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 Marias–his family's coffee farm.

There are two primary methods of coffee processing–natural 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.

Once 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 them.

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

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