Colombian coffee is all about ‘freshness’. Due to its location, the central region of Colombia is able to take multiple harvests. All the coffee in Colombia is harvested by hand. In other countries, where the coffee is grown in flat regions, and where there is only one main harvest, the cherries can be harvested by machine.
The pickers in Colombia collect the berries in baskets. Each time they reach the end of the field they empty their basket into a hessian sack. Each picker has a unique identification number. The pickers are paid by the amount they pick – ‘piece work’. The price they get per kg depends on the time of the season. During the high season they can pick 90 kg per day and get paid around 300 pesos per kg. Pickers can earn up-to 27,000 pesos per day. In the low season they are paid more per kg. The minimum wage in Colombia is 20,000 pesos per day. At the end of the working day the cherries are collected and taken to the processing plant.
Colombian coffee can only be processed using the wet method, as opposed to the natural method. This is due to the humidity here. The cherries would just rot if you left them to dry naturally, and this would ruin the flavour of the coffee.
In the wet process, the fruit covering the seeds/beans is removed before they are dried. Coffee processed by the wet method is called wet processed or washed coffee. The wet method requires the use of specific equipment and substantial quantities of water. The coffee cherries are sorted by immersion in water. Bad or unripe fruit will float and the good ripe fruit will sink. The skin of the cherry and some of the pulp is removed by pressing the fruit by machine in water through a screen. The bean will still have a significant amount of the pulp (mucilage) clinging to it that needs to be removed. This is done in Colombia using the classic ferment-and-wash method. In the ferment-and-wash method of wet processing, the remainder of the pulp is removed by breaking down the cellulose by fermenting the beans with microbes and then washing them with large amounts of water.
For most coffees, mucilage removal through fermentation takes between 24 and 36 hours, depending on the temperature, thickness of the mucilage layer and concentration of the enzymes. The end of the fermentation is assessed by feel, as the parchment surrounding the beans loses its slimy texture and acquires a rougher “pebbly” feel. When the fermentation is complete, the coffee is thoroughly washed with clean water in tanks or in special washing machines. The washed coffee is then placed into silos where it is dried for 24 to 48 hours. The temperature of the driers varies between 20 and 50 deg Centigrade.
5 kg’s of cherries produces 1 kg of parchment, which produces 800 g of green coffee (almond coffee), which produces 600 g of roasted coffee beans.
Each plant produces 2.5 kg’s of cherries each year, therefore it takes 2 plants each year to produce 600 grams of coffee beans.