Per 1st March we increased the prices of our coffees from Ecuador, as you may have noticed. We received the new harvest in late January this year and as always we had to first run some test roasts before we could offer the coffees to you in March. And I can tell you: we are in love with the tastes of this new harvest. However, as we were testing and tasting, we were also doing the math to be able to keep the prices for our dear costumers as low as possible while still having paid the farmers the prices they asked for since for this new harvest we paid the farmers in Ecuador considerably more for their coffees compared to previous years. But why did the farmers increased their prices?
As you may know, Brazil is the world’s largest coffee producer. In 2020 Brazil first suffered the worst drought in nearly a century, which significantly reduced the coffee yield. Following this, certain regions of Brazil were hit by a cold snap with sub-zero temperatures and this was really bad as frost completely kills coffee plants. As a result the yield was reduced again. With less coffee produced by Brazil there was more demand than offer in the coffee world which lead to the first increase in prices in 2021.
Then Colombia, the third largest coffee producer also had problems. Starting at the end of 2019 for a period of 4 months there were protests and a national strike that prevented part of the harvest to be collected, transported and sold. Even though Colombia has 2 coffee harvests per year, the strike from November to February coincided with the main harvest for most coffee regions which is from September to December. And similar to Brazil, it leads to a shortage of coffee on offer which leads to an increase of prices. One year later, Colombia experienced the effect of the climate phenomena called La Niña, which is not favourable for coffee growing as it comes with rain and cold weather. The consequence was that the latest harvest from Colombia was 11% lower than the harvest of the year before.
Additionally, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and other coffee producing countries suffered with the implications from the Covid-19 pandemic in terms of sick workers and limitations to hire workforce due to travel restrictions. Additionally, there were increased cargo costs and a shipping bottleneck due to reduced shipping container availability, port strikes and restrictions. This all translated into another increase of prices for green coffee.
And finally, since we pay both our farmers and all transport costs in dollars we had to take into account the fact that by late 2021 the dollar was stronger against the euro than the year before.
So all together it is a combination of several unfavourable price increasing effects coming together at the same time that makes the price of coffee increase quite suddenly. One could say it’s the perfect coffee storm, and there is not much we can do about it apart from appreciating our daily cup of coffee even more.
When talking about coffee and drinking the best possible coffee discussion often end up on the coffee itself: how is the acidity, the bitterness or the sweetness? Is it a fruity coffee or a chocolatey coffee… And then of course there is the issue of the brewing method: espresso, drip coffee or something else…. Which we can extend to the water temperature, the grind etc. These are all factors that determine the taste of your cup of coffee. But have you ever considered that it also matters from what cup you drink your coffee?
It may sound strange, but the cup matters. Part of the coffee drinking experience is the mouthfeel of the coffee, and the mouthfeel starts at the moment your lips touch the mug or cup you’re drinking from: is it a cup with a thin or a thick wall, is it hard or soft material, metal or ceramic? It all makes a difference.
Many years ago in a trip to Mexico we visited a coffee distributor that represented several local coffee farmers to see if we could buy some Mexican coffee. But of course in order to make a choice one first has to taste it, and so we had an appointment for a coffee tasting – not immediately a cupping, but just taste the coffees as normal filter coffees.
We got the coffee served in big EPS-foam cups and we really didn’t like it. At first we didn’t understand why, but then we realized it was the cups: that funny soft, elastic, chewy feeling of the foam with every sip we took was just disturbing. So we asked for some glasses and poured our coffee in a glass. That was considerably better! Though I have to admit: not good enough, because we didn’t buy any. But that was not because of the cup.
And so at some point we tried, just out of curiosity. We found out that a very thin material is not so pleasant, but neither is a very thick wall cup! In both cases one tends to taste more the cup than the coffee and the coffee seems to be bland in taste. When the material is very thin it feels a bit sharp on the lips as if it’s going to cut and that takes the focus off the coffee, whereas a very thick wall actually gives the feeling you’re almost taking a bit out of the cup: you have more cup in your mouth than coffee.
So the wall should be not too thin, not too thick, let’s say a few millimeters. What about the material? Probably metal, ceramic and glass are the most common materials for cups. There is not much difference between ceramic and glass in our experience, but metal is a bit different. Somehow a metal mug makes the coffee feel like it has less body.
And finally there are some practical aspects. For instance: don’t brew your coffee in a stone cold cup but preheat it by pouring some hot water in and let it warm up for half a minute or so. And if you’re in a colder part of the world you may want to consider using a double wall cup … but make sure that doesn’t make the wall thickness very large of course.
And so you see, the cup matters! A high quality, well roasted and well brewed coffee can still be a disappointment when drunk from a thick wall plastic or foam cup. Something to consider!
Hybrid processes are basically a combination of natural and wet processing though the exact methodology varies per region. This combination will bring together the economic benefits of the natural process with the speed of the wet process. For the coffee cup the hybrid process results in a better body than for washed coffees but cleaner character than for dry processing.
There are two main methodologies that fall under hybrid process: the pulped natural or honey (miel) process and the semi-washed/wet-hulled process. The first is mostly used in Latin America and the latter in Indonesia.
The pulped natural or honey (miel) process
This method was developed in Brazil under the name pulped natural and it is used extensively in Central America where it is known as the honey or miel process (miel means honey in Spanish). In Brazil the idea was born to produce coffees with high cup quality using less water than used in the wet process.
The process starts in the same way as the wet processing: after picking, the coffee is mechanically depulped to strip it from the outer skin and the pulp. Equal to the wet process the mucilage remains attach to the coffee beans. From this point the process changes: instead of going to fermentation tanks as in the wet process, the coffee beans go straight to drying patios or drying beds. With less pulp surrounding the beans the risk of defects seems smaller than in the naturally dried coffee, however the mucilage is moist and sticky which makes a perfect setting for rot and decay. Hene, lots of attention must be paid during the drying period that can take up to two weeks. The beans must be gently moved every certain time, sometimes even every hour. With the mucilage still covering the seeds there is still enough sugar left around to increase the body and sweetness in the coffee beans.
Depulping machines can be controlled to leave a specific percentage of pulp on the beans. According to this percentage the resulting coffee is referred to as one hundred percent honey or “Black honey”, a “red honey” has a lower amount of mucilage and “yellow honey” implies nearly all of it is removed. During the drying period the mucilage turns darker there fore the names used to the different percentages of mucilage remaining come from the color of the beans while drying. It is easy to understand looking at the pictures below.
The black honeys have a higher concentration of sugar. They should receive less light and dry slower than other processes. The yellow honey has the lower concentration of sugar thus it is easier to handle but it receives more light and will dry faster.
In combination with depulpers, nowadays mechanical demucilagers can help to strip the mucilage through the use of rough bristles or the use of water pressure.
The flavour profile of honey processed coffee: plenty of acidity that is perceived as being more gentle due to more sweetness in the coffees, a syrupy sweet body and a wide span of flavour characteristics.
The semi-washed/wet-hulled process
This process is common in Indonesia and results in very distincti flavours. After picking, the coffee is depulped and then briefly dried to a moisture content of 30-35 percent (instead of the usual 11-12 per cent). The coffee is then hulled, removing the parchment and completely exposing the coffee bean as when it is ready to be roasted. The naked beans are then dried again to low moisture content. This second drying gives the beans a deep swamp-green colour. Semi-washed coffees have a lower acidy and more body than other coffees but they also develop flavours that for many of us are rather unpleasant such as wood, tobacco or leather.
Go for it!
If you have the chance to taste a honey processed coffee go for it, it would not disappoint you especially if it comes from Central America, where they have embraced and perfected the process. My suggestion, try our yellow honey (red Catuai) from Cerro de Jesus, Nicaragua 😉
Big thanks to Armando Navarro, Gerardo Arias, Mixael Lemus and Ever Alvarado for the photos of honey process in their farms.
The first step in the process is that the coffee cherries are sorted either by hand on tables or by placing them in a flotation tank where the ripe cherries will sink and the unripe ones will float. The next stage is the so-called depulping where the coffee cherry is split and squeezed to remove both the outer skin and the fruit pulp. This can be done by using a mechanical depulper (sort of a large blender) or simply by jets of high-pressure water.
After depulping the coffee beans are still covered by a resilient sticky layer called mucilage. Its tenacity is due to a combination of sugars and pectin and the best way to remove it from the coffee beans is by means of fermentation.
Beans with mucilage
The beans are placed tanks for 12 to 72 hours to ferment. During this period the pectin in the mucilage is broken down through the activity of enzymes. The duration of the fermentation depends on a number of factors such as altitude, ambient temperature, volume of coffee, type of beans. The fermentation period will also affect the coffee flavour so knowing when to stop is crucial. If the fermentation takes too long unwanted flavours can creep in, but when properly timed washed coffees can develop a distinctive clean acidity. “Cleanliness” is a term used in coffee to indicate the absence of any negative flavour, such as harshness or astringency. In Kenya it is common to do two fermentation periods to achieve certain quality of flavour or appearance. These coffees from Kenyan are bright and fruity.
Following a wash with clean water the beans are place to dry under the sun. As with natural dry processed beans (see http://www.engrano.nl/shop/2017/02/13/natural-or-dry-processed-coffee/) beans can be dried in patios, lying on the ground or placed on raised tables. The tables have the advantage of lifting the beans from the ground so that contamination with stones or other plants can be avoided and improving air circulation around the beans whilst high temperatures should be avoided. During the drying process the beans should be gently rotated. Farmers also take the opportunity to sort through the parchment-covered coffee beans by hand removing the damaged ones. Depending on the weather conditions the drying period could take up to 21 days.
Once dry, the parchment-covered beans look light beige coloured. To remove the parchment the beans are moved to a dry mill after which comes sorting and packing of the green beans.
This process is more expensive than the natural and hybrid process. It involves a precious and sometimes scarce resource: water. On one hand, removing the mucilage greatly reduces the chance of something going wrong during the coffee processing which may lead to a higher value for the coffee. On the other hand, the wet process is not a warranty of quality. Defectives beans are not uncommon and fermentation can be unpredictable. An environmental concern about this process is due to the eventual fate of the waste water, which can be toxic.
Usually the flavour of washed coffees can be described as a clear acidity profile, light-to-medium body, usually with citrus tones. If you have the opportunity to taste coffees from the same origin but that have been processed both as washed and as dried and you will notice the difference!
Washed beans (left) and natural beans (right) both from Cariamanga, Ecuador – green
Antwerp is not only an important port in Europe but also the World’s Largest Coffee port. There are 45000 tons of green coffee in stock in the port at any given moment. Since this amount of coffee is not consumed in Belgium, Antwerp is an important point for transport of beans to the rest of Europe. So much coffee coming in and out has an effect on the city that has an increasing amount of baristas brewing the best coffees they can get their hands on. No more needs to be said: the Antwerp coffee scene deserves a tour on a sunny day in June!
Caffenation, the pioneers Rob Berghmans and his Caffenation are pioneers in the Antwerp coffee scene. You may have seen their bright coloured bags in bars throughout Europe. He started in 2010 the first Belgian specialty micro roastery. Since then they have kept their focus on quality, origin and well trained collaborators. I visited the coffee bar next to the roastery that is located in the south of the city at walking distance from the train station Berchem. Unfortunately I was not able to visit the roastery itself. Having tasted very nice Caffenation coffees in different places in the Netherlands my expectations were high, very high. The personnel were friendly and talkative. The barista recommended me to have an espresso with bourbon washed beans from Rwanda Nyamasheke Macua although it was not his favourite coffee. That confused me but I ordered it anyway. To my surprise my espresso had almost no crema, eventhough I was waiting for it next to the barista and the espresso machine. The barista worked by the book weighting the portafilter and ground coffee, extracting it in less than 30 seconds and serving it immediately. The coffee was roasted two weeks before so well, then still it must have been the brewing technique that killed the crema. The aroma floral and spicy was promising but I was not impressed with the flavour with a bitterness as from black tea and unpleasant cider acidity. The aftertaste was salty, as described by the tasting note next to my espresso, but it was bitter too.
Cuperus, the legend In the downtown I found Cuperus, the oldest coffee and tea bar in Antwerp. This former family business has been supplying the city with coffee for more than 190 years. Besides serving warm drinks and sweets, this is a proper coffee and tea store where you would have a hard time choosing what to bring home. Their old-style cans reminded me of their long tradition. Here too, the personnel was helpful and friendly. The espresso of the day was a Bourbon and Catuai from Serra do Cigano, Brazil. My cup had a good crema, fruity aroma and medium body. It tasted a bit sweet, hints of stone fruits and serious nutty flavour. I enjoyed it! Which was not a surprised since it was a natural processed bean roasted light from Latinamerica, more or less my type of coffee.
Normo, the hipsters A short walk from Cuperus I walked into Normo. This place felt more of a third-wave coffee place than the previous. Here I had a very professional yet stressed barista trying to cope with a queue of costumers waiting for their turn to order coffee combined with a constant flow of costumers returning empty cups. Maybe I was there on the wrong time. Nevertheless, my espresso was well extracted and served with a quick smile. The espresso blend had 70% Catuai natural from Agua Limpia, Brazil plus 30% Ethiopia Limu washed. Interesting combination that results in a medium body, clean cup with good balance between an apple acidity, hints of walnuts, sweetness and savoury notes.
Teakoff, the hidden jewel Between my necessary waffle break (I cannot be in Antwerp and go back without enjoying a good waffle) and the visit to the Museum Platin-Moretus (highly recommended) I realized that I was not going to be able to visit all the coffee places in my list. I was heading towards Viggo’s which was a must-visit in my list when a blackboard caught my attention. It announced a specialty coffee place that I was not aware of. Curiosity took the lead making me forget about the other places that I wanted to visit and I walked a block to find Teakoff, a cozy tea and espresso bar. I had a nice chat with the owner/barista Sofia. She served me an espresso brewed with coffee from Huehuetango, Guatemala. The blend of Bourbon, Catuai and Caturra washed beans was roasted by Cross Roast, an Antwerp roastery. It had more body than any other espresso I tasted that day. It was a balanced cup with hints of citrus fruits, slight bitterness and a sweet aftertaste. For me this was the best espresso of the day!!
Antwerp has more places worth visit so I will have to come back. Stay tuned!
The coffee that we enjoy so much is prepared from the roasted seeds of a fruit. What we call a coffee bean is in reality a seed nestled inside a coffee cherry. These cherries are at their sweetest when they are ripe. They should then be picked from the plant and processed as soon as possible in order to keep all their potential. It is necessary to process the coffee cherries to prepare the seed for roasting.
Processing coffee has two stages: the preparation stage and the dry milling. The steps followed during the preparation stage vary per region or even per farm. The main methods are dry process (also known as “natural”) and wet process (also known as “washed”). Nowadays it is in fashion to use a combination of both techniques, which is known as pulped-natural, semi-washed or honey. Maybe a small scheme will make it easy to understand.
I once wrote about the natural process, you can check it out here
I will write about the washed and semi-washed process in future posts.
In the preparation stage the coffee transforms from the cherry stage into the parchment stage. In the parchment stage the coffee beans are dry but still covered with a protective layer. The steps in this preparation stage will vary depending on the process method: Wet, dry or in between, but they all prepare the coffee cherry for the dry mill stage. The preparation stage is many times refers to as “wet milling” which is slightly misleading since in some of the processes there is actually very little water involved.
During the dry milling or hulling the dry skin (from natural process), parchment (from washed process) or different degrees of silverskin (from honey process) are removed to reveal the green been inside. Once the coffee has been hulled, the green bean has no more protection and should be sorted, packed and stored properly as soon as possible.
The way coffee is processed will have a huge impact on the flavour and cup quality of the coffee. It is very optimistic to think that the producers have in mind the end result when choosing a process method. For many producers, when processing coffee the goal is to make the coffee as profitable as possible. Producers take into account that some methods require more time, skills or natural resources than others when deciding how to process their coffee. A more recent factor determining the chosen process is climate change. Regions that traditionally produce certain amounts of washed and natural coffee are some years confronted with very wet harvesting seasons making it impossible to naturally dry the coffee, so all coffee will be washed. Other years it’s so dry in harvesting season that there is not enough water available to wash the coffee and only naturally dried coffee can be produced.
This was my first time in Croatia and right away I was gladly impressed by its capital Zagreb. The city is cosy, elegant but modest, busy but still relaxed… pretty much as its inhabitants. While walking around the downtown I noticed that Zagreb is still an Illy territory. I also spotted Lavazza, Arabesca (Croatian company) and Bou Cafe (from Spain) coffee served in many places and these are all coffees that I am not impressed with. However, after reading about the coffee scene in the Croatian capital I found places that serve single origin coffees roasted by themselves or by some small artisan roaster. The friendly local baristas also advised me to visit new places that I was not aware of or to avoid the ones that are not serving good coffee anymore.
My tour started with a local legend: Cogito(Varsavska ulica 11)
I was curious about roaster and retailer Cogito because many reviews mention this as the best coffee in town. I first visited one of their coffee shops, a light place with minimalistic design and tables and chairs that resemble those of my elementary school. I ordered a flat white (for my first cup in the morning I prefer it to have milk) and an espresso both prepared with a blend of coffee from Rwanda and Costa Rica. With the first sip I felt some acidity but the finish was bitter. The smiley barista then told me that this blend was meant for drinks with milk, but for espresso I rather try the other coffee offered that day. I agreed but decided to try it at another Cogito coffee spot.
Next stop for a second chance: Cafe U Dvorištu(Ulica Jurja Žerjavica 7/2)
I felt I was going through a passage into somebody’s home when I found this nice terrace that belongs to Cafe U Dvorištu, decorated in the industrial hipstery style that is so much in fashion. Next to the cafe is the roastery of Cogito. The concept was developed by two Matijas. Matija Hrkac realized that there were not enough coffee roasteries in Zagreb and opened one in Jurja Žerjavica Street, right next to Cafe u Dvorištu that was opened by Matija Bekovic. Since they both shared a love of coffee they decided to team up. The result is a comfortable place to enjoy the sun, the view of the roastery and a great cup of coffee. This time I ordered the Ethiopia Yirgacheffe natural: balanced, full body with soft aftertaste. I enjoyed the floral aroma, the fruity acidity and light sweetness.
Where it all started: Eli’s cafe(Ilica 63)
Legend says that barista champion Nik Orosi was the first one to bring specialty coffee to Zagreb. He opened Eli’s caffe bar in 2005 and started roasting his own coffee in 2009. The bar, located in the most prominent street of Zagreb, is decorated in a simple, fashionable way with dark colours and only a few lamps. This is creates an intimate space which is not what I expect from a coffee place nowadays as we are used to open, light, minimalistic, Scandinavian decoration (or lack of it). I got my first espresso from the barista but I was not impressed. Nik was around and immediately brought me a second one extracted shorter than the first, thus better. Made from Peruvian, natural, organic coffee it had full body, light acidity like from grapes. A third espresso was even better, made from Ethiopian Yirgacheffe lavado: medium body, clean flavour, acidity as in mandarins. The best part of this visit was the service: making me a second shot so that I can enjoy it without me asking for it made me a fan. I was so happy to chat with Nik about coffee, origins, roasting and the changing coffee consumption of Croatians.
Quahwa: the new kid in town (Ul. Nikole Tesle 9/1)
I know I have to visit a place when more than one barista in town recommend it, so I head to Quahwa, the new roaster in town. This is another coffee place located in the interior patio of a building, something that seems to be very common in Zagreb. The space is big, nicely decorated with coffee bags and espresso machines as a base for tables while the roasters are opposite to the bar. From the coffees offered here I chose a natural from Brazil, Monte Cristo. It was a nice shot with a good body, balanced and pleasant acidity as from berries and hints of chocolate. The next day I came back to try some different brewing with the same coffee. This is the only place in town to enjoy a cup of Turkish coffee. They prepared it in a traditional way heating the cezve (vessel) in hot sand; because the sand offers a more consistent heat. What a pleasure to see this ceremony! They do add sugar during the preparation so the taste of my coffee is hard to describe but this time I felt more and more chocolate flavour and dried fruits.
Quahwa offers a wide range of brewing techniques and beverages. If I would have stayed longer in Zagreb I would for sure tried more drinks here. They even prepare on the spot their own condensed milk!
Outside the downtown: Teneo(Treshnjevachki Trg 2)
I included Teneo in my tour after I saw it mentioned in the European Coffee Tour webpage even though it is outside the downtown, a bit too far to walk. The chat with Christian Cviljak was worth the trip by tram. Trams work wonderfully in Zagreb, they’re cheap and efficient and so ok, I did enjoy the ride there too. Christian roasts his own coffee and runs this cute self-standing coffee bar with a few tables inside and a terrace. I loved the Joe Frex glasses! My espresso was made with a blend of coffee from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ethiopia and a small percentage of coffee from India. However, for my taste the coffee is a bit overroasted which, I have heard during this trip, is still more in the taste of Croatians.
Walking along a small street in the downtown: Najgora Kava u Gradu (P Sestara Bakovic 3)
While walking through a quiet, yet still lively, alleyway in the centre of Zagreb I saw this tiny coffee place. The drawing of Frida Kahlo (a 20th century Mexican artist) in the window caught my attention, together with the sign below saying “worst coffee in town”. Unfortunately, I also find this Ethiopia Sidamo overroasted. The fragrance was interesting with some citrus hints but the low acidity and some peanut flavour was overruled by a smoky, bitter taste.
Safe the best for last is said. True. Express bar is a few steps from the main square in Zagreb thus it was the closest to my hotel. I went there as my final stop when I felt the deepest need of a good espresso. The place has a serious Scandinavian influence: light wood, simple deco, a coffee flavour wheel in chalk in the wall. I had an espresso with Caturra White Honey beans from Costa Rica roasted by Square Mile (UK). I love it! It was balanced, full bodied, nice acidity as from cherries, a chocolate hint too and a good fruity aftertaste. I enjoy every sip!
The best espresso at: Express bar(Petrinjska 4)
Next day, my last in Croatia, I came back for more. Lucky me I run into the owner Ivan Leko, who told me that at Express bar they rotate their coffees frequently. They have used beans from Cogito, the Barn from Berlin and now from UK. They use good beans and they do know how to extract espressos.
During my visit to Croatia and my coffee tour around Zagreb I run into super friendly people willing to share their time and coffee experience with me. I learned that Croatians enjoy Turkish coffee at home. When going out they rather enjoy other coffee beverage which is why it is not so easy to find Turkish coffee served in the city. For decades the coffee supply was dominated by dark, bitter, industrial coffee but that is changing fast with more artisan roasters and dedicated baristas.
These high temperatures in Europe call for cold drinks! A good option for a refreshing caffeine buzz is cold brew coffee. I’m sure you have heard about it because it is in fashion. I was not convinced about it the first time I tried one. It was a bottle drink and my concerned was correct, it was weak, bitter and had an unpleasant after taste. So, to give cold brew a second chance I decided to make it myself. Much better!
There are two methods to make cold brew, the cold dripper and the immersion method. For cold dripper you will need … a dripper. It is a fancy method but not so easy to apply at home. The immersion method is easier, simpler and properly prepared can be as nice as with the dripper. So, if you want to try it, here is my recipe.
I used a cold-brew coffee maker. They are not so expensive but lucky me I found one on discount just after last Christmas. In case you don’t have one and are not willing to buy it, you can use a French press, a big tea pot for loose-leaves tea or even a simple jug and a filter.
As you can see in the photo, the cold-brew maker is kind of a big tea pot. It has a big filter, where we will place the coffee, inside the jar. We will use freshly roasted coffee of course. Prefer a light roast. Ground the coffee coarse as you will ground it for the French press.
I put 200 grams of coffee in the filter. Then, place the filter back in its position in the jug. Pour the water slowly over the coffee to make it wet. I needed to pour water a few times because the coffee was very dense inside the filter. When the coffee is wet take the filter out, place it temporary on a dish and fill the jug with about 1 litter of cool water. I then placed back the filter in the jug. You will see the water colouring from the coffee. Put the lid on to cover the coffee before placing the jug into the fridge. Let the coffee rest there for 24 hours.
The ratio of 200 grams coffee to 1 litter water is rather high, but I do like strong coffee. Try with a lower amount if you prefer a smooth flavour, but from my experience less than 120 gr of coffee per litter of water will result in a weak tasting drink.
If you don’t have the cold-brew coffee maker but a tea pot, you can just follow the same indications as above. If you use a French press or a simple jug pour the ground coffee on the water and leave it for 24 hours in the fridge. For the French press once the coffee was brewed, you can use the press to separate the coffee from the infused water. Pour the infused water into another jug to avoid further contact with the ground coffee. If you use a simple jug, then after 24 brewing you have to filter your coffee-infused water. Use a cloth filter for good results.
Once the coffee has been brewed for 24 hours you can serve it with additional ice or milk. Place a straw and enjoy! Cold brew coffee, independent from the method you choose to prepare it, will produce a naturally sweeter cup with a softer acidity compared to hot brewed coffee of the same origin and roast.
We made a video about this brewing method that you can check on the link below:
Whether it’s cold coffee, freshly-made lemonade, iced-cold beer or a frozen cocktail, let’s grab a cool drink and enjoy the summer!
A couple of years ago, when I was starting into the coffee world, my husband brought me some coffee from Mexico from an area that I was not so familiar with with respect to their coffee. This area is the state of Guerrero along the Pacific Coast of Mexico. The coffee was so unique, so delicious, like nothing I have tasted before. It reminded me of drinking Kalhua. We found out that this coffee was grown and roasted by a small group of farmers in Atoyac de Alvarez and what made this coffee different is that it was processed dry or natural. The next time I heard about the natural process was when I approached the Mexican Coffee Association to find out more about these coffees to see if I can import them into Europe. They told me that the “Kalhua” taste was not so much the coffee itself, but probably due to a fermentation of the coffee. Which is true and very interesting. But unfortunately at that time natural process was almost synonym of low quality coffee and therefore hard to obtain. Later, as I learned more and more about coffee, I tried some amazing coffees when in Ecuador: both natural and wet processed. The differences in flavour are remarkable and since the beginning of my coffee roastery I have worked with both processes. So let me elaborate on what is exactly a natural or dry process coffee and what makes it special.
Coffee, though called a bean, is not really a bean: it is a seed. Two seeds – two coffee beans- are nestled inside a coffee cherry, so basically the coffee we roast is seeds of fruits. There are multiple ways to process the fruits in order to remove the seeds: natural (dry), washed (wet), pulped natural and honey.
The natural process is the oldest method. After picking the cherries from the coffee trees, first of all the un-ripe (green) and defective cherries should be removed by hand from the batches. Then the remaining fruits are placed in patios, or even better on tables, to dry under the sun. Hence, the entire fruit will dry. The once soft juice cherry has to remain drying for 14 to 25 days until it turns hard to the touch, it shrinks and becomes dark brown/black. The inner fruit by then has the consistency of a raisin. The drying is considered to be done when the moisture content is 12.5% or less. A higher percentage leads to rot. A resting period usually follows during which the dried cherries are stored until sold. This time, 2 or 3 months will allow the taste to mature. Finally, a hulling machine removes the dry skin from the seed.
One big advantage of this process is that no water is required, so it is sustainable in the long term. This method is used where local conditions restrict access to water. Some producers do put the cherries through a quick wash to easily separate the debris from the fruit instead of picking them by hand. However, extended periods of sunshine are necessary. Nowadays with climate changing sometimes farmers have to run to protect their drying cherries from sudden rains (unexpected outside rainy season), or gusts of wind in which the now dry cherries can easily blow away. And due to high humidity in some places the cherries are not dried outside but in “green houses” under controlled environment. Some companies even use drying machines to speed up the process. The best practice, however, remains to be the slow dry that assures that the coffee keeps its attractive qualities for longer times.
Which attractive qualities would that be? Well, this dry process accentuates the sugar profiles in the coffees. It adds fruit flavours in all coffees regardless of variety and origin. The coffee develops hints of berries, raisins or even tropical fruits. In coffees from Brazil or Ecuador it adds some hints of nuts. Another advantage of the natural process is that the farmer can play with the variables: sun exposure, moisture level, shade, and so in order to develop the flavours that he finds interesting.
Worldwide there is an increasing demand for natural and other semi-washed process. The “bad name” of natural as a cheap process for low quality coffee is changing due to the attention on quality control during the process starting from the moment of picking the cherries. It is important to pick only the ripe cherries. As the fruit ripens sugars develop and create interesting flavours. Then the drying itself: selecting the best place with direct sun to dry, placing the cherries in thin layers and turning them regularly to ensure even drying and preventing moulding, fermentation or rotting taking place. A common practice is to place the cherries on the ground, though raised beds are highly recommended. Not only as a clean surface to put the cherries on but also because the wind circulation assures the cherries to dry evenly. Finally, during the drying period it is necessary to control the moisture to decide when the coffee is ready. For some producers below 12.5% is an accepted rule, some others have found better taste when drying down to 10%. Moisture is even more important once the dried fruits are collected and stored to avoid over-fermentation which would add an unpleasant flavour.
Washed beans (left) and natural beans (right) both from Cariamanga, Ecuador -green
Due to the additional labour involved the natural process is not necessary a cheap process. But in my experience natural coffees have a wilder nature, boozy, robust, deeper character perfectly reflected in your cup of coffee. They are more challenging to roast, but the reward is definitely worth the effort. Something that is typical of natural coffees is that the beans are very unevenly coloured: from light green to yellowish or even cinnamon colour depending on the influence of the juice of the berry. This gives also a rather uneven coloured coffee after roasting that consumers have to get used to. Traditionally unevenly coloured coffee is considered the result of fast and bad roasting. However, for natural coffee it’s almost impossible to get an even roast due the variation in colour of the green beans. Therefore, the next time you see in your coffee store what looks like a unevenly roasted coffee first check what kind of coffee it is. If it’s a natural, give it a try and you may be pleasantly surprised!
Last week a dear friend from Colombia invited me to her house for a cup of coffee, and what a cup it was going to be! Nope, it was not some fruity, floral, smooth Colombian coffee, no. Last year she visited Viet Nam, where she drank coffee almost every day and she liked it so much that she brought back some coffee together with the necessary items to prepare Vietnamese coffee. I was curious!
But first a little bit of history…. Viet Nam has produced and consumed coffees for decades and it all started around 1857 when Viet Nam was still a French protectorate. People started growing coffee in both the Central Highland and Coastal area as well as in the south east region. The production grew until the Civil war (1954-1975) after which it was collectivized as government owned leading to a decline in production. Things changed again in 1986 with the reforms called Do Moi that reintroduced private ownership. Coffee production now grew again, and to such a level that by the year 2000 it had doubled. That over-production had a devastating effect on the global price of coffee due to oversupply and so a massive price crash followed. Nowadays Viet Nam is the second largest coffee producer in the world (after Brazil) with around 2 million tons per year. And eventhough 97% of their production is Robusta, production of Arabica is increasing. The French not only introduced coffee to Viet Nam as a crop but also its consumption. During the colonial times French wanted to enjoy a cup of coffee with milk as they were used to. Unfortunately fresh diary product were hard to find in Viet Nam and a solution was fount in using condensed milk, which is produced and canned since the mid 19th century. And so traditional Vietnamese coffee is prepared with sweet condensed milk.
Vietnamese coffee is brew as a single serving using a phin. This is a gravity-based filter than is easily placed on top of a cup. The phin has a saucer (with holes), a cup to place the coffee in, a filter and a lid. But for instance in my phin the saucer and the cup are one piece. The recommended ground is medium to coarse but it is better to check the holes in the saucer and filter and accordingly decide how to grind the coffee. As you can see in the picture below, my saucer has rather big holes so I grind my coffee coarse as for french press.
How to prepare Vietnamese coffee:
Preheat the phin and the cup by placing the phin on top of the cup and pour some hot water through. Then discard the water from the cup.
Scoop two teaspoons of sweet condensed milk in the cup. If you are not into sweet coffee then replace the condensed milk with regular milk (any kind you like) or nothing.
Add ground coffee in phin cup and shake the phin to distribute the coffee evenly. I use 7 gr of coffee for 100 ml water.
Now place the filter on top of the coffee and level the grounds some more by twisting the filter while applying a little bit of pressure.
Gently pour a third of the hot water in the filter. Allow the coffee to swell for about a minute.
Add the remaining the water in the filter and place the lid of the phin on top to retain the heat. For the next 4 to 5 minutes you can see the coffee brewing.
Once ready, just take the phin off, mix the coffee and milk and enjoy!
When prepared dark the coffee is called Ca Phe Nau. Considering that in Vietnamese language words have only one syllable. This three words when said together may remind you of the french origin.. Cafe Noire. When prepare with condensed milk it is called Ca Phe Sua. Other interesting variation is Sua Chua Ca Phe which is coffee brewed over yogurt. And even more interesting is Ca Phe Trung which is prepared with egg: egg yolk is whipped and mixed with condensed milk and then poured into already brewed coffee. This tradition started in the 1940’s when milk was scarce: egg was the replacement for milk. To be honest, I have never tried this.
As Viet Nam is a country with warm weather it is not strange that cold coffee is very popular. Ca Phe Sua Da is prepared in the same way as described above, just add ice cubes together with the condensed milk. The result is a diluted coffee, but sweet, creamy and fresh.