The Ins and Outs of Quality Coffee Processing

The ACT (Asociasaun Cafe Timor) was set up two years ago in Dili, in an attempt to create an organisation which is focused on improving the quality of and enhancing commercial opportunities for Timorese coffee.

In line with this, they have held the Festival Cafe Timor event each year, during which barista competitions, coffee forums and coffee skills trainings are held, as well as awarding the Coffee of the Year award.

Just recently, in a move to try to further promote the processing of quality coffee in Timor-Leste, supported by ADB (Asia Development Bank) and MDF (Market Development Facility), the ACT invited Miguel Fajardo from Raw Materials Coffee based in Colombia to visit Timor-Leste and lead a training session on processing quality coffee.

Bearing in mind that the resources available to the coffee farmers here in Timor-Leste are very limited compared to other more developed coffee producing markets, it really was a case of going back to basics and working with what you’ve got.

Luckily for us, we were able to observe the training being run at the well set up facility of Timor Global. Here, we were able to get hands on and actually get stuck into processing coffee from cherry to parchment.

Sadly, in Timor-Leste the going rate for a kilo of cherries is extremely low so if there is any way to help to create a bigger market and therefore pay higher prices, in support of the coffee farmers, then Karst Organics will endeavour to do our best.

Emphasis was placed on the fact that processing quality coffee starts from the very beginning – the coffee tree and the cherries picked. Coffee grows organically and pretty much wild within the five main coffee producing districts of Timor-Leste – Ermera, Liquica, Manufahe, Ainaro and Aileu.

Both Arabica and Robusta varieties of coffee can be found, with the Hibrido de Timor variety having naturally evolved through cross breeding of both the Arabica and Robusta trees. The first Hibrido de Timor coffee tree was discovered back in 1927 and was found to have the mellow flavours of an Arabica crossed with the strength and robustness against disease of a Robusta. Since its discovery, many coffee botanists and scientists have used it as the parent plant to produce other man-made hybrids.

After visiting the Villa Maria coffee plantation in Ermera and picking the ripe cherries, everyone worked together to initially wash and float the cherries. Floating was highlighted as one of the most important steps of processing coffee, as this enables you to initially separate the bad beans from the rest of the batch to prevent them from affecting the final coffee flavour.

Floating to remove the bad cherries

Three separate batches of coffee were then processed using each of the three main techniques –  natural, honey and fully washed, to enable the farmers and coffee professionals taking part in the training to see exactly how different techniques can affect the overall flavour of the coffee itself and the important factors which need to be considered when using each of the different processes. This included difficulties in drying when using the natural process due to the risk of mould and over-fermentation. Ensuring that honey processed coffee isn’t contaminated by foreign materials and the laborious process of stirring the beans regularly in order to prevent over-fermentation and sticking. And for fully washed coffee, limiting the amount of water used and discussing how the waste water is treated in order to reduce the impact on the surrounding ecosystem.

Natural processed beans
Honey processed beans
Fully washed beans

Explanations of how to measure BRIX using a refractometer and measuring fermentation through PH level readings were also explained to show the importance of carrying out each step of the process correctly and at the right time. Of course, such equipment is difficult to obtain in Timor-Leste, so alternative indicators and testing methods were also outlined – namely the importance of analysing the coffee beans through sight and smell.

Emiliano explaining how to use a refractometer

Drying racks were also presented as a good alternative to the usual technique of drying the beans on the ground. Enabling the beans to receive better aeration due to the all round ventilation achievable with the racks.

An introduction into cupping was also demonstrated, giving the farmers the opportunity to try a variety of different coffees processed in different ways. This was a very enlightening experience, giving them the chance to see for themselves how different methods and techniques can affect the final flavour of a coffee.

The whole training was very well received and the farmers and coffee professionals were able to gain a lot of knowledge and hands on experience of what is involved in processing quality coffee. The torch has now been passed on to the trainees to spread the word to the rest of the farmers in their communities and other cooperatives, so that a more standardised process can be maintained to aid the increase of quality coffee production out of Timor-Leste.

Karst Organics will definitely be working closely with our farmer partners to see where improvements can be made to ensure that we can achieve the quality of coffee which our customers want.


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