Over the years in our journey in coffee, we’ve been lucky enough to witness the growth & transformation of coffee as a raw product. Slightly over a decade ago, “TRACEABILITY” was the “in” word. As an industry, we began to collectively focus on making “Quality” & “Traceable” synonymous. This was definitely possible with origins where Estates were more common like Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil etc. Fast forward, the industry is consuming information at an incredible rate. We’ve now made “Information” almost the singular yardstick to how we initially perceive quality, from duration of fermentation process to thickness of parchment layer on the drying tables. Don’t know whether the lot was picked on an early pass or the latter? Sorry, not good enough for us. We also almost blindly pass on this information to our guests without necessarily creating enough context. They might still be stuck on differentiating drying processes, to be honest.
Since we’ve begun roasting, we have consciously looked out for cultivars as our main differentiating factor. We sincerely believe that at the root of our quest for flavour, the genetic makeup of each cultivar is the key to the potential. As a coffee company, we wanted to share how wide the spectrum of flavours are, even within the same origin or even farm. 4 years later, we are still focused on showcasing this aspect, but we felt that there had to be another method of differentiation that would assist consumers to make informed decisions with regards to the coffees that they would like to taste & experience. We also wanted to share it from the producing party’s perspective contrary to how we usually frame to suit the consumer’s flavour preferences.
Let us introduce to you the different categories!
Classically produced coffees are the archetype of the global specialty coffee production. These coffees were cultivated with economy, sustainability & quality in mind. The processing & drying techniques are usually practices that have been passed down from generation to generation. Over the years, the results now represent the classic flavours derived from the cultivar & the microclimate of the land that cultivated the fruits.
E.g. Classic Ethiopian coffees are typically pulped, wet fermented for 12-18 hours before they are rinsed & dried on African raised beds. The different washing stations may differ in the fermentation periods or drying times due to the slightly different climate, but the nature of the techniques are usually similar.
On the other hand, Brazil as a producing country classically uses the natural or dry process as well as pulped natural process. The end flavours between coffees from these 2 origins are incredibly different & our Roasting approach is usually designed to showcase a balance of acidity, sweetness as well as a defined mouthfeel. We’d love for our guests to appreciate how “Classic” coffees taste like!
We believe that the “modern” producer lives in the moment. These may require them to be comfortable & open with having each foot on either side of the lines of convention. The matter of fact is, “Modern” coffees require resources that not many producers are fortunate enough to have, like modern technologies & equipment. These are used to yield new iterations & depth from the tried as well as the tested.
E.g. Manantiales Del Frontino is a farm we recently began working with & they have the resources to employ modern techniques to their processing methods. An example is a 2-step fermentation which involves whole cherries fermented underwater before being pulped & dry fermented for another 12-16 hours. The coffees are then rinsed & dried in mechanical driers, which allows them to control the temperature at which the coffees are being dried at.
“Modern” coffees typically have defined flavour notes that may result in a more processed or confected expression. Producers are also able to have more control over these processes for more consistency harvest to harvest!
An incredibly small but emerging market is the thirst for “Experimental” coffees. These coffees are more often than not, larger-than-life expressions of taste beyond tradition. Producers are encouraged to experiment to satisfy niche palates in the evolving market. However, there is usually a sense of obligation to share the risks of experimentation - producers are usually assured that the lots being experimented on has a buyer at the end of harvest. “Experimental” coffees are also born out of a desire & drive to redefine expectations of a certain cultivar or origin, allowing them to reach out to a wider audience.
E.g. For a couple of years now, we have been purchasing coffees from Kingha Collective in Uganda, an Estate that runs its own farm as well as processing coffees from smallholder farmers around them. Through the relationship between Kingsley (Owner of Kingha Estate) & Nordic Approach (Specialty Green Coffee Sourcing Company), fermentation & drying experiments are carried out at Kinga Estate to understand the limits of what can be done with coffees from Uganda.
Whilst we have enjoyed the majority of “experimental” coffees that we’ve sought & purchased, some of them do make us have a greater appreciation for the other categories. “Experimental” coffees aren’t for everyone, but they make a great case to truly display the diverse flavour & tactile spectrum in the world of high quality Coffee!
We hope that the above categories will eventually help you understand the wider picture of Specialty Coffee Production in the world. Whether you’re sipping on a “whole cherry anaerobic fermentation, natural Yellow Catuai from Brazil” or a “barrel fermented pulped Castillo” the categorisation will help apply some context to your tasting experience & widen your horizon as well as appreciation for this industry!