Updated: Feb 5
I was recently lucky enough to spend a week at El Robledal, my uncle's organic coffee farm in the mountains above Popayan, Colombia.
Staying on a working coffee farm means fresh eggs, fresh fruit and, of course, fresh coffee - every morning! In addition to enjoying the serenity of the farm, I also got to learn a bit about the complicated process of turning coffee beans into a cup of fresh coffee. Usually this process takes at least a few weeks (and much longer if you are exporting the coffee beans), but that time is cut way down when you are staying on an actual organic coffee farm where the coffee can be roasted on-site. Here's a bit of information I learned about the coffee process:
The coffee plant below is full of coffee beans at various stages of ripeness. When the beans are mature (the darker red ones) they are picked by hand by someone trained to spot when they are at their peak ripeness.
Once the beans are picked they are floated in a tub of water where the ones that are not quite ripe enough to use will float to the top to be picked out and discarded. The good beans are put through a machine (part of which is shown below) to separate and remove all of the pulp.
Then the beans are fermented for approximately 18-24 hours until the stickiness (my term, not the technical one, ;) ) falls off the outside. Next, the beans are washed to remove all traces of pulp that might remain, they are once again checked by hand and the less than perfect ones are discarded. At this stage, the beans are set out to dry on beds indoors and out of the direct sunlight for about four days, and then they are dried in a combination of indoor and outdoor environments to bring the moisture content down to an ideal 11%. The drying process (which is an art in and of itself) leaves you with coffee beans in a "green state" - even though they are not actually green. They are more a light colored tan, as seen in the cup below:
The sooner you get the green coffee to market and roasted, the better, as quality degrades over time. All we had to do was run the beans through a machine to remove the parchment and then the coffee was ready to roast! While large batches of beans are roasted off-site using expensive machines, small batches can be roasted right at the farm on a hot stove like the one below. The key is that this must be done at very high heat - way hotter than what you would ever cook with!
To turn the green beans into the roasted coffee that we all know and love is difficult and must be monitored super carefully. The beans have to be stirred constantly for about 15-20 minutes under the watchful eye of someone who knows how not to over-roast them, which damages them and ruins the flavors. Once you hear the "first crack" (which sounded like popcorn beginning to pop), the coffee is almost ready to take off the heat. An extremely simplified version of the roasting process is that the coffee beans absorb heat up until a certain point, at which time they start releasing heat themselves, signifying that the chemical process has taken place and the coffee's "essence" has been released.
Once it is determined that the roasting process is done, the coffee is immediately taken off the heat and cooled. It has to be left alone for a while to naturally be "de-gassed" and let some of the gases created in the roasting process be released. So we waited for a few days to try this particular batch and when we did it was delicious!
Lastly, I just had to share my favorite photo from the trip. In addition to being great for the coffee plants, frequent showers at the farm bring almost daily rainbows if you look up at just the right time. A nice reminder to put down your cell phone and enjoy the beauty of El Robledal!