MANE Coffee Conference: Agriculture Variables

March 31, 2015

Members of the A&E Coffee Roastery & Tea wholesale team traveled down to Providence RI to attend the MANE Coffee Conference. They took extensive notes and compiled them to share. NOTE, a few rabbit holes may be explored, but who does not like to get caught up in the nerding out of coffee once in a while.

Coffee Agriculture: the Variables

In this lecture/workshop, Nobletree team members, Matt and Byron, explained a series of experiments they were carrying out on the farm in Brazil. They were looking at what elements of coffee agriculture affect coffee’s flavor, and how much they affect it.  We cupped coffees that were grown under different variables to see how the variable affected it. The cupping was inconclusive, but a starting point. Below are all the variables that affect the cup quality and flavor. At any point during the process, taints and faults can find their way into the bean. Care, knowledge and technological advancements are making it easier to track each variable.

  1. How do we define quality in coffee?
    1. Q score
    2. Complexity
    3. Sweetness
  2. What influences do we have over the taste of green coffee beans?
    1. Controls= genetics, soil, sun/shade, altitude, latitude, aspect, harvesting,  process
      1. Nitrogen in the soil creates new leaf development.
      2. Phosphorus promotes root,wood and bud development.
      3. Potassium creates Fruit development.
    2. No control=weather, drying, storage
  3. Harvesting
    1. Mechanical:  you get all the cherries at once.  Many green cherries get in there.
    2. Strip picking:  farmers slide their hands up a branch and get all the cherries on that branch.  Some green cherries get in but it is more selective than mechanical processing
    3. Selective picking:  cherries are handpicked when they ripen.  Most specialty coffee happens this way.  More expensive than mechanical processing, but labor is still ridiculously cheap
  4. Processing:
    1. Natural: Dry cherries on patio, let them rest, hull, deliver to mill
    2. Pulp natural: rip some pulp off cherries, leave some fruit, dry, rest, hull, deliver
    3. Washed:  soak all the fruit off the cherry, hull, deliver
  5. Factors the experimenters looked at:
    1. Aspect:  angle at which the sun hits a side of a hill at a given time of day.  It can cause large temperature differences throughout the day.  One side of the hill gets morning sun; the other gets afternoon sun.
      1. Diurnal temperature: difference between day high temp and night low temp-seems to be a big influence on bean taste

Finding a quality, clean cup of coffee on the table is quite a feat in itself. After reading the list of variables, think about how easy it would be to mess up. (Remember, most coffee is grown in mountainous regions in third world countries.) It may help you appreciate your next cup of coffee.


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