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6 Things I learned while processing coffee In China

Author: Mason | Editor: Peter & Jack

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In this article, I’m going to share 6 things I learned while working with Torch Coffee’s “Mountain Men” program this past harvest season in Pu’er, Yunnan.

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1. Chinese coffee is really good!

No one in America is familiar with using Chinese coffees as viable single origins. I had never even drank a Chinese coffee before my arrival to Torch. I’d only ever heard about how a large majority of their coffees were used in instant or commercial grade beverages. 

So, when I had my first Yunnan Natural, I was blown away at the potential this coffee possesses. I cant wait to see what’s in store for China’s specialty coffee production.

2. A variety of coffee will always taste different

if grown and produced in different areas. 

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The famed Panama Geisha/Gesha and any like it actually originally came from a village in Ethiopia of the same name. When trials of growing were held, people found that Panama made an exceptional end cup that tastes entirely different from it’s original growing area. 

Another interesting example is the difference in cup quality between a Yunnan Catimor vs. a Guatemalan Catimor. An Instructor from the Sustainable Coffee Institute and 4th generation coffee farmer, Nilton Perez, recently brought us a sample of his personal Catimor. 

Cupped alongside the Yunnan Catimor, there were obvious differences. The Yunnan 

Catimor had more nutty and citrus flavors, whereas the Guatemalan Catimor consisted 

of more fruity flavors.

3. Quality coffee processing requires ridiculous amounts of hands on attention.

It seems like endless days of buying cherries, sorting them, fermenting, drying, repackaging, hulling, roasting, and finally cupping.  

However, this chain of people are required to ensure quality at every level. It’s very easy to cause defects to occur in coffee. 

For example, oil/gas contamination from vehicles is a fairly easy one, chickens pooping on the coffee, contact with water, etc. These things would cause all the hard work made by the previous people in the chain all for nothing.

4. Coffee processing is very difficult in China because of rain. 

Unfortunately, rainy season still goes on during the beginning and middle parts of the harvest season in Pu’er, unlike most other producing countries.

This makes phenolic coffees a normal result in the end cup. Water and humidity can ruin tons of coffee, so people have to go to special measures to ensure specialty coffees. 

This may mean producers build green houses or something similar to protect their coffee from the elements.

5. There can be pre-fermentations of all processes of coffee.

I learned that coffee has different levels of fermentation during drying that depend on variables like, thickness of beans/cherries while drying, patio vs raised bed drying, etc. 

However, I didn’t know that there are also variables of fermentation even BEFORE drying. Coffee begins fermenting as soon as the cherry is picked from the tree, so you can use this to your advantage or ignore it completely. 

If you choose to intentionally pre-ferment in cherry before drying, you can leave it up to around 3 days (depending on your preference) bagged up before it starts to show signs of over-fermenting. 

If done correctly, this will lead to very interesting characteristics in the end cup that you wouldn’t get if you chose to ignore pre fermentation.

6. There is a huge lack of younger generations wanting to be coffee producers. 

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After chatting with a local farmer about how she appreciated the Mountain Men’s help with the harvest season, she mentioned that there aren’t any young people interested in producing coffee. Young people would rather move to the big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, etc. and work in office buildings than to spend their days on a farm in the countryside  in the mountains. 

This may soon be an issue with the whole coffee industry, which could lead to a price increase of coffee and a lesser amount of choices.

Spending the harvest season living on farms under the big sky, delivering literal tons of coffee to the hulling factory, and roasting/cupping countless Mountain Men samples has really taught me a lot about myself and about other people.

I realized that most of the things I complain about being hard work, are actually quite easy compared to what coffee producers deal with every year. They’re overwhelmed with trying to produce a quality crop, protect from diseases, protecting the cherries from getting wet during drying, and the list goes on and on. 

So, I was happy to spend time understanding their problems and offering my assistance where I could. 

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If you think YOU might be interested in joining the Mountain Men team and helping local coffee farmers this next harvest season you can contact Shirley@torchcoffee.cn

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