By Chuck Jones
Along the Pacific slope of Guatemala's volcanic
chain lies the state of San Marcos and the 140-year-old coffee plantation
Finca Dos Marias. Finca Dos Marias is considered an estate coffee,
and it is produced, harvested and processed for export on-site. The
ideal soil, altitude and climate lend to the quality that makes this
a specialty coffee. Every step of producing, harvest and processing
coffee requires careful and painstaking care and dedication. In the
following article, Chuck Jones' describes how green coffee is processed
at Finca Dos Mariashis family's coffee farm.
are two primary methods of coffee processingnatural and washed.
Most of the countries in the Americas, Guatemala included, employ
the washed method because they have access to plentiful water. Other
countries, such as Yemen, employ the natural method because they lack
water. Both methods, if done correctly, give coffee unique qualities.
The objective of both methods is to remove the
green beans from the cherries. Most coffee cherries contain two dome-shaped
beans, with the flat sides facing each other. Some cherries contain
only a single bean, called peaberry, that is more round-shaped.
I will focus on the washed method of processing
because this is the most prevalent with arabica coffees and is the
method used at Finca Dos Marias.
There are two main components to the washed method
of processing. There is the "wet mill," which removes the
fruit from the bean, and the "dry mill," which grades the
coffee for export. When coffee is received at the wet mill, workers
weigh it and drop it into a huge tank of water. Any cherries that
are green, moldy, or infested with Broca will float to the
top along with any twigs and leaves. The quality cherries, on the
other hand, will sink. These quality cherries will then be transferred
from the tank to be pulped by machines, which literally "pop"
the beans from the cherries by squeezing them gently. The seeds, covered
with fruit or mucilage, are sent to a composting pile, where they
become an integral part of the soil renewal process.
The second tank is charged with removing the stubborn
mucilage from the seeds, usually by fermentation. Fermentation allows
the enzymes of the mucilage to break themselves down. This may take
two to four days depending on the air temperature. Some plantations
attempt to accelerate this process by using high-pressured water or
agitating machines. At Finca Dos Marias, Ricardo, the old man of the
mill, will determine when the seeds are ready to be rinsed.
At this point, the beans from the fermentation
tanks are emptied into long canals so they can be rinsed and washed.
Again, small walls in the canals will allow the "floaters"
to pass and the quality beans to sink.
After rinsing, workers empty the coffee onto large
dying patios for sun drying. Because there is considerable cloud cover
at Finca Dos Marias, we use mechanical dryers when necessary. Once
the beans are dried, they have hard shells covering them called parchment.
When dried appropriately, the coveted green beans shrink within the
parchment, thus completing the wet process.
Growers store the coffee for at least 30 days
in the parchment. The coffee is then prepared for export in the dry
mill. Some plantations without on-site dry mills will send or sell
parchment coffee to contract dry mills.
When a buyer is ready, the coffee is prepared
to order. The parchment is hulled from the beans and they are graded
for density, size, and imperfections. Generally, the objective of
grading coffee is to achieve even roast development. The more the
coffee is graded, the more expensive it becomes.
The first machine after hulling is called the
Oliver. This is a slanted table that shakes vigorously at an angle,
causing beans of different densities to be sorted into different bags.
A buyer may request that the beans make several passes through this
machine. The next step is to screen the coffee for size in millimeters.
Normally, Finca Dos Marias uses a screen size 16. The final phase
is the manually hand sort the beans, a labor-intensive task that requires
skill and attention to detail. We inspect each bean for visual imperfections.
Some dry mills have replaced the human eye with an electronic eye
sorter that looks for discolored beans. At Finca Dos Marias, we believe
that even this process should be followed by a visual hand sort.
the supervisor approves the preparation of the coffee, it is ready
to be bagged for export. Although weights vary from country to country,
Guatemala exports its bags at 152 pounds. The "marks" for
the bags leaving Finca Dos Marias include "Doña Mireya,"
which indicates the special preparation my mother demands, "Finca
Dos Marias," which indicates the special origin of the estate,
and the image of a Quetzal bird. The Quetzal holds a special place
in the hearts of Guatemalans. This endangered bird is the national
bird of Guatemala and is also the name of the monetary unit. Ancient
Mayan warriors once used the vibrant green feathers of the Quetzal
for ceremonial headdresses. Finca Dos Marias is a breeding ground
for these resplendent birds and we are proud to share their land with
Chuck Jones is based in Pasadena, California
where he and his brother import, market and distribute coffee from
Finca Dos Maria to specialty roasters throughout the United States
and Canada. His family runs an educational program called Guided Coffee
Discoveries, which brings small groups of coffee professionals to
a working coffee farm in Guatemala and allows the participants to
immerse themselves in coffee production from seed to cup. He can be
reached at email@example.com.
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