The coffee process: from field to roastery

Now, a little bit of detail about the coffee farm I was working on:
Yellow River Farm has approximately 8000 coffee trees planted over 1.5 hectares, with another 1.5 hectares available to expand. Their land is spread across the western canyon face: thus they have coffee “fields” (coffee trees among banana, cacao & limon trees in the forest) at numerous elevations. This is intentional, as the elevation effects the ripening time, thus phasing the timing for harvest and allowing a smaller number of workers to harvest everything.

Step 0: Plant the trees
It takes 3 years for a coffee tree seedling to mature and bear fruit. Each requires a 40cm deep, 30cm in diameter hole, spaced 1.5 meters from other trees. Ideally, they are grown under a canopy to provide shade (banana trees are great for this). Seedlings are raised in a greenhouse before planting.


Step 1: Harvest coffee “berries”
This is what I spent the majority of my time in Peru doing, as I was there at the very end of the harvest season. Coffee “berries” grow directly on the limbs of the trees. The wood is very flexible, and thus it is good practice to bend the high limbs within reach. This also allows for close inspection of the under-leaves, where a dangerous “caterpillar” called the hoy-hoy resides (one touch of this guys deceptive fur will cause pain in your entire arm and chest for 6 or more hours). It is important to remove the berries from the branches without removing the stems, as the stems re-bloom each year.


Step 2: “float” the berries

Before peeling, we would dump all berries into a bucket of water. Floating indicates over-dryness or oxygen penetration (likely by an insect). These beans are still edible, just of lower quality.

Step 3: Peel the “berries”
Don’t worry – we didn’t peel all those beans by hand! But – we did hand-crank an old-fashioned peeling machine. Pretty straight forward: dump the berries into the top, turn the crank, peeled beans spill out of one side and the fresh husks fly out the other.


Step 4: allow to ferment

The peeling machine dumps the peeled beans into a concrete pit. There, we let the beans sit for 12-24 hrs. The beans are coated in a thin layer of fruit fiber (like a very thin layer of white plum), and thus ferment in their own sugars. I’m not sure exactly what this does, but I know it’s crucial to the final product!

Step 5: Wash, and wash again – and again . . .
After fermenting, the sugar/fruit fiber layer is useless and thus must be washed completely away. This takes many washings (usually around 6), and much scrubbing of beans. Yellow River hopes to obtain a machine for this soon (it was certainly my least favorite step!).


Step 6: Dry beans

The old fashioned way: use the sun! Each morning for three or so days we would spread the newly-peeled coffee beans on tarps in the yard and gather them up again at night. The dry time varies, based on weather and density of beans laying out to dry. The important thing is not to over dry them! Ready beans will leave a slight indentation when you bite into them, nothing more, nothing less.


Step 7: Hull & Roast!

Yellow River does not have it’s own roaster – I did not ask why, but I imagine it’s to do with the cost. Coffee is produced throughout the region and thus there are a couple regional roasting houses utilized by everyone. Yellow River Farm uses a roaster in Quellabamba, a couple hour drive down river. One extra step done at the roaster, before roasting: hulling a final thin shell off of the beans (pictured).

Step 8: Bag
Carefully weigh out coffee beans, add labels, seal plastic. bingo.

Yellow River farms sells the majority of it’s coffee un-roasted to a UK based company called Caf├ędirect Machu Picchu Organic Gourmet Coffee. The Quellabamba-roasted beans are bagged at the farm and sold in select Cuzco markets.