To date our journeys have taken us to fascinating origins, the four corners of the earth, including Costa Rica, Jamaica, Ethiopia, China, Papua New Guinea, Sumatra and, most recently, Peru.
These have been missions of flavour creation, collaborating with our direct trade partners, to work at farm level exploring fermentation and processing techniques. Our goal is to improve the lives of coffee workers and farmers, innovate with processing, educate and give back to the community.
Fermentation is an opportunity to impart flavours and complexity into what would otherwise be sold as commodity coffee. We seek to create flavours that would otherwise not have existed and in so doing enable farmers and co-ops to sell their lots at a premium.
Our learnings as a partner to many in the coffee industry. From tips to improve your extraction through to improving your profitability efficiency as a business; we have collated them all into some succinct and helpful articles for you to peruse.
Through our journeys to origin, Zest has played an integral role in experimental coffee processing methods – working as a mediator between sustainable coffee farming and meaningful cafe relationships. We share knowledge and resources with farming communities and fully engage in the work they are doing.
In 2019, our journey took us up steep, winding tracks to the mountain-top farm of Jose Don Nolasco, a small coffee farmer from the northern region of Peru. The project began before we left Australia with the donation of over 130m2 of raised drying beds and three 2500L fermentation tanks. Zest also funded the scientific tools needed for monitoring and controlling the fermentation process.
Jose Nolasco and his wife, Diana, live and work together with their family including Jose’s aged father and mother, earning the income needed to sustain their simple lifestyle from their annual coffee crop.
“Two hundred and fifty small one to two hectare farms make up the BVC. Each hectare contains around 4000 coffee trees, each producing about three kilograms of coffee cherry per year. After pulping, washing, drying, hulling and removing defects, the yield of each tree is just 400g of green coffee beans..
Our aim is to demonstrate to farmers that it is possible to produce high scoring coffees using the same cherries that are normally sold as commodity grade coffee. We do this by focusing on alternative ways of processing. This significantly increases the value of small holder crops and makes their farming activity more financially rewarding and sustainable.
The crucial fermentation step began by placing the unwashed beans into food grade tanks, sealing them and monitoring and logging pH, microbial activity, temperature and time. Lastly beans were spread out in a sun tent to dry in a controlled environment sheltered from moisture and temperature fluctuation yet exposed to the gentle drying rays of the sun.
Coffees that had been scoring in the low 80’s and were fetching a selling price of less than $5.00 per kilogram, were now scoring at an SCAA score of 87 and were worth over $20.00 per kilogram green. An amazing value-add for these farmers!
Part 1. – North Sumatra, January, 2018.
Permata Gayo is a far from simple operation. The region is made up of a cooperative of seven villages, with 442 farmers pursuing to improve their coffee quality every year. Each village has delegates to maintain a community of education and trust, ensuring that anyone in need is accommodated for. It’s a place where farmers strive to improve their farming practices and achieve higher prices for their crops.
My last origin trip was 8 months earlier in the highlands of Papua New Guinea. The PNG visit was my first step toward delving into processing methods, in particular the so-called ‘black box’ of coffee fermentation (anaerobic fermentation), which we explored through our Project Raggiana experiments.
The Sumatra trip came only weeks after bringing the Raggiana coffees to the roasting competition sphere, taking out awards for both filter and espresso at the 2017 Golden Bean Awards – highly motivating to carry those results into this next trip.
Upon arriving in Aceh, my first introduction was to the director of Permata Gayo, Mr Armea. He brought a pen, pad and a great big smile to the table. Mr Armea and I spent two hours sketching drawings; talking about moisture content and weight loss; how we would conduct the experiment; and why the flavour would change so extensively. I assured Armea I was not an expert on the agronomy of coffee, but I was inspired to hand over the strategies behind our previous success in PNG.
Within that first day we’d sourced four tanks with capacity to hold over 1040kg of wet parchment. By early evening we’d attached sealed taps to our tanks and were ready to start our fermentations. I had everything I needed… except the coffee.
Despite PNG’s close proximity to Australia, the overarching reason the country has remained relatively unexplored in terms of specialty micro-lots is because the Papua New Guinean people have a strong culture of tribal warfare, which can create a security risk for foreign travellers. During our visit we didn’t encounter any negative or dangerous situations, but we did make a very active effort not to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Project Raggiana is about creating flavour, building relationships and sharing the story of coffee and coffee people from the Wahgi Valley and the Sigri Estate in Papua New Guinea.
The project was Zest’s ticket to discovering PNG coffee and people, exploring the flavour implications of low-oxygen fermentation and capturing a story we could share with the folks back home.
Our experience with the coffee and the coffee people was overwhelmingly beautiful and compelling and we captured most of it from the ground and sky. The film was produced in cinematic style by the very talented Andrew Northover and will be released on Youtube and through Zest’s social media channels in July.
In the roastery, we often experience the unique sparkling acidity and jelly-bean sweetness present in some lots of A or AX grade PNG coffee and the idea of discovering the full potential of this origin profile in a micro-lot context was a stone we couldn’t leave unturned.
A major element of the project was to produce a range of micro-lots that explored the effects of a low-oxygen fermentation environment on flavour creation.
We produced 6 lots, all with different fermentation times – 45hr, 60hr, 65hr, 70hr and a 100hr – plus we created a triple fermentation honey (meaning the coffee was first soaked as natural, pulped and fermented in an open-air environment and then washed and dried as a yellow honey.)
Micro-lots are a viable way to contribute to a sustainable coffee future. This is not necessarily due to the higher price farmers/producers receive from top scoring coffees but more so that micro-lots break down some of the social preconceptions around what coffee ‘is’ by enabling a deeper and richer conversation about quality and distinctive flavour.
The project was made possible through a collaboration with Carpenters Products and the Sigri Estate with some special thanks needed for Sajith Shankar, the Sigri Estate manager, who made sure we felt welcomed in his home and provided us with generous hospitality. He was also responsible for showing our team the ins and outs of the Sigri Estate and explaining the historical context of PNG coffee production. And, last but not least, he cooked a really delicious Keralan curry.