by Alejandro Cadena, Managing Director, Virmax Café
Every stage of coffee production is important to guaranteeing a high-quality product. What starts with good seed selection, and continues with careful picking, can end very badly at the last stage: processing, or post-harvest (wet milling and drying). Independent of the size of the producer, be it a micro-scale farmer with just one hectare of land, or a big estate with over 100 hectares, the challenges faced by coffee producers are largely the same.
Weather is perhaps the coffee grower’s biggest enemy. Besides the obvious effect that weather has on the growth of deleterious fungi, or pests and diseases such as borer beetles or rust—frequent and/or heavy rainfall during the harvest complicates the lives of producers in other ways. Most of the specialty coffee produced these days is still sun-dried, so rainfall during the harvesting season makes it harder for producers to dry their coffee, especially if they do not have the proper infrastructure in place. High moisture content (i.e. above 12 percent) and uneven drying are by far the biggest reasons for crop rejections we see every year in Colombia, accounting for about half the lots we reject. Lack of money to pay for pickers, especially among small producers, is the main reason why most growers look to speed up the drying process and don’t wait until coffee is dried below the maximum moisture level to deliver it. Sometimes even coffees that are dried below 12 percent don’t hold up very well and end up fading fast. This happens because parchment coffee is not evenly dried, or because growers blend different day-lots with differing moisture levels, leading to a decline in shelf life and cup quality due to accelerated chemical deterioration caused by moisture diffusing between beans.