The Effects of Coffee Drying Speeds at Origin

Nothing is more rewarding then seeing a fresh crop of micro-lots being unloaded off the back of a truck into our roastery.  This pleases me so much as I know the amount of work our producers and exporters have put into this coffee to get it this far.  I also personally know how much work we have put into sourcing and choosing these precious beans to offer our clients.

Nothing is more disappointing then when you begin to sample roast and begin profiling these new arrivals and the flavor profiles we tasted at origin are no longer being tasted.  “What is going on!?!?  How can a coffee taste so different at origin compared to what we are tasting now?”   This isn’t unique to Fratello, and is something we have heard many roasters around the world talk/complain about.  It has been a topic of many conversations over the past year with the coffee producers we work with and exporters who are working on the ground at origin every day.

My first major experience with this coffee was 2 years ago when we purchased an incredible micro-lot from Acevado Huila, Colombia.  This 20 bag lot was scored a 91.00 at origin by myself and the others we were with that day.  It was an outrageous coffee, and we paid top dollar for it.  By the time we received this coffee 3 months later, it was extremely faded.  We were getting cupping notes of wood/twigs and it almost tasted like a past crop coffee.  The moisture content was accurate and the processing seemed perfect.  We ended up not selling this coffee to anyone.  It was a total waste of our time and re-sources.  So what went wrong?

6 months later we visited this coffee producer again and began asking questions about how they dried their coffee.  In Colombia it is normal for producers to use a Parabolic drying bed (similar to a green house).  These are perfect for protecting the green beans from the elements; however, it can also produce high levels of heat when not used properly.  Unfortunately, this producer was not, and was drying their coffee in 3-4 days.  This is WAY too fast.  Typically, a producer would want to slowly dry their coffee over a 12-18 day time frame for an even consistency throughout the bean.    What we are learning is when you dry your coffee too quickly; it is hard to read the correct moisture level in your green beans accurately.  The extreme heat forces the water content into the beans giving a false reading in your moisture meters.  You may show a moisture reading of 11-12% (which is the goal), but as these beans sit, the moisture that was forced into the bean, will migrate back out to the surface over time.  The end results are beans being pulled from the drying beds much to early, giving an unstable bean, which has potential fermentation and accelerated fading in flavors.

Another example is in El Salvador we had purchased an award winning Pacamara (large bean).  It was extremely sweet, with an orange syrupy body, maple flavors and very clean.  On arrival in Calgary, we found some of the same faded, twiggy notes coming through in the cup.  Again, a huge disappointment.  With research we found that the drying time was 5-7 days, which was much too fast for such a large bean.

In speaking with our producers the biggest challenge they face is the changing environment.  It is getting hotter and more intense each year.  They never had these issues in the past of drying the coffee this quick and now have to re-think their processing techniques.  Creating systems that help them slow the drying times employing shade barriers and different cooling techniques.  All of this takes time and often a lot of money to re-create their drying beds.  More and more often we see raised African beds with shade cover being installed and used on our top micro-lots.

This then brought my attention to the mechanical drying systems installed at MANY large and micro-mills around the world.  They are becoming very common, as coffee must be dried once it is de-pulped after harvesting.  If the sun isn’t out due to rain, the coffee will need to go into dryers.   These dryers work very fast, and often only take 1 day to finish the drying.  This drying technique is not only fast; it consistently dries the bean through out.  Is this the best route?

Studies are now showing that the ideal drying conditions for coffee require the slow drying technique.  What this allows are some resting periods for coffee.  When heat is on the beans, the cellular structure opens, when the temperatures drop, the cells close…. almost like it is breathing.  This has shown to create a harder cellular structure on the bean that enhances acidity and gives better conditions when roasting.  The fast drying speeds in the mechanical system never allow for resting, giving a softer cellular structure and less acidity in the final cup.

This short blog post barely scratches the surface on drying techniques and does not answer or explain everything processing technique (Naturals, pulped naturals, honey’s, etc…), but has simply been written to bring some awareness to a subject not often discussed.  We have some much more to learn, and together with the producers will continue to push the limits of processing, exporting and roasting the best coffee in the world.

Modern Socialite - The Prefontaine's and Analog Coffee

By Jeannette Vega B.

Russ Prefontaine and Chris Prefontaine are the visionary brothers behind the hit wonder, Analog Coffee on 17th Ave, nestled in the heart of Mount Royal and the Red Mile business district, a better location could not have been chosen.

The sleek and stylish cafe has quickly attracted a discerning and loyal clientele who recognizes the artistry and passion being put forth in this initiative. The brother’s desire to bring a higher level of quality and service to Calgary has not gone unnoticed with the buzz about Analog being wide spread.

I sat down with Chris and Russ to find out more about their journey into Analog, I wanted to know what motivated them and drove their passion throughout the years. The quiet yet charismatic brothers had a lot to say, their extensive knowledge, dedicated heart and deep desire to bring us the very best was immediately  apparent.

Q.1 When and how did your passion for coffee start?

1 - Its difficult to say when my passion for coffee started as it has been a part of my entire life.  My parents started in the coffee business in 1974 so my brothers and I grew up with coffee around us all the time. When we were young boys we would earn an allowance through helping my dad clean up coffee brewers.  My parents started roasting coffee in 1985, and as we got older, we began being able to assist my dad in the roasting department during our summer holidays.  We would help package coffee and get orders ready for his clients.  When I was in high school and College I started working at coffee shops.  My brother Chris also worked in a coffee shop but in 1991 started Espuccino Imports with our oldest brother Jason while Chris was in College.  Espuccino Imports was an Italian espresso equipment import company who also did service, installation and training for local coffee shops.  I joined my brothers at Espuccino Imports as a service technician in 1994, but the three of us began partners in 1997 when we purchased my parents coffee roasting business which was called Custom Gourmet Coffee at the time.

Prefontaine, Modern, Socialite, Analog, Coffee

Our coffee is consciously chosen, responsibly purchased, and carefully roasted.

Q.2 What motivated you to open up a retail location (Analog)

- Many people have asked us why we started Analog Coffee at the Calgary Farmers Market as well as our new flag ship location on 17th Ave SW.  Our Analog Café’s were not designed to be “just another coffee house”.  They were designed and created to give Fratello Coffee Roasters a voice directly who matters most.  People who drink and enjoy our coffee everyday

The idea of having our own cafe isn’t new.  We have been talking about this for over 15 years when we first purchased the roasting company from our parents in 1997.  Back in the early years of our roasting company, our father Cam Prefontaine did his best to buy better coffee from his competitors.  He would experiment with different ways of roasting this coffee with the equipment he had and would service his customers way better than his competitors.

These were also the days before “2nd Wave” coffee was the norm, and back before anyone had even heard of Starbucks.  Trying to convince the early bakeries and deli’s to buy what was “gourmet” coffee was a challenging thing to do.  It was only the early/mid 90’s that Starbucks, Second Cup, Grabba Jabba (now Timothy’s) began to pop up on every corner that the ability for us to roast/sell higher quality coffee began to become easier.

In these years, or the 2nd Wave of coffee, we began working closer with our wholesale café customers with education on what espresso based beverages were all about.  We did our best to encourage them and get them excited about wanting to sell better and better coffee.  We would offer our brand image to them in hopes that they would represent us in a way which would create recognition for quality.   This unfortunately is very challenging to do when you are required to rely on others to be your voice on the streets.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

A big decision was made in 2007/2008 when we as a company decided to down-size and re-focus on what we cared most about. And what we cared about was quality. At this time we changed our name to Fratello Coffee Roasters (Italian for brother) and began to focus on our accounts who aligned with the same principles as us.  If an account didn’t “fit” we simply decided to end the relationship. Over the course of 4 years, a 50-60% reduction in business as well as an entirely new company culture was formed.   It was only during this process that we could begin our transition into becoming a “3rd Wave” coffee roaster.

The Third Wave of Coffee refers to a current movement to produce high-quality coffee, and consider coffee as an artisanal foodstuff, like wine, rather than a commodity, like wheat. This involves improvements at all stages of production, from improving coffee bean growing, harvesting, and processing, to stronger relationships between coffee growers and coffee traders and roasters, to higher quality and fresh roasting, at times called microroasting (by analogy with microbrew beer), to skilled brewing.

At Fratello we understand coffee because it has – literally – been our passion for over a quarter century!  Hundreds of thousands of people have tasted our coffee without ever knowing it!  With the opening of the Fratello Analog Café in the Calgary Farmer’s market in early 2011 we took the plunge into retail, and we’re delighted we did.   We continue to learn new experiences each month which empowers us with new knowledge to better train/coach our wholesale clients.   Our brand has become more recognized in this city as the leading quality coffee roaster and has enabled us to have a “voice” in the street (away from business to business) of our own, and put our brand in our own hands.

With the 2012 opening of our flagship store on 17th Ave and 7th Street we are again able to begin sourcing coffee an entirely new way!  It wasn’t typical of us to introduce 2 or more coffees from the same growing region at once, but this is something we are starting this year. We find it’s such a great opportunity for our customers to discover different flavour characteristics a country has to offer when you are able to taste different farm/cooperative offerings, from the same growing region, side by side.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

Therefore, What makes a great cup of coffee?  Simply put, pride!  Pride in how we source our product, by knowing our producers and knowing our regions, and not being afraid to always make the call that quality is more important than quantity.  Attention to perfection then continues back here in Calgary, where we use our many years of roasting/training experience.   Lastly, the magic plays out in our cafes, Analog Coffee, where our amazing staff – who all understand and live the Fratello philosophy  – bring you the perfect cup of coffee every time you order it.  Come and check us out.

Q.3 How do you feel Calgary is benefiting from Analog’s unique approach?

- I definitely see Calgary benefiting from Analog Coffee being opened up.  It’s like a chicken or the egg thing; what came first – the great coffee house or the great city?  At Fratello we’re obviously biased, but we believe that you have to have great coffee houses to make a great city.  And just look around, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Vancouver and Seattle – they all have remarkable cafes.  Take it a step further.  How many movie sets or TV shows profile coffee shops?  Tons of them, and there is a reason for that.  Because great coffee houses bring out the very best in us.  They allow us to appreciate the good things in life; things that often get missed in the hurly burly of our daily existence.

In a great coffee house we socialize, we think, and we somehow become instantly gracious and appreciative.  Perhaps it’s the magic aroma of magnificently roasted coffee, or the professional skills of your barista, but somehow a good coffee shop ‘brings you inside’ and gives you as much value from the experience of the place as from the taste of the product.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

At Fratello we understand coffee because it has – literally – been our passion for over a quarter century!  Hundreds of thousands of people have tasted our coffee without ever knowing it!  With the opening of the Fratello Analog Café in the Calgary Farmer’s market in early 2011 we took the plunge into retail, and we’re delighted we did.   We continue to learn new experiences each month which empowers us with new knowledge to better train/coach our wholesale clients.   Our brand has become more recognized in this city as the leading quality coffee roaster and has enabled us to have a “voice” in the street (away from business to business).

With the upcoming fall 2012 opening of our flagship store on 17th Ave and 7th Street we’ll be in the heart of the action, helping to sustain the pulse of that vibrant part of town.  Again, great café help build great cities.

What makes a great cup of coffee?  Simply put, pride!  Pride in how we source our product, by knowing our producers and knowing our regions, and not being afraid to always make the call that quality is more important than quantity.  Attention to perfection then continues back here in Calgary, where we use our many years of roasting/training experience.   Lastly, the magic plays out in our cafes, Analog Coffee, where our amazing staff – who all understand and live the Fratello philosophy  – bring you the perfect cup of coffee every time you order it.

Coffee should be all about the people.  The people who produce it, the people who roast/find it, the people who serve it and most importantly at Analog Coffee, the people who come in to enjoy it.  And, great people make a great city!

Q.4 How do you stay current in your business?

- Staying current in this business is a constant battle.  The coffee market is always changing, in the past 5 years has been changing faster than ever.  New brewing methods, and the re-birth of older brewing methods are coming back. The way roasters source coffee is changing and we are pushing ourselves harder then ever to roast these coffees  in ways which extenuate the natural flavours found in these beans.   More than this is the consumer is he much more educated and expect more from the baristas at the best cafes.  To compete in the cafe market at this level is hard work.  Its about constant training and re-trainiing and never being satisfied with what you are currently doing.  Being good, isn’t good enough.

We learn a lot from the roasters from around the world we meet when we are traveling to visit our coffee producers.  We are always bouncing ideas off of each other and then stay in contact with social media.  Twitter and Facebook are great ways to watch and learn from the best roasters/cafe in the world as well as going to different trade shows in this industry.

Really the bottom line for us to continually improve is the realization that we do not know all the answers.  We have yet to perfect the art of roasting and the skill of customer service.  We are striving to get there, but know we can never reach that goal, but by reaching for this goal we will continually improve what we do.

Prefontaine Analog Coffee

Since opening our doors at Analog Coffee 17th the main thing we have learned is that there has been a hunger for this level of cafe in Calgary.  There are many cafes in Calgary that are doing a great job, but Analog has tried to create a very friendly and approachable atmosphere.  We do not want anyone to feel intimated to ask questions and order beverages from our baristas.  We want to give the information to the clients who are interested in it, but not be over bearing or “coffee snobs” to clients who are just starting to explore coffee of this quality.  Our clients are really enjoying this and continue to support us as we perfect our systems in this new venture.

Stop by for a unique coffee experience and you might just end up staying longer than expected, savour an exquisite pastry or sandwich from one of the carefully chosen partners like Sidewalk Citizen and La Boulangerie, it will most certainly be an enjoyable stop that might end up being your favourite.

Devastation Throughout Central America - Roya Leaf Rust

What a terrible time to be a coffee producer in Central America.  An aggressive, widespread attack of the coffee-eating roya fungus is causing more damage and devastation throughout Central America's coffee plantations than was expected and is inflicting high costs on producers at a time when international coffee prices have fallen sharply.

           

Just when you think it looks like coffee producers were beginning to be more profitable in their business’s through getting better prices for their coffee, the NY Commodity Market decides to decline sharply.  Typically when you see the NYC Market go higher, you have a softening on the differential market.  The opposite is then true when you see a down turn in the NYC Market.   This is a stressful and risky way for coffee producers to sell coffee.

The differential market varies completely from origin to origin and often reflects quality levels as well as supply and demand with in an origin.  The NYC market is a global benchmark for pricing, but does NOT reflect any sort of quality.  The NYC Market fluctuates rapidly and has many variables, which make this commodity move.  Years ago it was weather, the crop sizes in Brazil and supply & demand which caused the fluctuations, but today the biggest factor in this are the large Fund companies who buy/sell commodities everyday.

Due to Direct Trade, our pricing remains fairly consistent year over year with the coffee producers we work with.  We reward them for the quality and care they put into their coffee, typically paying 25-35% more than what Fair Trade would pay them.  Through this method of working with coffee producers they are ensured they will be profitable, gives them a secured customer, gives Fratello incredible quality and takes the pressure of the NYC Market away from the producers we work with.

All of this sounds like it gives everyone security; however, what this does not do is protect the coffee trees from environmental conditions which greatly impact the amount of coffee cherries produced each year.  What we are seeing this year through out Central America is devastating, and will impact us all for the next 2-4 years.

The Roya, a leaf disease (a fungus also called Leaf Rust) is currently spreading extremely rapidly through all of Central America.  The tree killing fungus is affecting the entire area, from Costa Rica to Mexico.  For example in Honduras, Central America's largest coffee producer, are talking of a 20% loss in this current crop this current year.   All coffee producers were taken by surprise and were unprepared to combat this disease.  Now the alarms are sounding!!  This year yields throughout Central America are down as much as 30%, but the major impact will come the next 2 to 3 years depending on how well governments assist farmers to combat this disease.  Major pruning of all trees, having to replace aging trees with new ones and most important is the requirement to fertilize adequately. It will be a major task requiring serious financial assistance. Today with these low NYC Market prices could potentially be devastating.

El Salvador is predicting coffee yields to be 50% lower next year, and the smallest harvest in 73 years!  Guatemala is seeing 40% of their trees infested, Costa Rica is predicting a crop 25% smaller this year and 50% smaller next year.  The same news is spreading north and is said to be the same outcomes in Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras next year.  

Colombia already went through what Central America producers are going through now.  Production is recovering 4 years later.  The biggest issue in Colombia is that the low NYC prices combined with a strong local currency (compared to the weak US Dollar) is creating a cost of production which is estimated to be 20% to 25% higher than what their current selling prices are.  The government is in discussion today with Colombian FNC and key producing states to extend an assistance program.

Meantime, sellers are mostly withdrawn waiting for a better evaluation of crops and also better prices.  Coffee exporters at origin are sitting on their inventories waiting for better news before selling. The C market has steadied for now and differentials are beginning to get higher.

The next 2-4 years are going to be a bumpy ride.  Roasters are going to have to be aggressive to find and secure the top quality coffee.  Fratello Coffee Roasters are hard at work visiting with coffee producers and exporters to ensure we have the most current information and to ensure we have the supply to pass on to our clients.