Green coffee notes

coffee is a fruit, lest we forget!

What’s your coffee’s story?

When taking in the rich aroma of a fresh pourover, or grinding beans for the perfect French press, you don’t always think about what your coffee was like as a green bean, destined for greatness. Coffee is a fruit, after all! You may be surprised to learn just how different the beginnings of your coffee’s journey can be. These bean factors all affect the final taste in your cup. More to come!

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Shade Grown Coffee

Coffee plants need only a few hours of sunshine per day. Rubber and banana plants normally provide adequate shade from wind and sun and their leaves provide a rich mulch to sustain the coffee trees while nutrients are plucked from the ground to feed the berries. When the International Coffee Agreement – a price stabilization agreement – was in place (it folded in 1990) farmers were rewarded with export quotas based on the volume of coffee they produced. This meant that producers were more concerned with quantity of production rather than on quality. Many found that by clearing the shade trees their plantations would produce more coffee albeit of a lower quality. They then sought to supplement the lack of natural fertilizers with man made ones starting a vicious cycle of pollutants finding their way into the local water sources.

Many farmers, such as those in Peru’s Chanchamayo valley and in the more remote sections of Oaxaca in SW Mexico, have a long history of organic, natural farming and never changed their methods of production – fertilizers are expensive and the cost of transportation makes them prohibitively so for many small farmers in remote areas. With the collapse of the ICO came a realization that the only way to achieve a better price for coffee was to produce a better product.

We now have a reliable supply of quality, organically and naturally produced coffees whose tastes reflect the amount of painstaking labor that goes into producing each pound. Try our Organic Mountain Harvest (70% Medium roast, 30% French) as a fine example of what can be done without fertilizers but with the hand of a craftsman roaster.

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Sun Dried Coffee

After completion of the wet process, the beans in their parchment are ready to dry. At this stage, the beans contain in excess of 50% moisture, which must be brought down to about 12%. Sun-drying is the preferred method of drying, which means that the beans are either spread out on patios open to the sun and turned at regular intervals by hand or left suspended on mesh tables so that the air can circulate more easily. Either way, this process takes about 3 weeks, weather permitting. Sun drying allows the beans to dry at a natural pace, allowing all of the fine characteristics of the bean to flourish. Thus, a higher quality bean is produced. The alternative to sun-drying, is mechanical drying, where the beans are placed in rotating drums into which hot air is blown to dry the beans. This method dries the beans faster, using less manpower. The downfall is that the beans are not allowed to mature naturally, producing a lower quality bean.

Most Steaming Bean coffees are sun-dried. We feel there is a noticeable taste difference … and we think you will too.

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Wet Processing

Many of Steaming Bean’s coffees are processed by the ‘Wet’, washed method. Washing removes the mucilage from the beans and promotes a clean, fruity taste. This process  begins at harvest and ends with the green bean in its parchment (protective skin), ready to be dried. The coffee cherries should be allowed to mature on the vine, and then, when at their peak of ripeness, handpicked, leaving any unripe berries behind for later picking when ripe. Uniformity in berry size is also important as removal of the pulp around the coffee bean uses a machine calibrated to size and any smaller beans would escape having their pulp removed. After the cherries have been depulped, they go through a process of  fermentation and washing to remove any remaining pulp and skin.

At this point, all that remains surrounding the two beans is parchment and mucilage. If the mucilage is not removed, it can cause the beans to ferment. Whereas a certain amount of fermentation is desirable, too much can have a negative effect on the bean. While insoluble in water, slight fermentation causes the mucilage to dissolve. To that end, the beans are placed into cement holding tanks, which can be 3 or more feet deep. Sometimes water is added to the tanks, but often the moisture in the mucilage itself is used to promote the slight fermentation necessary to remove the mucilage. This can take anywhere from 12 to 48 hours depending on the climate and composition of the mucilage itself and the tanks must be stirred often. Once the mucilage has dissolved, it is removed completely through thorough washings in channels that lead the beans to the drying areas. The beans are ready now for the next stage, which is drying.

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Bean Quality

Coffees are sorted or graded by bean size and density, and also according to the number of defects (broken beans, under-ripe beans, and so on) permitted per pound. Standards very from country to country. A large part of what makes specialty coffees special is the tremendous extra care taken in the grading of the beans. Even a single defective bean can taint the flavor of an entire pot or pound of coffee, so repeated, meticulous sorting both electronically and by hand are used. In contrast, coffees grown and sold for commercial blends receive minimal care in picking, sorting and grading, making them cheaper to produce but less flavorful in the cup.

As with fine wine grapes, the end result of all the extra care taken in processing specialty coffee is a product that bears the unique stamp of the particular grower, microclimate and “vintage”. Experiencing the different regional flavor characteristics, or combining them in a unique personal blend, are part of what makes exploring specialty coffees so enjoyable.

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Want to roast your own coffee?

If you don’t mind the smoke and the smell and want to experiment you can purchase our beans in their raw, green, un-roasted state. You’ll find pricing for 5 lbs of each single origin coffee. To purchase more than 50 lbs of any green coffee variety please contact us for special pricing.

Roasting Tips

Remember, you’ll lose 15-20% in weight when roasting—It literally goes up in smoke!

The darker you roast, the more you’ll lose.

Be careful—Don’t burn the beans!