Tuesday, July 5, 2016

From Seedling to Cuppa: 8 Steps to Kona Coffee

I am not an expert in coffee production (yet!) but I've learn quite a bit in the weeks that I've been researching the process in preparation for farming in Hawaii. Kona coffee is widely regarded as some of the best in world! The Kona "coffee belt" which is an ideal growing region on the Big Island, runs parallel to the coast and is roughly 20 miles long and 2 miles wide and ranges in elevation from 700ft to over 2000ft above sea level. The whole process starts with a seed and finishes with a smooth yet full-bodied cup of coffee that is enjoyed far and wide.

coffee, coffee cherries, coffee beans, kona

1. Planting
A coffee cherry is actually a seed which is planted in a seed flat to start. The perfect formula of soil, ample moisture, and shade is needed for the seeds to sprout. This step from seed to sprout called germination takes over 50 days. The seedling may now be planted in an individual pot and the container must always match the size of root system until it is ready to be planted in the earth. Usually a year after the first flowering, referred to as Kona snow due to the whiteness of the flowers, the plant will begin to bear fruit.

2. Harvesting the Cherries
Kona coffee plants are generally ready to be harvested in the Fall from August to December, but sometimes also into the new year. This part of the process is extremely labor intensive and so farms bring in outside help in the form of WWOOFers and Workawayers to get the job done! There are two methods of harvesting: strip picking or selective picking. In strip picking all the cherries are striped from the branch at once and this is usually done by machine. However, selective picking is done by hand and involves only picking the deep red cherries from the tree one at a time. This is done in rotation over a course of time to allow the cherries to ripen naturally. A productive picker can average 200lbs of picked coffee cherries per day.

coffee, coffee harvest, wwoof, workaway, kona

3. Processing the Cherries
Now the cherries must be processed, usually withing 1-2 days of harvesting. This can be done in one of two ways: the dry method or the wet method. In both, the goal is to remove the outer four layers of the fruit to reveal the coffee bean.

The older dry method involves arranging the coffee cherries in an even layer to dry. The cherries must be raked and turned as they dry to ensure evenness. It takes roughly 4 weeks depending on the temperature of the region to dry to the 12% max moisture content. Once dried then the cherry pulp is hulled from the bean.

The more modern wet method first involves sorting and cleaning to remove any impurities or under-ripe cherries. Then the pulp is removed which should happen easily or this indicates the fruit is not yet ripe. Now all that remains is the parchment and mucilage which are removed through repeated washing in large tanks where a slight fermentation occurs. The wet processed beans then must undergo a drying process.

4. Bagging and Selling
Once the beans, called "green coffee" at this stage, reach the accepted 12% max moisture then they are ready to be bagged and sold locally or on the world coffee market. Beans are often put into 100lb burlap bags marked as 100% Kona coffee. Farmers in the Kona coffee region are opposed to Kona beans being mixed with other inferior coffee beans to create "Kona blends" because this tarnishes the Kona name.

5. Tasting 
At every stage of production the coffee is tasted which is often a meticulous process in itself, called cupping. First, a visual inspection of the green coffee bean is performed by the taster or cupper. Then the coffee beans are rapidly roasted, ground, and infused through boiling water. The first step of tasting is actually smelling, or nosing. This a important part of understanding the coffee quality. Then the cupper "breaks the crust" of grounds that form at the top of cup and takes a slurp from a spoon aiming to distribute the coffee over the taste buds. Lastly the coffee is "weighed" in the mouth before final quality and flavor judgments are made.

coffee tasting, cupper

6. Roasting
Kona coffee beans are roasted anywhere from 7 to 30 minutes to create light, medium, and dark roast coffee. Roasting causes the beans to both expand in size and yet lose moisture; certain soluble oils develop during the process. A light roast takes 7-12 minutes and only lasts through the first crack, or popping noise from the expanding coffee beans. This yields a flavor profile that is closer to the original flavor of the fruit and depends on the unique growing region. A medium or full roast takes until the second crack and by this time the oils will start to rise to the surface of the bean. This yields coffee that is spicier and fuller with both the original flavors and ample flavor from the roasting process. A dark roast takes until the beans begin to smoke and appear very oily. The sugar also begins to carbonize at this stage and the flavor will be considerably smoky, overpowering the original essence.

7. Grinding 
By this point perhaps the coffee has made it into your home or your local coffee shop. Now the roasted coffee beans must be ground in order for their flavor to be extracted into a delicious cup of joe. The optimal size of the coffee grounds depends on how you plan to brew it. Generally the faster the brewing process the finer the ground should be. For example, coffee ground for making espresso is very fine to suit the flash brewing process of pushing high pressure hot water through the grounds.

8. Brewing
Finally, it's time to brew the ground coffee into the perfect morning cuppa. There are a variety of methods and tools used to brew coffee but ultimately everyone has a different approach. Some common guidelines include: two tablespoons of ground coffee for every six ounces of water and water temperatures between 195 and 205 degrees F. Experiment with contact time to change how much flavor and caffeine you're extracting from the grounds. Now take the time to appreciate all the coffee has been through to get to you and most importantly, ENJOY!

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