Blog : Coffee Roasting

Norandino Coffee Mill

Norandino Coffee Mill

Day 2: Piura, Peru

The flight to Piura was uneventful, and we met up with Elmer, the partner of Farm to Roast, and our Peruvian guide for the trip. We met our driver for the trip, Robbie, who warmly greeted us and loaded up our gear into his truck. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we departed the airport and headed across the city of Piura to the Norandino coffee-processing factory.

 

This is one part of the trip that was completely new to me. All of the conversation about coffee exportation concentrates on the harvesting and processing at the farm level. Once the coffee is properly dried and packaged at the farm, there is a whole series of steps that need to take place before the green coffee is ready to be packed into containers and shipped to the docks for export. We got to see the process in action, and we walked through the entire plant with the manager of operations.

Tons of coffee wait for final processing.

The coffee at this point has been carefully harvested, processed at the farm, dried to the proper moisture content, and shipped from the remote coffee growing regions, the Norandino Mill. Each coffee bean has a thick parchment that is natural to the bean itself, which needs to be removed before bagging and export to the roasters. This is accomplished by using a series of machines that work at a very high rate of speed to rub off this parchment and “clean” the dust off the beans with massive blowers.

 

 

Click for Video!
The cleaned coffee is immediately dropped into large oscillating tables, which help to sort the coffee away from any contaminates like stones, sticks, coins and other junk that sometimes makes its way into the coffee supply. These tables also work to sort the coffee into different sizes. This table is on a slight angle, and as it shakes, the larger beans move toward one side of the table and the remaining smaller dense beans begin to collect in another corner. These beans shake off of the table at two different points, with the higher quality and more dense beans being kept for the specialty exports, and the rest being used in commercial grade coffee.


This first sorting is important to ensure that there is consistency in the size, density and shape of the coffee being exported. There is still one more concern in the specialty world; the presence of defects or “bad” coffee beans. Defects can occur naturally as part of the growing genetics from that particular coffee bean, or as an error in harvesting (picking a cherry too early or too late). These defects often have negative tasting consequences, and in order for a coffee to make it to “specialty” grade, there must be exceptionally few of these defects present in the green coffee.

 

Coffee sorting video
This would be an incredibly time consuming task to do by hand, but we were fortunate to be able to see some cutting-edge technology being employed at the Norandino Mill. The mill uses optical sorting technology, where hundreds of beans per minute pass by a bright light in a single file line. A computer quickly determines weather that particular bean has the proper shape and size, and gives that single bean a pass/fail. The failures are sorted out of the machine into a holding bin to be sold as second-rate commercial coffee. The passing beans are approved for bagging and shipping to the port. There were about 200 of these light samplers, and each sampler can test hundreds of beans per minute. The process is lightning fast, and incredibly accurate.

 

The final stage of the processing is to load all the passing coffee into a giant hopper, where workers will bag it up in specially sealed bags to ensure that the coffee makes it safely across the ocean to its destination.

 

The Norandino Mill is certified to process Organic, and Fair Trade coffee, and it has won numerous awards for its exceptional processing and milling procedures.

 

We finished the tour by cupping coffee samples in their coffee lab, and learning about some of the different farms in the area, and how the mill keeps careful records of processing, and segregation of the coffee to ensure that the individual farm’s coffees do not get blended together for Direct Trade models such as Farm to Roast. Norandino makes sure that the farms that Chris buys from are properly labeled and sorted so that each lot retains its distinct characteristics and flavors.

 

Seeing this kind of precision and accuracy on such a large scale was extremely impressive. To know that our coffee was coming through a mill with such advanced technology helps to explain why we are getting such a high quality product from these beautiful Peruvian farms.

 

 

Peru Retrospective

Peru Retrospective

It has been a week since my return from Peru, and although it was good to get back to the normal routine of roasting and brewing, a small part of me wishes I was still visiting farms and getting to know the true source of the coffee we work with every day. Being able to see the process first hand, and to interact with the people responsible for the incredible coffee we serve was not only an incredible learning opportunity, but an emotional experience as well. I was prepared to learn all about the coffee growing process; it was the emotional connection with the producers that perhaps was the greatest takeaway for me.

 

Visiting origin has always been a major goal for me since the specialty coffee world grabbed ahold of me almost 10 years ago. To completely understand how the coffee grows, and to see the terrain of the land and remote locations where the plants thrive would be an incredible learning opportunity, and may afford some insight to the roasting process for me. Seeing first hand how the coffee is harvested and prepared for export is to better understand the end product as a whole.

 

Another motivating factor behind origin trips for me is to get to know the person beyond a name printed on a coffee bag. We often promote our coffee based upon origin, farm name, and producer name. We feel that it helps us to connect us all to the story of the coffee, and to show why these offerings are truly unique. We use photographs of these farmers to show that there are real people that cultivate these coffees, and they have families and stories to tell. It tends to make the relationship more real, and the appreciation for the coffee more authentic.

 

Authenticity. Something about this arrangement still felt somewhat artificial to me personally. Every “third wave” roaster around the world would do the same thing. Name the farm, name the producer, and show a picture. Beyond the photo was a whole story that we were telling, from the words of someone else. Our importer would tell us the romantic story and we would parrot that to our customer base. I wanted more, I wanted to experience the story for myself.

 

I expressed this desire to Chris Griffin, founder of Farm to Roast. Chris was a nano-importer from Pittsburgh who was traveling to micro-roasters in the area to promote his current green coffee offerings. Chris and I had a lot in common, we were both had new businesses, and we were the “little guys” in an ocean of big names. We both had a passion for bringing truly exceptional coffee to the area, and to tell the stories of the families who worked so hard to make that coffee available to us.

 

Chris did one thing a little bit differently than many of the other importers who would court us for our business. He visited the farms for himself, and he established relationships with the farmers. These relationships were designed to form long-term commitments between farmers and roasters. In essence, we would support each other as we both grow. This model appealed to me, and to the model that we were trying to grow with Branch Street. The familial nature of this structure hit a chord with us.

 

Not long after we met Chris, I asked him if he would be willing to take me to origin to meet the actual people behind the coffee we were buying. He immediately agreed and told me to plan for August, which was still 6 months away. I immediately updated my passports and began to get ready for what would become my first origin trip.

 

Over the next few weeks, I will delve deeper into the experiences that came to define this week in Peru; the people, the terrain, the knowledge and the relationships that were formed. This trip was an unforgettable experience that has helped to foster a much greater appreciation for every step along the coffee process, and I can’t wait to share these stories with you.

Peru Origin Trip

Peru Origin Trip

Peru

 

At the end of August 2017, we will be heading to South America, to visit several small coffee farms. This will be our first origin trip, and our first attempt to bring home something that is truly unique. In the next few weeks, we hope to secure outstanding single-farm coffee, trading directly with the producers who own the farms. This is true sourcing.

 

In a previous blog post, we touched on one form of trading called “Fair Trade” and the controversy that surrounds the certification. Since its inception, the Fair Trade label has become weighed down under layers of bureaucracy and the money from the roaster didn’t always make it directly into the hands of the farmer. It is filtered through different hands until only a fraction of the purchase price makes it to the producer.

 

Due to the shortcomings of the Fair Trade system, many roasters decided to circumvent the import process, and source their own coffee by paying the farmers directly. They hired importers to come with them on the trips, they paid the farmers and the importer separately. The coffee skips past several links on the chain and both producer and roaster win in the end.

 

Producers of specialty coffee are extremely talented and hard-working farmers, who understand the growing conditions, and the harvest processes that will produce exceptional, one of a kind coffee. Often these producers are humble families of meager means, and their hard work shows in the quality of their product. These farms are usually small plots of land, and their yield is typically dozens of bags of coffee (not the hundreds of bags that some larger farms produce).

 

Direct Trade has been the buzzword for many years now, but just like Fair Trade, the waters have become muddied. Since no central governing body has oversight over the label Direct Trade, anyone can call any coffee by that name. People claim that they “source” coffee or that a coffee is “Direct Trade” all the time, and unfortunately sometimes they never even left the country.

 

So how do we differentiate ourselves from all of the “grey area” labels that exist, and let the people buying our coffee know that we have gone the extra mile (thousands of miles, actually)? We are creating a special label that will let you know with certainty that the coffee you are holding is from one of the farms that we have visited, and purchased the coffee from directly. We are dedicated to making sure that there is transparency in our products, and we will go the extra step to continue to bring amazing coffee to you, and we will work hard to tell the stories of the farmer while respecting the process along the way.

Tasting or Drinking?

Tasting or Drinking?

This blog post has been written by Ben Ratner, co-owner of LiB’s Marketplace in Salem, Ohio. Ben has extensive experience in food and wine, and has been working in the coffee profession since opening Lib’s with is wife Lindsay. We are proud to partner with LiB’s in bringing you this outstanding class, taught by Ben himself to help us all expand our enjoyment of our food and drink. Without further ado:

When you enjoy coffee are you drinking it or tasting it? The difference is subtle but measurable. Most people looking for a quick pick-me up may fall into the “just drinking” category while those looking to experience something more; a connection with their coffee, land more on the tasting side of things.

In specially coffee we are always striving for that something extra. It could be learning more background or production info, that season’s particular weather, anything to allow us to feel more connected to the cup and the lives of those that made it possible to get from a farm to your belly.

Perhaps sometimes we lose the most important factor in coffee. Behind the specifics in climate, growing region, processing methods, bean elevation, the name of the farmers first born and so on…the most important thing being; is it delicious and tasty?

After we have qualified a coffee as delicious, does it stop there? Of course not! We need to know why that cup stands out, and as coffee professionals we need to be able to explain to a guest of our café, or orderer on our online shop, and in some ways insure the type of experience they will have after making a purchase. Similarly, it’s a coffee professional’s job to be able to pick out flaws on the production side before adding a specific bean to the offering list so they know if it will properly represent the shop that will be presenting it to the consumer.

Here is where sensory evaluation comes into play. Your palate is like a muscle, and it takes practice to teach our brain and sensory systems to work together to pick out regional notes and flaws a like.

This is where Branchstreet Coffee Roasters, LiB’s Market and you come into the picture! We are partnering up for an awesome intro into sensory perception workshop to take place at Branchstreet on May 21, at 3:00pm. We will discuss how to start making connections between your sensory systems that will get you on the path to being a better perceiver in general which will lead to having a more enriched experience in life not just coffee tasting because these skills will make it possible to feel that much more connected to the things we consume.

As humans on this journey called life, our memories and experiences will last a lifetime. Join us to make some memories and get the ball rolling on becoming a better taster. Those wishing to get started and those looking for a  refresher or if you just want to be sure you’re fully enjoying the things you consume and squeezing every last drop from life! Join us.

Fair Trade?

Fair Trade?

This blog post was originally written by Matt Campbell for Coffee Props.  Coffee props is a community of coffee lovers, with a focus on bringing clean water to third world countries. Check them out at http://www.coffeeprops.com for more!

Fair Trade?

 

If you’re a frequent consumer of specialty coffee, chances are you have come across several certifications and registration programs. Some may include Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, Shade Grown, Rainforest Certified, and others. What exactly do these mean, and how concerned should you be about the presence or lack of certification?

 

Certifications are great, and they provide some clarity to an otherwise muddled chain of custody on the commodity market. Where an item came from, how it was produced, and weather or not it was sourced ethically should be of concern to a consumer. We value transparency, and increasingly, we have become more aware of our footprint and its impact.

 

In our modern world, we live with a strange paradox. We are sourcing our products and goods on a worldwide scale from people we will never see or meet, while becoming more connected via technology and social media. Suddenly we are able to see the results of our consumer culture on the countries producing our goods. Knowing that our choices have an impact on other people creates a sense of moral and ethical responsibility.

 

The certifications were created to give the consumer the assurance that they were buying a product that was created with their values in mind, and that badge on the box or bag assured them that this product was up to their standards of ethics. It is comforting for the consumer to know that they made a good choice.

 

Right? Maybe.

 

As with any system, all of these certification programs have flaws. What starts as an honest attempt at transparency can become a bit muddied, and it is important to understand the context of these flaws so we can purchase wisely instead of blindly.

 

To use an example, let us examine the USDA Organic label. The US Department of Agriculture developed guidelines and regulations to define what Organic means, and how it can be confirmed with inspections and certifications. The consumer knows that products labeled with the USDA logo are certified, and buying that product means that it has met those guidelines. We often only think of this from the consumer point of view, and not that of the producer.

 

When a producer grows or creates a product according to USDA Organic standards, they cannot just slap the logo on that product. They must apply with the USDA to be inspected and show a tremendous amount of paperwork including, records, testing, procedures, and policies in order to even be considered for the Organic label. Oh, and there is a tiny fee involved. These fees START at $750 USD per farm. The fee can range because the USDA does not always inspect these farms themselves. Oftentimes they will need to pay one of the USDA “approved” agents to come and inspect. These private agents set their own fees. Travel time, room and board may add additional expenses.

 

Consider a coffee farm in Ethiopia, a country known for beautiful and unique coffee. Many of the farmers are small operations; sometimes each farmer controls only a few acres of land. To market their product as USDA Organic would likely prove to be impossible because of costs involved; even if they follow the strict guidelines set by the USDA. In fact, many of these farms are in remote areas that have no choice but to grow in organic conditions. It does not make their coffee any less “pure,” but we will never see the label on their beans.

 

Even as a cooperative organization (co-op), each individual farmer would need to be inspected and certified in order for the co-op as a whole to be certified. This is frequently cost prohibitive, as well as logistically difficult. It creates a catch-22 of sorts among these third-world farmers, while it rewards the larger, richer and more powerful farms and keeps the smaller rural farmer out of reach.

 

This actually creates a nice segue into another certification, Fair Trade. As consumers, we care about the quality of our product, we often also want our producers to be cared for as well. No sweat shops for us! With the advent of Fair Trade, we felt good. Those poor people were getting a fair price for their product, and we knew that their standard of living was being raised as well.

 

In order to be labeled Fair Trade, a coffee must sold through a co-op. Co-ops are organizations that have leadership, and overhead. The leadership decides how the profits from the season’s sales are divided up among the farmers, and how much the leadership pays itself. You know, for leading. Another sad side effect is the loss of amazing coffee. If a farmer has an outstanding crop, it likely will be blended and sold off with all of the other coffee from that co-op.   The quality of that one farm will be completely lost, and bring everything down to an equal level. Not so fair.

 

Although there are too many organizations and certifications to list, the one thing they have in common is the desire to market a better product. For all their flaws, they do have some redeeming qualities. As a consumer, be aware of where your coffee and products come from and make your own decision. Try to use the certifications for what they are: a tool. There is plenty of bad Fair Trade Organic coffee out there, and even more excellent coffee that hasn’t been certified by any institution. Talk with your roaster and baristas about the coffee, chances are they will know about the origins and the story behind that particular offering.

 

So what’s the point? I suppose it is to encourage you to be an intelligent consumer. Know about the product, and buy it based on the merits of the product itself. Sure, having the certifications is great, but is the product the best available for you? Perhaps there is a tremendously flavorful coffee right next to the bag with all the fancy stickers; and perhaps you will reward a small farmer for his hard work and dedication, regardless of their certifications.