Week Two: Harvest 2012 - 2013 - Quality of Cherry & Parchment

Entering the second week of harvest, parchment coffee gradually claims more and more of the patios. And in observing the parchment itself, we note an elevated quality in both the appearance and performance of the cherries and parchment throughout processing.

One year ago, almost to the day, we were blogging about the effects of a tropical depression that hovered over El Salvador for 10 consecutive days, bringing with it the most rain to hit the country since 1960. With the rain, we had noted a subsequent effect to the quality of cherries and parchment being delivered to the mill; which included many dried and overripe cherries that make depulping much more difficult.

Now, with sunshine forecasted for the next week, and having walked the patios and taken samples from the previous nights depulping; we report a quality of cherry and parchment that surpasses any that Emilio can remember, as he stated to staff members last night during a meeting around the hoppers, as we unloaded bags of cherries from two plantations.

Beyond external appearance however, we look to the data from each of the previous nights depulping, and observe a percentage of floaters far less than any numbers seen in previous years.

Floaters are second quality coffee cherries, separated from the first quality cherries by a mechanical syphon, due to the fact that they float upon being conveyed into water; signifying that one or both of the beans inside is, or are undeveloped, hollow, or dried out. It is important to separate floaters from first quality cherries, in order maintain a higher level of quality throughout processing; as well as determine the percentage of underdeveloped cherry being produced at the farm level.

Identifying and understanding the quality of cherry being produced and delivered by the farm, is critical for both the grower and the miller.

With every batch of coffee processed therefore, a measurement is taken of the percentage of the cherries, (and subsequent parchment), that fall into this category. A smaller percentage, translates to a higher quality of cherry, as there are less undeveloped, hollow, or dry beans.

Target percentages usually fall around 5 - 6% for SHG (Strictly High Grown) coffees, and so far the passed two days have turned out a percentage of 6% floaters for the HG (High Grown) coffee we have been depulping.

This is excellent news to us, since a large portion of the coffee we are processing is from our own farm, Finca Ayutepeque, located in Santa Ana, at an elevation from 1,000 - 1,100 meters. So far we have only harvested and processed the bourbon variety from the plantation, which composes 100% of lot Hernandez, and 60% of the entire plantation; however these numbers indicate practices that are working, consistency in weeding, fertilization, and pruning, to produce cherries that are fully developed, and given time to reach peak ripeness.

Another reason for this quality is the selective harvesting that is able to take place, due to dryer conditions at the start of this years harvest. Last year, early harvesting was indiscriminate, meaning many farmers were forced to harvest everything within certain elevations, for risk of losing those cherries to the rain. This year, we have the opportunity to harvest select cherries, and have been able to take our time in preparing for the first days of picking; cleaning up trees and cherries that might not be producing to optimum ripeness.

In both cases, we could not be more stoked to report the good news and sunshine; along with the many other activities taking place that we hope you will return to read about, such as ferment experimentation, cupping, installation of the new roastlog software for the horizontal dryer, etc.

From week two of harvest at El Manzano, cheers.