Coffee characteristics

Coffee produced by members of ASPROUNIÓN has the following characteristics: Culture in the shade, more than 15 fruit trees and staple food crops accompany coffee farming. These trees and plants provide shelter against the severity of the weather and are a habitat for birds, mammal and other fauna, provide organic matter and protect the soil, generating a microclimate that is favourable to the quality of the bean. Varieties such as Caturra, Colombia, Bourbon have been established for over 60 years and in the last 10 years, new varieties such as pink Bourbon, Geisha, Mocha and other have been established giving excellent results. These coffees already produce a SCAA cup above 84+ but thanks to beneficiating processes being adopted, have produced cups of up to 92 SCAA points.

Natural or dry process:

The dry method is also known as natural process and it possibly is the oldest and simplest. It requires little machinery but it is more labour intensive and requires more space for the drying operation.

This method consists of drying the whole cherry after harvest, without removing the skin, shell or cherry.

Firstly, harvested cherries are classified and cleaned in order to remove those that are ripe or damaged or affected by insects. This could be done both manually and in washing channels. In the latter, healthy ripe cherries circulate at the bottom of the channel whilst dry, empty and unripe cherries float.

Once classified, the drying process commences. This is carried out in drying yards (generally), on mats or raised beds (African beds), either in the open air in the sun or in undercover areas like greenhouses.

Drying must be a homogeneous process for which cherries are regularly checked and mixed manually. This type of process takes about 20 days and depending on weather conditions, it might take up to 40.

Medium and large size producers use a mechanised drying process in order to accelerate and facilitate the process. In these cases it is advisable to dry the water from the coffee in the sun.

The drying operation is of vital importance since it affects the final quality of green coffee and certainly its flavour: if over-dried it will become brittle and become damaged during threshing. Broken beans are considered defective beans. Coffee that has not been dried sufficiently will be too moist and vulnerable to the attack of fungi and bacteria. The final and most suitable moisture content of coffee beans is 11.5%.

Washed coffee or wet processed coffee:

This method requires considerable amounts of water, as well as specific equipment. Ripe beans are picked manually, then it is necessary to remove leaves, unripe or spotted beans, rocks and any other impurity or dirt attached during harvest.

The following stage consists of separating the pulp or the shell from the beans inside the cherries. This process is known as pulping and is done with a machine that squeezes the beans between fix and mobile plates. The shell stays on one side and the beans on the other. A viscose substance called mucilage or coffee honey covers the pulped beans. Coffee is left to rest fermenting for 12 to 24 hours. During this time, the bean absorbs organoleptic qualities of mucilage at the same time that commences to separate from it with the aid of coffee natural enzymes. Mucilage is then removed with clean water.

Washed pergamino coffee has at this stage a moist content of 57% approximately.

To reduce moist down to the maximum level of 12%, coffee has to be dried, either in the sun or with a mechanical drier or combining both. Drying in the sun is done on large and smooth brick or concrete surfaces called yards, in mobile timber beds or fine mesh wire tables both in the open air in the sun and in undercover greenhouse type areas. The beans are spread on 2 cm to 10 cm layers and they are stirred frequently to make them dry evenly. Drying in the sun should take between 5 and 10 days, subject to air temperature and humidity.

In large plantations where coffee harvested may exceed the capacity of space for drying in the sun or due to low sunlight, it is necessary to use driers with hot air. Nonetheless, this operation requires extra care to achieve satisfactory and economic drying without affecting quality. Wet method is generally used for all Arabica coffees but rarely for Robustas coffees.

Attributes of washed coffees are lighter body, cleaner cups, more fruity or floral flavours and brighter or more intense acidity. The majority of countries renown by the acidity of their coffees uses the washed coffee method to preserve these attributes.

Honey process

Up to the removal of the coffee bean, this process is the same as the wet method. However in the honey process the mucilage is not removed and immediately after pulping the drying process commences with mucilage attached to the coffee bean. Drying may be in the shade or in the sun.

Contrary to what some may imagine, coffee processed under this method does not taste like honey and honey is not used in the process. This name was given because the bean covered by mucilage feels sticky like honey.
In some regions, 3 different honey processes can be found: the yellow, the red and the black. The main difference is in flavour, developed as drying time and techniques are adjusted:

Yellow honey is the one that dries faster (8 days approximately) and this is the method where coffee receives the most sun, giving the parchment around the bean a light yellow colour at the time of completing the drying process.

Red honey takes longer to achieve the optimum moisture level and in this method coffee is dried in the shade or without direct sunlight and that is what gives it its characteristic colour.

Black honey takes the longest in drying and for this method coffee is covered with a black plastic sheet on beds similar to the African beds. This is the most complex method of the 3; with high body, abundant flavour and the coffee obtained is understandably the priciest in the market. It is important to mention that this is not a coffee with a completely black parchment but slightly darker than the red one.

The drying of the parchment even covered with mucilage has a direct impact on cup sweetness. Honey coffees usually have a unique flavour, characterised by a different sweetness, many fruity flavours and sweet acidity.
Of the most common 3 processes, Honey and Natural are the most environmentally friendly because no water is used for pulping, washing or fermenting. This saves large amounts of water.

Both methods can be implemented in remote areas as they eliminate the difficulties created by transporting the cherries harvested to the beneficiation plant that often is not close to the cultivation area. This transport may sometimes cause detrimental fermentation problems and potential loss of quality.