The Art of Farming Coffee Slideshow

By
Maryse Chevriere

Upper Mogiana, were the farm is located, is one of the most important coffee producing regions in Brazil. The property spans some fove million feet with an approximate 1,200 hectares of arabica coffee planted. There's no denying its an impressive sight to see — not unlike a wine vineyard, but with plants that are more fat and lush.

The Farm: Fazenda Nossa Senhora Aparecida

Maryse Chevriere

Upper Mogiana, were the farm is located, is one of the most important coffee producing regions in Brazil. The property spans some fove million feet with an approximate 1,200 hectares of arabica coffee planted. There's no denying its an impressive sight to see — not unlike a wine vineyard, but with plants that are more fat and lush.

Hand-Picking the Coffee

Maryse Chevriere

When the plants are young, up to six or seven years, they must be picked by hand because they are not mature enough to handle the intense shaking vibration of the large picking machines. In this process, workers literally strip the branches of their fruit with a fast, repetitive pulling motion. What is absolutely essential, however, is that the the new leaves at the end of a branch be left undamaged — that's next year's crop. Mess with that and you'll have less to show for the following harvest.

Separating the Fruit from the Debris

Maryse Chevriere

Once a sufficient amount of ripe fruit has been pulled off, it gets collected from the tarp underneath the plant and is placed in a round, flat mesh basket. The concept for removing the leaves and debris is simple: Toss the berries in the air and let gravity do its job. If the technique seems simple, it's only because those with experience have the unique talent of making it look that way. It's tough work, but that's what makes it a real show-stopper. 

Mechanized Picking

Maryse Chevriere

Sixty percent of the harvest is picked by machines — there are three on the farm, each capable of collecting 480 kilograms of fruit at a time. It may look like a beast of a machine but it's really more of a gentle giant. Passing through the plants row by row the intertwining teeth jostle the leaves without damaging them and shake off the fruit.

Mechanized Picking

Maryse Chevriere

Normally making two passes to make sure as much fruit as possible is picked, the efficiency of the mechanized pickers is that the berries get immediately deposited in a truck that will transport them to the mill's holding bins. Streamlining the amount of time it takes for the picked fruit to get to the mill is essential in helping avoid fermentation which would ruin the coffee.

The Reception Bins

Maryse Chevriere

The goal is for all of the coffee to be delivered to the mill's reception bins within two to four hours of being picked, it's critical to maintaing a high-quality final product. The three independent bins are loaded from the top and can allow for different cultivars to be grouped together.

Starting the Mill

Maryse Chevriere

In the first step of the mill's operating process, the berries are released from the bins and caught on a conveyer belt underneath that passes them through a slotted platform to help separate out any small leaves and sticks.

Separating the Overripe Cherries

Maryse Chevriere

After passing through the slots the water starts and helps carry the cherries through the mill. The water also has the added purpose of separating the different types of cherries — the green and ripe cherries float while the overripes sink. The overripe cherries, or tree-dried naturals, are actually what Brazil is known for, they're sweet and have body, making them great for espresso.

Milling the Coffee

Maryse Chevriere

Though the milling process looks complicated, Moore puts it this way, "they're huge steps, but all of them are fundamentally basic — like a giant erector set." Still, however basic, these steps are essential. There are simple functions, like removing the beans from the cherries, while other steps are crucial to reducing the risk of damaging the coffee. For example, this is where the pulp (which is actually a contaminant) gets removed from the bean. Also during the milling process the beans pass through a centrifuge which sucks the moisture from the raw coffee, allowing it to spend less time on the drying patio.

The Drying Patio

Maryse Chevriere

The next step in the process is for the beans to be laid out to dry on the expansive concrete patio. The natural beans stay out on average about two days to dry, the fully washed beans are there for three. This notion that with coffee, the devil is in the details seems especially true during this part of the process. Aside from the obvious threat of the elements, and that the beans need to be constantly agitated and raked, there are also details like the depth of the pile to consider — if it's too thick and the beans can't get air, the'll start to ferment. 

Mechanized Drying

Maryse Chevriere

After the coffee beans have spent the sufficient amount of time on the drying patio and have reached the correct level of internal humidity (40%) they're brought in and run through the mechanical drier. The end goal of this process is to have the internal humidity reduced down to around 12%.

Storing, Sorting, Bagging

Maryse Chevriere

Once dried, the beans are stored in giant lots, after which they are sorted according to a number of different characteristics — color, size, density. Perhaps most importantly, the beans are tested through an advanced machine that reads for defects in color using ultraviolet light. Ones that don't pass are tossed out, which is important considering that one bad bean in a group can change the grade of the coffee. And from here, the coffee heads off to roasting, cupping, and packaging — and with those equally crucial steps, a whole other set of risks, challenges, as well as triumphs of technique and artistry. But when the coffee is as good as this is, it's worth it.