A cornerstone to specialty coffee is being able to recognise the factors that went into bringing it to life. At Origin, there a 4 key aspects.
Originally used by the wine industry, this concept which details the environmental factors (climate, soil type and topography) is also highly relevant to coffee. The unique composition of a coffee’s terroir allows for an incredible variety of growing conditions, producing a wide array of coffee profiles.
Just like other agricultural crops, the Coffea Arabica tree has many different varieties. Think of Golden Delicious, Royal Gala or Fuji: all apple trees but different varieties, each with their own unique characteristics. Some coffee varieties are noted for their disease resistance, some for their production capacity. Within the specialty coffee context, while quality remains a treasured feature we also need to be aware of the challenges (and costs) of variety at origin.
Once the ripe cherry has been picked from the tree, it needs to be dried and graded ready for export. There are three key processing methods used:
- Washed processed coffees are put through a pulper, removing the thin fruit layer on the exterior. They’re then soaked in tanks of water for between 12 – 24 hours before being rinsed, removed the next sticky mucilage layer. From here, the seeds, contained within a papery-like parchment are laid on patios or raised beds to dry. The final stage sees this parchment layer removed through hulling and the exposed green coffee is graded for density, size and defects.
- Natural processed coffees see the ripe cherries, pulp, mucilage and all, laid out in the sun on patios or raised beds. With the pulp layer left in tact, the coffee retains much of its inherent sugar, often turning into a distinct, heavy bodied fruit influence in the cup. With these added layers involved, the drying process often takes significantly longer and has added risks around over-fermentation. The payoff however can be incredible, offering up layered, distinct flavours in the cup.
- Pulped Natural coffees land somewhere in between these two methods. The ripe cherries are pulped but then transferred to the drying beds. A middle ground of technique, these coffees often display characteristics of both washed and natural processing – some of the cleanliness and clarity of acidity of the washed, with an increased body and fruit notes of the natural.
Quality Arabica coffees are generally considered to flourish above 1000 meters above sea level (MASL). While altitude by itself does not inherently indicate cup quality, it is definitely an influencer to the vibrancy and final complexity in the cup. In general, the higher the coffee is grown, the slower the fruit develops, seeing more of the nutrients and plant resourcing being fed into a smaller crop, in turn increasing the flavour intensity. The altitude factor is mitigated against the latitude of the origin. In some origins, like Hawaii for example, altitudes much above 600masl produce too much frost for coffee trees to flourish.