There are a myriad of things that happen to a coffee, between the time it is harvested from the tree, and the moment it is brewed, cupped, and tasted; and even then, takes different courses depending on the type of cup. A universal experience, yet dynamic, delicate, and unique; sacred in its unrefined, natural essence and unabridged conversion.
Coffee is harvested from a tree, and if quality is considered, by hand. On the tree, coffee is called a cherry, or in spanish - uva, and is hand picked according to ripeness, leaving unripe beans for a later harvest. Cherries will then then be sorted, to distinguish the ripe beans from the incidental unripe, sticks, leaves, etc, and will then be bagged in burlap sacs and weighed. This weight is taken by the farmer, owner of the plantation, to determine the picker's days wages, typically one dollar per twenty five pounds of cherries, a measurement referred to as arroba.
If a farmer does not process his own cherries, they will be sold to an external processor, someone who buys the cherries from the farmer, and likely picks them up from their plantation. At Beneficio El Manzano, this happens four times a day, where trucks are sent out to collect the coffees purchased from the nineteen surrounding farms in Santa Ana, El Salvador; processing High Grown (HG) and Strictly High Grown (SHG) coffees from eight distinct growers.
(Coffee is a delicate crop, meaning that throughout its growth and processing, it will absorb the flavors of that which it comes into contact with. For example, it will absorb the flavors of other crops it shares the soil with, which many farmers will intentionally plant to give their coffee certain preferred taste or aroma.
Since it is picked as a fully ripened cherry, harvested coffee immediately and naturally begins to ferment. Most coffee will therefore be processed within 24 hours of being harvested, lest it develop sour, alcoholic flavors. Much of the processing method of coffee is geared to allow it time to do that very thing, however, leaving coffee in its natural fruit is a riskier processing method, considering the potential to ferment and thereby spoil the beans).
With picking occurring during the day, trucks begin to arrive the mill by nightfall, and thereby begin the first step in the processing method. At Beneficio El Manzano, this process is called the Weighing and Categorization Process.
The first part of this process is very simple. All trucks are scheduled for a delivery time, and upon arrival, with coffees bagged in the bed will drive onto a calibrated scale. The driver scans a bar code, which registers the information of the truck; the name of the farm it is coming from, the altitude of the plantation, the variety of coffee, the number of sacs, and pre-measured weight of the sacs.
While on the scale, the second step of the process begins, the categorization or grading of the cherries delivered. Since there are so many variables in the production of coffee, ie: altitude, fertilization, harvesting methods, a grading system was developed by Cuatro M, as a means of determining the quality of the cherries, in order to provide feedback to the farmer, determine which regional coffees can be blended with others, and determine the premium paid to the farmer for his cherries. Prices for cherries purchased each harvest is predetermined, however, this grade, determines the price offered to a farmer in the coming harvest.
The categorization process (grading system) works by taking one sample from the sacs of cherries delivered from each plantation. This small sample is taken from the sacs delivered at a ratio of 1/10; so, if 30 sacs are delivered, sample cherries are collected from three of those 30 sacs, which are then brought into our lab for examination.
Once collected, 200 grams of those cherries are measured out, and sorted into seven categories of ripeness; 1). Fully Ripe 2). Pink Under-ripe 3). Yellow Under-ripe 4). Overripe 5). Dry Pods 6). Sun burnt 7). Green - Fully Unripe. The weight is taken and recorded for each of the eight categories, to determine the percentage of each category within the sample.
Once determined, the sample is analyzed within a rubric, which considers the maximum and minimum percentages that the cherries must have in order to earn a grade of AA, A, B, or C category cherries. For example, as shown below, a AA coffee will contain no less than 90% of fully ripe cherries, with more than 0.3% green cherries. If either of those standards are not met, it moves to the next grade.
While later assessment of the categorization process, or method of scoring coffee cherries, is practiced as a preliminary means of controlling the quality of coffees processed. It helps the mill to identify which coffees were harvested at their peak ripeness, and therefore promotes consistency within production. This consistency offers insight into which coffees may be blended, enables producers and clients to predict the quality of the coffees, and offers a premium, and thereby incentive for farmers to harvest only the ripest coffees.
After the categorization of the coffees has taken place, the cherries are delivered to the mill, where they are emptied from their sacs, into a cement hopper, that will feed the de-pulping machinery.