Picking Coffee, from Jim Sogi

October 26, 2008 |

 It's coffee picking season again [here in Hawaii] and the coffee cherry beans are turning red. I hate picking coffee and have just enough trees to call myself a gentleman farmer (emphases on the former). The process starts with waiting for the rows of beans on the tree branches to turn red and pick only the red ones, not the green ones. I pick just enough to drink so go for the quality over quantity, and pick the best and easiest to pick beans. So in my humble opinion my coffee is the best coffee I have ever drunk. The commercial pickers who are paid by the pound include many green and unripe beans to add weight, but not taste or quality. It's easy to see how incentives shape behaviors. What are the incentives are for mortgage holders who have a moratorium on foreclosures, or the incentives to banks who can sell their mortgages to the fed for 90% rather than move them now for 60%.

After the beans are picked, they are run through a pulper, an industrial device made of cast iron in England from a design from the Industrial Revolution. Mine had a hand crank, but a friend in the neighborhood to whom I lent it to pulp his coffee added a small motor bringing it squarely into the modern age. The pulper takes off the fleshing fruit leaving a seed in a wrapper. This is soaked overnight, then dried in the sun to 14% moisture. This is called parchment. Most of the value in the operation is in this simple processing and provides a much higher return than the farmer or picker receives. The sun drying is the key to the flavor. Most commercial coffee is dried in heated machines. This takes away the mellow soft palate to the coffee and gives a harsher bitterness that is often criticized in some Kona coffees. Be sure your gourmet coffee is sun dried. After the parchment is dried, a husker machine takes off the thin skin and leaves the green bean which is shipped to the roaster. These huskers are large and rather expensive so I go across the street where there is a coffee farm and have them do it. I strongly recommend buying just green beans, then using a small roaster such as "I Roast" to roast a weekly batch for drinking to enjoy the best flavor. As soon as the bean is roasted, the gases start to escape and with it the flavor. There is nothing like a fresh roasted cup of coffee hand picked from your own yard.





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