Coffee quality is a product of altitude and processing. One of the truisms of coffee growers is that the bean is at its finest the moment the ripe cherry is picked from the tree. The only thing the grower can do from then on is to diminish the quality – he can in no way improve on it.
This means that as growers our responsibility is to pick only the ripest most perfect fruits and process them as perfectly as possible to bring out the full taste that nature put into them.
At Esmeralda we start by carefully instructing those who hand pick the fruit, to only pick the completely ripe, red fruits. They are paid a premium for this. Every night, as the coffee is received in the ‘beneficio’ (our processing plant), each harvester’s production for the day is weighed and inspected for defects or green beans.
Here at Esmeralda we strive for absolute consistency and excellence in preparation, to produce a coffee of medium plus acidity, a sweet and clean cup with a touch of citrus flavor. Although our processes are certified in accord with ISO 9002, still we devote enormous time to the details and fine touches that have always distinguished Esmeralda Estate coffee from ‘just another coffee’.
The Wet Process
The coffee is then depulped within a few hours of being picked, preliminarily sorted, and the mucilage coat removed. We use modern demucilageinating machines. The coffee is then ‘pre-dried’ to remove surface water either in the sun or by machine. Final drying to 12% moisture is then done slowly using both patio as well as ‘guardiolas’ – mechanical dryers. In either case, the coffee bean temperature never exceeds 38 degrees C. This completes the ‘wet’ drying process and is probably the most delicate part of coffee handling. If quality is lost, it is nearly always at this point. When finished, the green bean is dry to export standards and still covered with a thin paper like covering called the pergamino or hull. At Esmeralda we sac the coffee at this point, labeling each with a lot number and store the coffee in our bodega or warehouse where temperature and humidity are monitored. Each lot consists of about 8,000 lbs of coffee which has been harvested the same known day at the same part of the farm and wet processed together. Freshly dried coffee like this has a slightly ‘green’ taste when cupped. Since we cup each lot regularly, we can follow the disappearance of this green flavor. Normally, with 45 to 60 days storage, the coffee matures to its full taste, but it is monitored and not shipped before that point.
The dry process begins three days before the coffee is to be loaded into its container and shipped from our farm. The coffee is again cupped and it is decided which lots are at their optimum for shipment. The coffee is then fed into the dehuller which removes the pergamino (hull) and some of the parchment (onion skin) by rubbing the beans against one another. Again, it is important to make sure that there is no temperature rise due to friction. Next the coffee goes onto the size sorter where it is sorted according to the buyers wishes. He may wish it sorted into large and small beans for more homogeneity in roasting or he may want the very large beans separated for display in whole roasted bean display bins. By the same token, we can also separate out peaberries at this point. After the size separator, the coffee passes to the density table where the beans, now of a more uniform size, are further sorted by density. Again, cup quality is related to the ”hardness’ of the bean or density – a result of altitude related to cold nights. Less dense beans, which might harm the cup quality, are separated at this point.
As the coffee comes off the density table, it is put into export labeled jute bags, each filled to a net weight of 60 kilos (132 lbs), and sewn shut with an identifying lot number sewn into the bag. Early in the morning of the fourth day 300 of these bags are carefully loaded into a 20 foot container already on a truck. By late morning the truck is en route to the Panama Canal and the port of Manzanillo (on the Atlantic) or Balboa (on the Pacific) where the container is loaded aboard a ship the following day and heads for the high seas. After that, it is up to the roaster to present the coffee of Hacienda La Esmeralda at its very finest.