Location: Finca Diamante, Armenia Mantequilla Antioquia, Colombia
Producer: Sebastian Velazquez
Variety:Red and Yellow Colombia
Grown Under Shade: Yes
Altitude of coffee plants: 1800m
Fermentation Altitude: 1500m
Fermentation temp : 24 degrees celcius
Fermentation type: Anaerobic
Processing Type: Natural
Drying: Patio and Sun
Drying time: 34 days
Sebastian Velazquez checking the concentration of dissolved solids (mostly sugars) in a coffee cherry using a refractometer at Finca Diamante
I hope this article brings you an understanding over which components of the coffee process which drive favour and what all the jargon of coffee labels actually means. From another perspective, this will also be a guide through our latest coffee by Sebastian Velazquez, a producer in his first year, advised by Medellin legend Jose Posada on 36 experiments he undertook to find the one that tasted complex and juicy.
That's 36 experiments, 35 of which he considered not-good-enough because they didn't exceed 85 points (which is a high standard). Some experiments, in fact, outright destroyed the bean (see below) !
Fermentation in a Coffee Keffir ripped the beans open!
Let's begin with the varietal which in this case is Colombia. The varietal is sweet and naturally high in acidity (https://www.sabores.co.za/2020/04/01/coffee-varietals/) because of its tiny bit of Robusta heritage.
Why Robusta heritage? It's common throughout South and Central America to find coffees with Robusta genetics to improve their pest resistance and yield. In terms of flavour, their density and sweetness provide a good base to undergo extended fermentations but that said, it's the Arabica content of the bean which sets it apart from any standard Robusta.
Ripe Yellow Colombia at Finca Diamante
Sebastian's Colombia is grown really well, at high altitude giving the benefit of bright sunny days and cool nights. It's grown under shade helping to control soil moisture and also prevents the harsh midday sun falling on the coffee plants.
Additionally, Armenia Mantequilla, or Armenia Butter in English, is romantically named as such because every morning a mist rises from the deep valleys covering all the coffee surrounding the town. The mist that spreads across the hills is the reference to butter.
Mist rising over the hills around Armenia Mantequilla
There is a point here!
The point is that all this creates an environment in which the plants are not stressed and have plenty of the raw ingredients needed to build up their fruits. Imagine trying to optimise building muscle: you need lots of food, lots of rest and not to exert any energy into activities that don't build muscle like work stress and running around. Same goes for coffee, happy coffee plants invest their energy into fattening up their cherries with sweetness and flavour.
Now the best of the best cherries still have to be picked.
Do you want to eat these super red cherries? Well, good job you've the coffee then ;)
Why super red cherries? Imagine a salad made from green mangoes vs ripe-ripe mangoes. The salad with the ripe mangoes is going to burst with much more flavour!
The next step is to ferment the cherries to bring further complexity. In fermentation yeast and bacteria get to work on the sugars turning them into acids accentuating the natural acidity (remember coffee is a fruit so it does naturally contain acids) and also converting various molecules, including the tannins, into new flavours! So, the more sugar present in the fruit better and more flavourful the fermentation!
Now the type of fermentation matters, depending on the natural structure of your bean you want to take different approaches. For example, one aspect of fermentation is break down of the bean itself, thus a low density bean undergoing an aggressive fermentation may break down so much it's too fragile to mill and roast and in other words, too fragile to be anything more than a green bean. Equally, in a hot climate an aerobic (exposed to air) fermentation may not be your best friend as it will dry out your cherries. Beyond these practical points comes the flavour points - which fermentation protocol actually brings out the most from your beans?
Thus, finding the fermentation that works well on every farm is different and after 36 experiments Sebastian found one that works! A long 6 day anaerobic fermentation at 24 degrees Celsius (warm) in a coffee wine (below):
Btw, this is a major point, on many labels it will say the maximum altitude of the farm as an indication of where the cherries where collected. However, Colombian farms are steep and the area the cherries are taken to ferment will be on the flat part at the top or bottom. Usually, the area for fermentation is at the bottom where the farmer lives as its warmer but this makes a huge impact on the final flavour as altitude indicates the temperature of the fermentation. The higher you ferment the cooler it will be. If you're curious of the difference in flavour fermentation temperature makes you're in luck as we will have a horizontal tasting prepared later this year for exactly this! Just sign up to the newsletter to stay posted.
But fermentation and flavour development doesn't stop after the first ferment, it continues throughout drying. In Colombia, unlike many parts of Central America , there is no dry season in which natural coffee can be easily dried, it's always wet and humid. This problem is most pronounced at night when the air cools and moisture is reabsorbed by the cherry (and let's not forget the misty mornings).
What's natural coffee? It's a coffee that has been left in its cherry delivering maximum sugars during fermentation and the longest drying as the coffee cherry skin, pulp and bean coat have to dry.
The super long drying, luckily, can help develop flavour however, you have to be careful as if you dry too quickly you may end up with a boring coffee and if its too long you may end up with vinegary and mouldy coffee.
It's certainly a battle against the elements to dry natural coffee in Colombia and thus, it requires huge labour - hourly checking and turning of the coffee, even checks at night. This batch in particular dried in 34 days!
Top image is Red and Yellow Colombia sun drying on a patio . Bottom picture is the dried cherries.
The result was a bean that had transformed into a distinct gold!
Sebastian's coffee on left and standard coffee on right
The flavours developed have been described by you, the people, as: durian, rosehip jam, cacao nibs, vanilla, citrus, green apple, redberries. A very exciting coffee indeed, thanks Sebastian!
Finally, there is of course the effect of roasting style on flavour too which we will get into later. But for now, I hope you enjoy this coffee from Sebastian and feel you've become more informed on our common love - flavours!
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Written by Chetan Bhatt