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Washed Coffee; Wet Milling

Our coffee is washed or wet milled, which describes how we get from fruit to parchment. Dry milling follows wet milling. Here’s a well-written article explaining about washed coffee.

… with a washed coffee, you are tasting the coffee itself – the origin, the coffee variety, the terroir – and not the impact of the processing method.”

Coffee gets wet milled the same day the fruit is picked. The fruit is put into the hopper, and any floating fruit (inferior quality) is skimmed off. In the next step, the pulper extracts the coffee seeds (the beans) which then go into a fermenting and rinsing tank to remove the remaining mucilage. After pulping, parchment ferments in a tank overnight before being spread on the sun deck to dry.

The beans are spread out to dry under a covered sun deck and are periodically turned.  They dry at least overnight and maybe longer, depending on what coffee is in the pipeline to be processed after it.

Later the beans get mechanically finish-dried to a specific moisture content for quality consistency.  The beans are still inside a thin, paper-like husk, and the beans are referred to as parchment coffee, or parchment, at this stage.

Up to now, the beans have been dried from the outside of the bean, in.  By letting the coffee rest at this parchment stage, the moisture gets a chance to equalize throughout the bean.  The parchment rests in a light-, temperature- and humidity-controlled area. How long it rests is another one of those tweak-able variables.  Most of the moisture probably equalizes in a matter of days, but some people like it to rest a minimum of 60 days.

It’s Pruning Time

Just under two weeks ago, now that the days are getting longer and the rains should be starting, our crew stumped the blocks of trees for 2019. The coffee land looks so much neater with 2/3 cleaned up. One third is still tall and a bit crammed, but those trees will be the big producers for 2019. They get to meet the pruning saw next year.

We use block stumping because of our terrain and other considerations. This photo taken at another farm shows stumping in rows. The trees on the left were stumped last year and will produce fruit this year. The ones on the right are in their second year of production. You can imagine the differences in airflow, sunlight, and tree crowding when picking coffee, when using blocks vs. rows.

The College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources (CTAHR) of the University of Hawaii has an extension office just about a mile away. This is an amazing resource for farmers. They have even created a website dedicated to education for coffee growers. Last year my mom and I took the pruning and the coffee borer beetle workshops they offered. This was special mother-daughter bonding time for me, (a) since my mom loves learning things like this, and (b) she could learn first-hand why we’re taking care of the land the way we are. There are different challenges than in her time, like beetle, nematode, and a desirable environment for pickers (who want access & won’t use tall ladders). In her time, they’d often get 20,000 pounds of fruit/acre. Now, it’s often 3000-5000/acre.

These workshops are great because the facilitators are very knowledgeable, helpful, and personable, and it brings farmers together to learn from each others’ experiences. And the old-timers sometimes come by, I assume to both learn and impart knowledge. Last year Mel Kunitake, a friend/peer of my mom’s, chimed in a few times. He’s featured about midway in this article in Hawai’i Magazine.

I decided to take the workshops again this year to see if I could absorb or learn more, and to learn from others. CTAHR has 18 acres for demonstrations and research. I really like how they do the field demonstrations. They give you a situation, and then they do “fish bowl” pruning. (I named it that way based on corporate training events I’ve attended). They ask the attendees for what they’d prune and why, then they explain what they’d do and why. It’s a great learning model.

Stumping is pretty stressful for the life of the tree. You might lose 10% of your trees.

Here’s an example of one of our 2018-stumped casualties. The ever-present autograph tree is there, but it wasn’t the reason the coffee died. But if you don’t control the autograph tree, and it’s a never-ending job, they can grow to be trees as tall as 35 feet! This stump & invader will be removed, and a new (nematode-resistant) grafted tree will be planted in a few months.

Stumping with a nurse vertical helps reduce tree shock and tree loss. You might lose 0-2% of your trees vs. 10% without a nurse. It’s recommended in dry conditions and at higher elevations. One vertical is left on the stump until new growth on the tree reaches 6-10 inches, at which point the nurse is removed. We don’t use this technique because it’s more work.


In case any of you are fascinated, here’s a poster from CTAHR about pruning.

The Old Days

This coffee business has had the unexpected blessing of getting me to ask questions about the old days. It’s still a bit fuzzy in my mind. The oldest child and #1 son, Uncle Harold, or UH, as he refers to himself to his nieces & nephews, told me his days as a coffee farmer were over at age 14. He had ideas of how to improve coffee farming, but Grandpa wanted to do it the way it had always been done. When our grandparents later divvied up coffee land amongst the adult kids, UH declined; he was college educated, was living on the mainland and wasn’t going to be a coffee farmer.

Good thing for me. UH was the link between my parents. UH and my dad worked together as civil engineers in Northern California. When Mom went to university on the mainland, she spent school vacations with her big brother, and Dad just happened to be around (wink wink).

As UH told me … our grandfather’s father acquired a small convenience store (the building in the photo) on 3+ acres of coffee land.  Then, Grandpa acquired another 3+ acres directly across the highway. Then he acquired another almost 4 acres.

Grandpa later sold the first two properties to finance the education of his children. The third parcel, Grandpa subdivided and Bea’s Knees Farm is the majority of that parcel.

Grandpa labored 364 days, except New Years day, all throughout his life. UH (& the other kids) labored too from age 9 or 10 until 18 —  dawn to dusk devotion — metaphorically speaking a ‘life of blood, sweat and tears.”

A short aside: This is an old postcard from United Airlines. The kids (“Lisa and her brother”) were known by someone in the family who received this card that I found. The postcard description on the back says, “School vacations coincide with harvests so the youngsters can help to pick coffee beans.”

No traveling, camps of enriched activities, TV, video games, or cell phone distractions for these kids. They knew hard manual work. I wonder if they liked school better than “vacation.”

The family picked coffee and hauled the bags of coffee cherries by donkey and the kids’ young backs to the kuriba. Most farmers built this simple facility on their property. Mechanization was minimal in those days. The photo shows our family’s former kuriba as it looks today, now dilapidated. It’s another family’s property now. It’s next to the former Murata store/house.

At the kuriba the red fruit was pulverized and put into an overnight fermentation box. In the morning the beans were washed, put on conveyors for spreading on platforms called hoshidana for drying in 3-4 days. After harvesting, they fertilized and pruned the trees.  Weed control was by herbicide and by hoeing. One of UH’s additional chores was moving their donkey around to various grazing areas.

At that time, the final product from the family was parchment, which was sold to American Factors Limited in Kailua Kona. They processed the parchment to green beans (unroasted coffee).

And what kind of coffee did our grandparents drink? By the time I was around and aware, it was Folger’s instant coffee. Kona coffee was too expensive.

UH in 2019 inspecting Bea’s Knees Farm

A Coffee Pot Terrarium

The idea for a coffee pot terrarium came to my attention just recently. I think this is right up Bea’s alley. Most people share photos of children or pets; she shares photos of plants, flowers, and fruits. My mom has an amazing green thumb. And she enjoys being creative. She’ll think something is neat, and then she wants to make it.

She grows many exotic plants that often require tricks to get them to thrive or to produce fruit. Cherimoya is one example that comes to mind. You have to do the job of the bee/Bea. You go out in the afternoon, find male flowers, brush off pollen and collect into, e.g., a film canister. Then find female flowers and dip your paintbrush in the pollen and then into the base of the flower that has the stigma. Before she learned that, she had one fruit on the whole tree. Now she often gets many.

I digress. This post is for Bea and you creative types. These two articles describe this clever idea to make a coffee pot terrarium:

And one from acharmingproject

I just recently donated two old coffee pots, too. Darn.

Storing Coffee

How do we store our roasted coffee that we personally drink? We store whole beans in an airtight jar in a kitchen cupboard. We grind the amount we’re going to brew right before the water boils. You want to reduce exposure of your beans to air, heat, humidity, and light. That’s not hard to do.

For more on the topic, here’s one of many articles, How to Store Coffee.

And, here’s another interesting article about “to freeze or not to freeze” your beans.