SORTING, SORTING, SORTING
... should have been my answer to everyone who asked me: André, what did you do all day on the coffee farm in Colombia?
Unbelievable that this process can be so important for the result of a good cup of coffee. But when I was allowed to help sort it myself and saw the results, I knew why.
SORTING BEGINS AT THE COFFEE TREE
Before one can even think about roasting or brewing a coffee, the sorting process begins during the harvesting phase and sets the course for the quality level of a specialty coffee.
On Juan Pablo's farm, we learned that on smaller farms, coffee bean sorting often takes place in (four) passes, starting at the coffee tree.
(1) At the harvest, where only the completely ripe coffee cherries may be picked, (2) through the washing station, where the so-called "floaters" (hollow coffee beans, plant debris, etc.) are removed, (3) to the dry processing, where the beans with defects are sorted out by color, deformation and insect bites during and after the drying stage, and finally (4) All beans are sorted by size. It is now easy to imagine the impact that poor sorting can have on the quality and ultimately on the taste of your coffee.
DEFECTS: IT'S ALL IN THE DETAILS
... and the "dry sorting" got me, stunning! Every single bean is sorted by hand.
There is a special sorting room with large tables that easily accommodate 20 to 30 people. The local workers are very experienced at what they do. After the harvest, tons of coffee pass through their speedy hands ...
A coffee bean can have 14 (!) clearly defined defects, which in some cases can only be detected by a sharp and experienced eye, that can negatively affect the taste of the coffee. These include insect bites, unusual coloration, cracks and chipped corners. In addition, the beans are sorted by size using a strainer. The uniform size is necessary to ensure uniform roasting of the coffee at a later stage. By the way, the sorted beans are not thrown away, but offered for national consumption in their own country.
Why is this work not done by machines?
Well, first of all, a machine that could do this job would be far too expensive. Second, it would not be affordable for a small coffee farm, and third, it would replace workers, which would definitely not be an option, at least on this farm. On Juan Pablo's coffee farm, almost the entire family and even some neighbors are involved in the process with their work.
The job is extremely detailed, but it was fun to be part of it - people chat with each other, make jokes or listen to music, and sometimes there's even salsa dancing in between. Juan Pablo goes around the tables at a planned time and checks the results of the individual employees by random inspections, because their payment is based on the accuracy of their work.
The sorting process has a very big impact on the quality and taste of our daily cup of coffee, and it allows the coffee roaster to consistently bring out clean and unique flavors.
However, sorting coffee beans is also one of the most laborious and intensive processes at a coffee farm. The nitty-gritty work requires a lot of patience, attention to detail, and skilled employees, which cannot simply be replaced by machines on smaller family-operated farms. Done properly, grading rewards coffee farmers with a higher quality rating and an additional premium for their coffee.
See you in the next NO-Filter Coffee newsletter.
Until then, enjoy your Coffee!