Snapshots from Seed to Tree

First, the seed is simply the coffee bean.  You can see in the picture above that what is planted and begins to grow is the bean that is inside the cherry.

As shoot growth happens the stalk lengthens

The head of the stem will leaf and give rise to higher order shoots

If the seedlings are being grown in a nursery they will be planted in individual pots/bags.
This will allow for the transportation of the seedling to a farm/consumer once the seedling is old enough.

The next stage in the growth process is flowering.

The blooms give rise to the fruit which enters the plant into the ripening phase —  one of the most unsynchronized parts of the whole growth process.

In only 6 years time the trees in this video grew from seeds to beautiful fruit bearing trees!

The Effort Behind a Pound of Coffee

For our partner farms in Hainan, it takes nearly 8 pounds of coffee cherries to make 1 pound of roasted coffee.  Our pickers average 10 pounds per hour.  That is little more than 1 pound of roasted coffee that is harvested each hour.   It takes so long because the cherries are selectively picked – only the red ripe cherries are picked.

Once the cherries have been selected they are cleaned and sifted so that any debris (sticks, leaves, etc) are removed.  The cherries are then placed on raised drying beds.  It might take up to four weeks for the cherries to dry to the right moisture content.

During this time the cherries must be constantly monitored to make sure they get the right amount of shade, sun, wind, etc.  There are many different environmental factors that can influence the flavor profile at this stage so careful attention is given to the coffee.  They must also be continuously turned so they do not dry unevenly.

Once the bean has been properly dried it needs to be prepared for grading.  In the picture above you can see the structure of a coffee cherry:

  1. centre cut
  2. bean (endosperm)
  3. silver skin (testa, epidermis)
  4. parchment (hull, endocarp)
  5. pectin layer
  6. pulp (mesocarp)
  7. outer skin (pericarp, exocarp)

In some areas on Hainan parts 7,6,5 are removed via machine.  If the equipment is good this is safe for the bean.  If it is old equipment or not perfectly calibrated it can lead to chipped beans causing defects.  The farms that produce the highest scores simply remove these layers by placing the beans in sacks and walking on them with sandals.  The average farmer in the region is less than 60kg so too much weight isn’t a problem.

Once the outer layers are removed the beans are at parchment (4).  At this point machinery is almost always used.  A huller simply rubs the beans together to crush the parchment and blow it off.

The beans are then ready for grading.  In order to follow specialty grade international standards the beans are then placed into sieves and sorted by size.  They are then weighed by the amount of each size and the percentage is recorded.  They should then be separated into 300gram samples.  It is at this point you really begin to see the quality of the lot.  The beans must be meticulously sorted so that quality is guaranteed and that a 300gram sample is characteristic of the whole lot.

Specialty green coffee beans have no more than 5 full defects in 300 grams of coffee.  No primary defects are allowed (i.e. a soured or moldy bean) and the moisture content must be between 9-13%.

In summary, to produce one pound of specialty grade coffee a Hainan farmer works around the clock for 12 months to nurture and protect the trees and the soil (they obviously produce more than one pound).  They hand pick the cherries only choosing beautiful red and ripe ones.  They dry them for up to four weeks continuously monitoring all environmental factors.  They carefully remove three layers from the cherry.  They then de-hull the husk from the bean, carefully sort and grade, and weigh out samples for distribution.  All for your enjoyment!

Nitro Coffee

One of our passions is to foster a culture of passion and joy for coffee among our customers and staff.  One of the ways we do this is to always push the boundaries on how we can meet customers where they are and make great coffee accessible more and more people.

Recently we experimented with different types of processing and were able to draw out more flavors with different types of methods.  One of our more subtle advancements was in the realm of cold brew.

Where our office is located in Hainan it is hot.  Really hot!  The heat there drives our customers to quench their their thirst with our delicious coffee on ice.  To make sure the coffee does not get watered down we have been experimenting with the perfect coffee to water ratio.  The funny thing with experimenting is that  one thing leads to another resulting with something usually unintended at the outset.  In this instance it led us to nitro coffee

Nitro coffee means different things in different circles.  In some cases it is simply CO2 and not nitrogen.  In other cases it is a mixture of Nitrogen and Oxygen or Nitrogen and CO2.  For us, we found the best way is to simply infuse the cold brew with Nitrogen on tap.  Nitrogen is much less soluble than the other options…and when chilled it leads to an incredibly smooth, rich, creamy cup.

 

Making Tea

Some of our partner coffee fields are located in the same region as tea fields.  While we love processing coffee it is fun to watch tea being processed as well.  #lifeatorigin  #thegoodlife #thisischina

 

Hainanese vs Fuzhou Coffee

This video captures very well why Chinese coffee hasn’t caught international affection yet.  This is how it has been traditionally roasted and offered to the domestic market.  Whenever international travelers would try Chinese coffee this is what they were offered.

The video is intended to explain the differences in the flavor profiles between two of China’s coffee growing regions.  It really doesn’t make a difference what happens at the farm when the beans are roasted like you see in the video.

We at Sina Green are dedicated to helping locals learn the processes throughout the value chain that will lead to the highest quality coffee possible being produced.  The more training is provided the more the coffee is being enjoyed domestically and the more excited they are to share the fruit of their labor abroad.

 

The Qixi Festival

One of the best parts about getting to work with coffee farmers is also getting to celebrate festivals with them.  This weekend is the Qixi festival.  It is the seventh day of the seventh month on the lunar calendar. According to the locals that makes it an auspicious day.  That brings the community together to enjoy each other.

The Li people kick off the festival with water splashing.  It is a time of celebration where everyone takes a break from their labor in the summer heat and cools off with a community wide water fight.  It is a lot of fun!

After the fun with water all the locals get dressed in their traditional clothing and begin preparing for a large feast.

As soon as it is ready everybody sits down and really long and extensive tables to share the meal together.

At the meal they make sure they eat very colorful food.  It is a sign of blessing and prosperity.

The people of this culture put a lot of detail and heart into enjoying everything they make or do.  Their clothing, their food, and fortunately for us their coffee!

China’s Firstfruits – Become a Coffee Pioneer

Coffee was first planted in China in the late nineteenth century by French missionaries.  The tea culture was so pronounced that hardly anybody noticed coffee or even desired to give it a try.  In most places it was replaced by a revenue generating cash crop or left to grow uncultivated in areas people had no desire to farm.  Then, in 1990 Nestle made its entrance in Yunnan province.  This forever changed the coffee growing industry on a national and global scale.  Nestle’s foray into establishing a domestic and exporting market paved the way for Starbucks to arrive on the scene in 1999.

With Nestle leading the instant coffee market and Starbucks leading the specialty coffee market they created a wake that enabled the third wave companies to ride in.  While Nestle and Starbucks are still leading the markets in their specific emphases the vast majority of domestic consumers viewed coffee as something to be experienced not merely consumed.  Only a small percentage of the market consumes coffee on the run…the vast majority drink it for social engagement.  This communal aspect of the culture has left its impact on farming communities as well as urban cafes.  Instead of road-side stands, it is the places that have ample seating and an environment for interaction that are thriving.  Agro-tourism has drawn many to their favorite coffee’s origin where they can enjoy a cup in the very place where it is grown.  Imports were fueling the market in the earlier years; however, in the past decade great strides in growing and processing quality control has led to a dramatic increase in domestic consumption.  This growing national pride has also led to a desire for China to take its place in the world coffee market.   Coffee exports have risen exponentially over the last decade and now is the time to enjoy the firstfruits!

Nearly 98% of China’s coffee exports are coming from Yunnan.  Hainan is a distant second.  Yunnan is growing primarily Arabica as it is a mountainous region with a very conducive environment.  Hainan is a tropical island with lush rainforests and volcanic ash enriched soil – suitable for growing high quality Robusta. Both of these locations are also home to the some of the most ethnically diverse populations in the global community.  It is an incredible land with incredible people…and some incredible coffee.  You will have to wait until 2018 to enjoy some of our Hainan coffee but you can enjoy some Yunnan coffee today!

Processing Methods

Once coffee is removed from the tree there are three main ways to process the cherry before the bean is ready to be roasted.  There is considerable variance within each of these three branches of processing but on a macro-level the methods are grouped into the following categories:

Water processed

This is the process by which the pulp is removed from the bean.  Essentially, the coffee cherries are immersed in water where the bad or unripe fruit will float and the ripe ones sink. The bad are removed and the good are channeled to an area where they flow through a screen that removes the pulp.  Due to the large volume of cherries being processed at one time many beans will still have a significant amount of the pulp remaining. That layer is either removed by another round of washing or through ‘dry fermentation’ in which the beans are dried to the point where the mucilage is naturally broken down.

While this form of processing uses a lot of water it generally guarantees a clean and consistent cup.  It is easy to monitor the variables in this process which makes it desirable for the processor and a considerably consistent product from one harvest to the next.

 

Naturally processed

This process leads to remarkably sweet, fruity, or exotic flavors and tends to lead to the highest cupping scores.  It is a very delicate process to monitor though and can have a great variance in flavor profile from harvest to harvest.

Simply stated, naturally processed coffee is coffee that is removed from the tree and dried without the bean being separated from the cherry.  If the cherry is not dried right it can lead to a pungent and harsh taste or a brittle bean that loses its flavor and easily burns in the roasting phase.  If successfully processed, naturally dried cherries typically lead to a less acidic and heavy body in the cup.

 

Honey Processed

Describing this method can be confusing because there is a lack of consensus about its meaning.  Some call it ‘honey-ed’ because of the fermentation it goes through in the mucilage and some call it ‘honey-ed’ because of the slimy texture of the mucilage.  Either way, this process refers to the method in which the bean and cherry are separated but the mucilage is left on the bean.  Typically, if the pulp is removed by water and then dried it is called a semi-wet process…and if the pulp is removed by means other than water it is called honey processed.  Again, this is overly simplistic but is how the terms are most commonly used.  This method can lead to some wildly unique flavors if processed correctly.  If the process is not managed well, the spectrum of tastes can range from highly acidic sours (if fermented too long or with pulp not properly removed) to very bland and un-complex flavor notes.

Amongst our experience with the various processing methods we have found the honey process to be the most difficult to reproduce the same cup quality and flavor profile from lot-to-lot and harvest-to-harvest.

photo cred: Bryon Lippincott

Responsibly Sourced Coffee

Responsibly sourced coffee is coffee that is processed and purchased in a partnership that demonstrates respect for both the grower and the environment.  It is the reason for our existence as a company.  We had been living in China for many years working with farmers in various venues before focusing primarily on coffee.  We were able to come alongside Yunnan Coffee Traders and the Hani Coffee Company and saw the incredible ways they were benefiting communities as they were helping them produce excellent coffee.  The more we learned about how the growing community was developing through their efforts the more we wanted to be a part of it.

Characteristics of the relationship between our partners, the growing co-op, and Sina Green:

  • Commitment to excellence in producing exceptional coffee
  • Social responsibility — healthcare clinics, water projects, disaster relief, professional certification, and so much more
  • Sustainable agriculture and social practices
  • Community development
  • Commitment to pay growers beyond Fair Trade prices
  • Ongoing presence and partnership at origin
  • Access to techniques and technology that increase yield and productivity

To get your hands on some of this great coffee that is changing lives please visit our stateside distributor – Urban Dwellers Coffee.

Photo cred: Bryon Lippincott