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Guatemala Trip #3 – The Process

Guatemala Trip #3 – The Process

Last week, we began the journey that a coffee bean takes from farm to cup. We talked about how what the plants look like, and how they’re harvested. So this week, we’re going to finish up that journey and dive into the processing of the picked coffee fruit, and all of the amazing steps that a coffee bean will go through once it’s been harvested.

If you missed our previous posts and need to catch up, you can find them below:

There are three different methods to process the coffee fruit that we harvested in our last post and each method affects the flavors of the coffee beans. The processing methods strip the fruit, or pulp, off of the coffee bean and get it ready to be hulled and shipped. The most popular method in coffee production is the Washed Process. We mostly observed the this process while on our trip and is what we’ll be covering in detail. There is also the Honey and the Natural Processing methods. In these methods, the coffee is dried with some, or all, of the pulp remaining on the bean.

With the washed method, the coffee fruit first goes through a pulping machine. These can be large or small machines and are designed to pull off the red pulp of the fruit and separate it from the bean. The first pulping that we got to see, was located at Freddy’s house and was a small, bike pedaled machine. The larger pulping machine was located at the Ija’tz cooperative in San Lucas. Both machines accomplish the same task though. The separated pulp is used as fertilizer for the coffee plants or in some cases, is used to make cascara tea.

Small pulping coffee machine, powered by hand.
Larger, gas powered pulping machine.
Beans and pulp separated after going through the pulping machine.

Once the outer pulp of the beans has been removed by the pulping machines, the coffee beans are placed in holding tanks which allow the beans to ferment. Fermentation will take a couple of days and allows naturally occurring enzymes break down the remaining pulp around the beans. Next, the beans are ready to be washed. The coffee is poured out into channels and washed three times with water in the channel. Poor quality beans, any remaining pulp, and other debris float to the top of the channel, and are skimmed off. Only the best coffee is heavy enough to remain at the bottom of the channel.

Coffee beans, having finished fermentation in their holding tank.
Beginning the washing process by moving the beans to the channels.
Beans being washed in the channels.

The beans are now ready to be dried. They are laid out onto concrete pads and raked into rows which are continually turned over to allow the beans to dry evenly and to prevent mildew.

Once dry, the beans still have a husk or parchment around them. The parchment is like a thin paper cover over the bean. That parchment is now removed from the bean in a process called hulling. Most hulling is done by machine, but we hulled a small amount of beans by hand to observe the process and to check for defects in the coffee.

Washed beans, now being dried in rows on large patios.
Much smaller drying patio at a house in San Miguel Escobar.
Hulling and quality control of the beans.
Beans with their parchment being removed.
Finished beans, ready for shipping!

Once the beans are hulled, and thoroughly inspected for quality, they’re ready to be bagged and shipped! These green beans then head to the US, to our roasting partners. They are roasted in either a light, medium, or dark roast, and sent off to us for you to enjoy!

Next week, we’re wrapping up our series with our thoughts and reflections from our trip and the inspirations and ideas that traveling to Guatemala has given us.