Hambela-Alaka Estate in the Guji zone of southern Ethiopia is one of the more impressive coffee places you'll visit. With over two dozen year round employees, the place swells to around 700 seasonal workers as the coffee harvest gets into full swing. These young men were keen to show their strength loading ~100 lb sacks of parchment coffee onto the trucks headed for the dry mill. At one point they offered me the chance to lug a few bags out of the warehouse and onto the back of the truck. But I was happy to just smile and nod and pretend not to understand the language they were speaking plainly with their hand motions. No place to set down my camera, you see. Soon these coffees will be hulled and bagged as green (raw) coffee beans and sent across the ocean to discerning roasters...and perhaps Brown will be lucky enough to be among that number. Anyway, I was there.

This is actually an unofficial NEW COFFEE ALERT. We are currently reviewing pre-ship samples from Metad, the owners of Hambela-Alaka as well as purchasers of quite a lot of outgrower coffees from surrounding smallholders. If the samples are good (a high probability) we'll work through the logistics of bringing in one/some of these coffees to Brown by mid to late Summer 2018. 

One in a MILL-ion (Part Three): BIRD'S EYE VIEW>>

One in a MILL-ion (Part 3): BIRD'S EYE VIEW>> To give a little more spatial perspective of how a lot of wet mills work, here's a top side view of the one we've been posting about in this series. The cherry has been delivered into the ceramic holding tank (see Part 1) and now it's slowly pouring down the drain and into the flume where it's met with fast running water and taken into the separation tank (Part 2). Because this mill has been strategically built into the side of a hill the truck can simply back up to the holding tank. Many free standing mills rely on pneumatic or augered systems to deliver cherry up to the higher starting point, which as you can see here is four stories up. After separation, the coffees move into two separate pulpers, where what often looks like a giant rotating cylinder with cheese grater teeth grabs hold of the outer cherry skins and rips them about halfway off the beans. From here one of several secondary strategies for removing the remaining cherry skins is employed. If you look down to the bottom level on the left toward the end of this video clip you can see the rotating secondary depulper for the lower quality beans that have been separated from the higher grade beans, and its feed pipes bringing those beans into the depulper and then the pipes leading away outside and to the next step. White PVC pipes traverse the wet mill and carry coffee, water or waste/recycling water throughout the mill. The sound of generators and/or depulping equipment is a constant element in the ears during harvest, which is why many wet mill workers wear protective ear plugs. The yellow cat walks here are wet and often slightly slippery, which means safety is a big deal when climbing or descending. Part 4 will show the depulping/demucilaging for the higher quality cherry.



Let's talk about knowing where your coffee comes from. Here's a copy of yesterday's coffee harvested from one part of one of my favorite farms in the world. You can see the variety, volume, date, etc., so that everything is traced. This is what repeatable quality looks like, and it's why we continue to partner with the amazing Don Miguel Menendez and his family and his extended farm family, many of whom have been with him for decades. 

As technology advances so much of this paper trail is becoming digitized. We at Brown are actively exploring ways we can help facilitate the transition from paper to digital in as many places we work with around the world. We are already working out the details for our contribution to a digitized scale for our producer friends in Kenya as a way for them to eliminate the time consuming burden of copying everything in triplicate. A digitized scale will give each smallholder producer a unique PIN. When they delivery cherry to the mill, they input their PIN and up comes a readout of their entire history: Did the producer take a loan for inputs? How many visits have they made to the mill and how much cherry was delivered each time? What is the total YTD volume of cherry for him or her? Have they been paid on any of this yet? And so forth. There's even talk of linking the Kenya scale to Mpeza, which is the local Kenya digital currency payment system so that payments can be immediately paid to the farmer via mobile phone. Anything that can be done to speed up the pace of business is good because faster transactions almost always result in more rapid wealth creation. This is the future and it's a good one. 



TERMINOLOGY>> Whenever someone talks about coffee in "parchment" ("pergamino" in Spanish) this is what they mean. Parchment is the last major layer of the coffee cherry before you get to the actual seeds of the cherry. (Technically speaking, there's a paper thin layer that surrounds most coffee varieties called "silverskin" that is mostly processed off, but that's kind of another story. Also technically speaking, the seeds/beans of the coffee tree's fruit are called drupes, which is the same as the avocado, but that's also another story). So here we are with a small pile of parchment, so named because as the beans are dried to the desired level of between 10-12% water/moisture, this layer dries into a crackable, but highly protective layer, not too unlike parchment paper. Seeing coffee in parchment is the first time during the harvest that you can see the actual outline of what looks like a coffee bean. Because parchment is such a reliable barrier against external forces, almost all specialty grade coffee is dried then stored ("rested," or, "en reposo") in parchment for up to three months--sometimes even longer--before being hulled at the dry mill, bagged and containerized for the long trip to a broker's and/or importer's warehouse, or in Brown's case, directly to our roasting facility. The resting phase is widely thought to help the beans settle into a more stable organic scenario and, anecdotally, gives them slightly better solubility potential, which means they won't taste as youngish or greenish/vegetal when roasted and brewed. Green coffees that have their parchment removed too soon tend to taste "LOOM-ey" (Loss Of Organic Material) much sooner after arriving into the roaster's hands than those that are rested properly. Hulled parchment from previous harvests is often used as fuel to fire the large mechanical dryers some coffee producers use to bring their coffees down to 10-12%, saving money and using less external resources.