Dan Paggi, Roaster
It was especially hot the day we arrived to Hoja Blanca. There wasn't much shade to be found in Aurelio's neighborhood and this was by design. Most of the houses in the village used the sun to dry their coffee. After settling in a bit from our rugged drive, Aurelio led the six of us around the rooftops of his compact neighborhood. It was an amazing sight to see. Everywhere we looked we saw dozens of workers scattered at various rooftop elevations processing freshly picked coffee. Behind the workers were towering tropical cliffs and clear, blue sky. It was more breathtaking than any of us expected. We hopped from roof to roof watching with amazement at the grandeur of the operation.
Finca Villaure's harvest begins in December and runs through mid-March. During the harvest the people of the town work seven days a week to ensure that the entire crop gets picked before the cherries over-ferment out on the farm. The farm itself is located a few miles north of the processing facilities and runs along the Guatemalan-Mexican boarder. After a few minutes of taking in the sights, Aurelio walked us through the entire progression of how his washed coffee is processed.
1) Pickers pick coffee on incredibly steep hillsides from 7am - 3:30pm. There are roughly 30 pickers working every day during the harvest. They wear huge sacks on their backs and some of these guys were even in flip-flops.
2) Around 3:30pm the pickers get back into to town and dump their sacks of coffee cherries into a large tank of water. The denser, higher quality beans sink and go through a de-pulper, where the cherry is removed from the bean. The less dense beans float on top of the water and are separated from the quality beans. These "floaters" are sold in bulk to budget coffee companies that you've definitely heard of ;)
3) Once de-pulped, the quality coffee is placed in watery tanks where it will ferment for 24-36 hours. The coffee at this point is still covered in mucilage (which is a thin, gelatinous substance surrounding the bean).
4) After the beans have fermented in their watery tanks, they are sent to a long concrete waterway where a worker uses a wooden paddle to push and pull the coffee. This action removes the mucilage from the bean.
5) At this point the coffee is completely removed from water and sent out to dry in the sun on large, concrete rooftop patios. The coffee is still covered in parchment (an outer, shell like layer that holds two beans together).
A worker with a rake now rotates the coffee every 20-30 minutes to be sure the coffee has dried evenly. This process could take anywhere from a few days to a week, depending on the weather. Aurelio uses his senses to know when the coffee is done. He watches the coffee slowly change color as it dries and he knows exactly what it should look like once properly dried.
6) When the coffee parchment is properly dried, workers will bag the coffee in 100 kilo bags. Many rooftop patios will have a hole on them that leads to a warehouse beneath the patio. Workers can rake the coffee into this hole and the coffee will travel down a pipe and directly into a bag below in the warehouse.
7) Lastly, the bag is sealed up and sent back out on the same treacherous, one lane road we came in on. The coffee will then be sent to a dry mill to be further processed.
It was incredible to watch the Finca Villlaure coffee we have known and loved for the last twelve years get picked and processed. Aurelio was so gracious in hosting and educating the Sisters Coffee crew about his particular method of harvesting and processing and collectively, we learned so much. We even got to help process our very own "La Basa" lot while visiting the farm. We raked the coffee parchment on the rooftop patios and helped transfer fermented coffee from tank to tank. It was an absolute privilege to know that in the coming months we would participate in the processing, roasting, and brewing of this superb coffee.