is available to us and that the people who produce it are treated justly.
The coffee cherry is near its prime quality in the time just after it is picked. Once it is picked, the important decision of how to process to get the most out of the bean must be made. The process chosen dramatically impacts the final flavor profile of the roasted bean. Much like grapes in winemaking, coffee beans are affected by the terroir in which they are grown, however the way they are processed can determine whether or not the end user will benefit from the richness and complexity of that terroir.
There are four main processing techniques used and recognized globally: fully washed, natural, pulped natural, and wet hulled. Most coffees you enjoy are processed one of these four ways, although new experimental methods are being explored and developed all the time.
Coffee cherries consist of three basic parts--the pulp, the parchment, and the bean. A simple way to understand these processing methods is that they are different ways to remove the seed or “bean” from its skins and leave, in the end, a green coffee bean ready for roasting. Read on to learn more.
During this process, the outer layer of skin or “pulp” is first removed from the coffee bean mechanically. This first step removes some sugars, but leaves the parchment skin intact. Then the second layer of skin containing the mucilage--a gelatinous substance that contains protein and polysaccharides--is removed either through natural fermentation via submersion in water or accelerated in mucilage removal machines. Once all skin is removed, the green beans are left to dry on patios or drying beds.
The goal of the natural process is to allow the bean to retain as much of the flavor profile of the whole cherry as possible throughout drying. For instance, one will experience more fruit, citrus, and floral notes in a bean processed this way as it has managed to retain those fresh and bright properties of the original ripe cherry. In natural processing, the pulp and parchment remain intact as the bean dries in the sun. Just before exporting, the green bean is mechanically removed from its skins.
The mucilage--that sugar substance removed entirely in the washed process--is often referred to as the “honey.” The reason this semi-dry or pulped natural process is also called “honey process” is that varying degrees of mucilage or “honey” is left in the parchment of the bean throughout the drying process. Flavor profiles of coffees processed this way will vary tremendously. Depending upon the region or even the individual processor’s preference, one might find black, red, or yellow honey process. These color-based names refer to the frequency with which the parchments are turned. Not turning the parchments as frequently allows the sugars in the mucilage to caramelize, thus resulting in a dark colored parchment--black. The more the parchments are turned, the more mucilage is removed and the lighter in color the parchments appear--yellow. This process is more experimental in nature and there is not currently an industry standard for honey processing.
“The intrinsic potential flavors lie within the bean; the mechanisms of roasting can only bring out what is there … An oak log will still smell of oak volatiles; and a hickory log will still smell of hickory volatiles.”
-Michael Sivetz, Coffee Technology, 257
A green coffee bean has within it all that it will ever be when it comes to flavor profile. It is the very important task of the roaster to understand each bean and then roast it to bring out the natural nuanced flavors the bean possesses.
After a green coffee bean has been processed and, by appearance, dried, it is not porous enough to be ground and brewed. During roasting, as the heat reaches the core of the seed, the bean loses mass and moisture and any water left at the center vaporizes. When this happens, we hear the “first crack,” a popping sound the beans make as the cell walls break down and the seed expands very quickly. At “first crack” the bean nearly doubles in size, even though it loses weight. As the temperature inside the roaster continues to rise, the mass of the bean continues to drop and the color of the bean continues to darken.
It is the prerogative of the roaster to determine batch-size, roast duration, temperature profile and airflow. All of these factors vary depending on the bean characteristics and the roaster’s preferences. Once roasting is complete, the beans cool and then they rest for at least 24 hours. It is important to allow them this time before cupping as freshly roasted coffee contains high levels of carbon dioxide and nitrogen-based gases that need to be released. As they are released, the full flavor and complexity of the coffee develops.
The next step is called “cupping.” Cupping is an important industry tool executed at various stages in the coffee production process to determine and maintain the quality of each new bean. Just as a winemaker or sommelier tastes wine for nuanced flavors and notes in a new wine, the coffee roaster needs to taste the coffee to find these same kinds of subtleties. At the roastery level, cuppings are done at various times during the profile development of each new bean as it allows the roaster to qualitatively record his progress in a side-by-side comparison. As the beans move to production, frequent cuppings become an invaluable tool in quality control.
Roasting coffee is a process that involves a scientific methodology in recording and replicating data, controlling all the involved variables, and using a qualitative scoring method. While this science is the foundation of our roasting program at Mylo, we also aim to maintain a team of passionate and skilled coffee professionals who contribute to the development and consistency of our product. Although coffee production is scientific, it is also very much a craft that requires people who care about the end result involved at each step.