A revolution is occurring in coffee today, and you likely don’t know what it is. You don’t know about it because it is happening where coffee is being grown around the world. This is the Producer’s Revolution. Coffee is grown in a particular zone around the equator known as the “Coffee Belt” between the Tropic of Capricorn and Cancer – 27 Degrees from the equator in either direction. Most modern coffee consumers are savvy enough to know coffee is the seed of a fruit and that it is eventually roasted before it is ground and brewed at your local cafes. Most know the roaster to be the author of the coffee, while others are more partial to their barista; however, the producer or farmer’s role in the coffee is often unknown or overlooked.
Coffee is an agricultural product; therefore, its initial flavor and potential for flavor are derived from the terroir. The soil, the slope, elevation, and exposure to sun, rain, and wind all play a role in the nutrients the seed is filled with and the potency of those nutrients. A grower’s job is first to provide the best conditions for the plant to grow in, then understand precisely when to harvest. The next step is virtually unknown to most consumers; however, fermentation is a critical step in coffee production. For a long time, coffee fermentation was more of a loose descriptor for letting the beans soak in their own pulp and water to help loosen them before drying. It was never the involved, chemically dynamic, transformative process that it is in wine or beer; however, that is all starting to change.
About eight or nine years ago, some producers started experimenting with different ways of approaching fermentation and drying. They started leaving more fruit on the bean while it dried and paying more attention to temperature stability. They began adding flavorings and seasonings, like cinnamon and fruit rinds, during the fermentation and drying process. This was most prevalent in Costa Rica, where coffee production among smallholders was an artisanal pursuit rather than a circumstance.
Today producers worldwide are experimenting with aerobic fermentation – this means it is done in a controlled environment without oxygen. They add tangerines and pineapple to the mix and start to play using different yeast strands, just as you would with beer. The results have been excellent. A new category of coffee is forming that showcases the producer’s stamp on the coffee.
This new development sometimes offends coffee purists who strictly believe in tasting the terroir for its natural splendor. In contrast, others marvel at the exotic flavors they can create through this new craft processing. However you may feel about it, the producers have added value to their products and are getting more attention for their efforts.