In July, KALVE team visited specialty coffee cooperative "Sancoffee" to participate in a collaborative experience exchange. During this time, Brazil experienced its mid-winter with bright sunlight and almost no precipitation.
At "Sancoffee" cooperative, during this period, intensive coffee harvesting and processing of coffee cherries were in full swing. Brazil is located in the South hemisphere, which means that its seasons and cycles are the opposite to the North hemishpere, where we are.
In this diary series, we will delve deeper into the coffee harvesting process, shedding light on the significance of processing.
Methods of coffee harvesting and key challenges
During our visit to "Sancoffee" and farms, we had the opportunity to observe numerous coffee fields filled with coffee cherries. However, other fields had already been completely harvested, preparing for the upcoming flowering season. July is one of the busiest months on farms, encompassing coffee picking, sorting, and post-processing.
Harvesting at "Sancoffee" farms typically begins in May and can extend until August. This, of course, depends on climatic and growth conditions, as well as the geographic location and altitude.
A commonly held stereotype is that specialty coffee is solely handpicked, collecting only ripe cherries. However, this claim is not entirely accurate.
In farms like "Fagundes Community", where coffee fields cover a relatively small area (just over two hectares), coffee trees grow on steep mountain slopes, thus requiring handpicking of the cherries. However, in larger farms with more accessible terrain, mechanical harvesters are also employed.
Coffee harvesting machines are calibrated and adjusted individually for each coffee field, taking into account the height of coffee trees, the distance between leaves, branches, and cherries, as well as the yield of the coffee variety.
The harvester operates similarly to an automatic car wash with vertically rotating arms, shaking the coffee tree and causing ripe coffee cherries to fall onto a conveyor that separates them from leaves and twigs.
Typically, coffee harvesters are used up to two times in a single field, but regardless of the technique used, there is still a need to handpick and collect cherries from the ground (this process is called "sweepings").
Coffee harvesting is a demanding seasonal task that requires a significant workforce. Furthermore, the coffee industry often struggles to compete with other industries offering more stable and better-paying jobs.
In Brazil, there is a high unemployment rate, uneven socio-economic development, and significant urban migration, leading to a shift of people in working age moving to cities. All of this poses challenges for farms in attracting sufficient labor for the harvest.
Representatives from "Fazenda Samambaia" share: "To effectively carry out harvesting in coffee fields, 100 workers are needed during the season, but this year we managed to attract just over 30. This complicates work planning and can negatively impact coffee quality."
Fabrìcio Andrade, CEO of “Sancoffee”, also acknowledges that attractive and fair wages alone are not enough to incentivize seasonal labor. Additional benefits such as covering living expenses, bonuses, training, and career opportunities need to be provided. Fabrìcio explains that the specific nature of the coffee industry, current socioeconomic situation, and the migration of people from rural areas are one of key factors driving the modernization of farms. By automating processes and investing in technologies for coffee harvesting, sorting, and processing, only then can they maintain sustainable and effective operations, ensuring high coffee quality.
A brief introduction to coffee processing
Transitioning to coffee processing, we venture into the next section of the coffee journey. This is a crucial stage in the journey of the coffee cherry to the cup. The processing process itself influences the flavor and aroma of the coffee and also prepares the beans for long-term storage and transportation.
Traditional processing methods include washed, natural or dry processing, and the honey method. However, experimental and hybrid methods like carbonic maceration, borrowed from wine production, are becoming increasingly popular. The most popular methods remain washed and natural process methods. The washed method involves fermentation, separating coffee cherries from the beans by washing them, and then drying. On the other hand, in the natural process method, beans are dried within the cherries.
Each processing method has its pros and cons. For example, the washed method requires a significant amount of fresh and clean water, which can be a challenge in coffee-growing regions with limited water availability. In contrast, the natural processing method can lead to favorable conditions for unwanted/uncontrolled fermentation, affecting coffee flavor and quality. Washed processing can be likened to a blank canvas, highlighting the characteristics of the coffee variety, regional traits, and growing conditions. Washed coffees are clean in flavor, with a bright acidity and delicate texture. In contrast, in the natural processing method, the coffee bean remains in contact with the cherry pulp throughout the drying process, absorbing sugars and other compounds from the cherry, which will affect the coffee flavor. Natural processed coffees are often characterized by pronounced sweet and ripe fruit flavor notes, a syrupy and dense texture.
In the next diary series, we will delve closer into the encountered "Sancoffee" processing methods and their significance in the coffee journey to your cup.
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