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Subscription Spotlight No. 3: Bernardo Chaves

Similar to our last subscription spotlight, our latest Roaster’s Choice and Single Origin sneak peek also comes from the steep hills along the Andes Mountains— even coming from the same family! We’re excited to share with you: Colombia Bernardo Chaves.

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[Bernado along the hillsides of his Palo Seco]

Over the last three years, we’ve developed a relationship with Nelson Chaves, a producer Xavier (our co-owner and green buyer) describes as a “quiet and humble spirit.” On Metric’s most recent trip to Colombia, this rapport led to not only another year of delicious coffee from Nelson but also a new partnership with his father, Bernardo.

After working with the son in this talented coffee-producing tandem, Xavier knew Metric needed to form a relationship with Bernardo as well. X persistently requested samples throughout 2017 and 2018; however, Bernardo was difficult to contact. He had an ongoing contract to deliver a specific yield to a commodity coffee buyer, so he lacked the crop and time to correspond with us. Bernardo became this mythic figure in our minds. “Up until this year, [he] was like the Wizard of Oz— I knew he existed but never saw him or knew anything about him other than his name,” X articulated.

[The fantastical, steep terrain that makes up Nelson and Bernardo's land]

Last November, a human gave our expectations life. With Nelson’s help and with an earlier, abundant harvest, Xavier managed to visit Bernardo in person at his farm, Palo Seco. “I believe, had we not been persistent” we wouldn’t have been able to “pin Bernardo for a face-to-face.” Although difficult to track down, once there, Bernardo welcomed Xavier with warmth. He invited Xavier to his farm and into his home (the very home our friend and liaison Nelson was born). A stout, strong man who “smiles with his eyes,” Bernardo may be seventy plus years old, but whether playing with his white, poodle-type farm dog, Nino or developing his coffee practice to keep up with his son, he exercises an infectious energy. Sowed into a life of farm work, this energy pays dividends: Xavier was blown away by his crop of castillo and caturra.

[Nelson playing with Nino]

Trying to secure a portion of the crop, Bernado was at first skeptical of the prices Xavier offered. You see, Bernardo had almost exclusively sold to one specific commodity buyer on a contract basis and at market price, a wage that is “low and unsustainable” long-term for most family-sized producers like the Chaveses. Bernardo’s logic derived from valuing a “committed buyer, no matter the price.” Even though his coffee scored far above commodity grade, Bernardo was settling for the guaranteed consistency of what he knew. Xavier understood that to gain his trust “Bernardo had to see how well Nelson was doing” before accepting our earnest offer for his beautiful coffee.

[Nelson, Nino, and Bernado Chaves]

Xavier poignantly tied a bow to recounting Bernado and his first of what will be hopefully many trips to Palo Seco: “Our intention is to be fair every step of the way, which isn't a new concept or something re-invented by us (or anyone for that fact), but it’s a chance to be mutually good to one another with the result being good coffee for all.”

Whether you’re a subscriber getting a sneak peek or you awaited the coffees official launch, we’re excited to share this good coffee and story with you. Here’s to family, sustainable trade, and radiant coffee!

Part of a Process, Chapter III: Dry/Natural and Honey Process Coffee

 Pictured Above: Pre-sorted coffee cherries; dark, ripe cherries will be hand-selected to undergo the dry/natural process
Photo Credit: Ryan Lodge

 

Dry/Natural Process

At one point avoided because of perceptions of cloying sweetness, overly floral notes, and even vinegar-like fermented flavors, the dry or natural process is gaining ground in the specialty coffee industry by overcoming those stereotypes—in fact, well done dry processed coffee can be something balanced, complex, and delicious.

In undergoing the natural process, cherries are plucked from the shrub and then simply dried on patios or raised beds. In the case of Metric’s El Pilar Natural y Honey Hybrid, the natural lot is dried over twelve days. The coffee cherry is left on the bean throughout the entire drying process. Because the cherry stays intact, distinct flavors from the fruit are introduced to the bean. The bean itself interacts with natural microbes of the cherry that impart unique regional flavors, natural sugars, and fermented fruit tones naturals are known for as enzymes break down the mucilage. Before export, the cherry’s pulp and parchment are scrubbed mechanically from the bean.

Although ideal for drier climates, Central and South American countries are keen to master the natural process. It can prove to be very labor intensive, requiring manual sorting to sift out defects and careful attention in assuring drying occurs consistently and completely. Yet it can be done, and coffees like this El Pilar Natural y Honey prove that this processing is viable anywhere if enough work and attention are given to it. As the process gains traction, we can find natural processed coffees that have it all—balanced and unique fruit flavors working in tandem with the inherent flavors of the bean.  The trick is, just like with wet processed coffee, to do it well. It is yet another example of the forever changing nature of the coffee industry, and another reason why cupping everything with an open mind is important. 

 Pictured Above: Mill worker turning coffee cherries via the dry/natural process at Finca El Pilar
Photo Credit: Ryan Lodge

Pulped Natural/Honey Processed/Semi-dry

 Gaining popularity across Central and South America is the honey process. 

“Honey process” is an admittedly conflated term that refers to a process in which some outer layers remaining in contact with the bean during the drying process. Some grade honeying with how many outer layers are left to dry with the bean, and some grade honeying in terms of how often the bean is turned during the drying process, or in general how long the drying is managed (yellow, red, and black are terms referring to the length of time the bean is dried with the mucilage left on). Although terminology and definition of such terms differ across producers and roasters alike, the important part of the honey process is that some parts of the the sticky outer layers are left to ferment, lending an amplified acidity unique to both the region and the coffee. 

For Metric’s Guatemala El Pilar Natural y Honey Hybrid, select lots are honeyed to a “yellow,” with some skin of the cherry and a portion of the pulp being removed before being left to ferment and dry. These lots are blended in with with natural process coffees, and the result brews into a balanced yet vibrant brew. Pleasant wine-like acidity and strawberry notes come through beautifully, and showcase the best of natural and honey-processed coffees all in one cup.

Part of a Process, Chapter I: Coffee Cherry Anatomy

 

Here’s a fun fact: coffee starts out as a cherry! 

If you already knew that, this post might not have a lot of new information for you. If your mind is warped over that zinger of a fact, buckle up! We’re talking about the very basics of what coffee is. This is an introductory, brief, yet accurate article about the coffee cherry. Hopefully this basic knowledge can serve as a starting point for new coffee nerds, or will prove to be a little light information to put in your pocket for some oddly specific trivia night.

Let’s start with the fact that coffee begins life as a cherry. They grow on shrubs in groups right off the stem of the branch, are round or elliptoid, and are typically a kelly green at first, soften to a yellow-orange hue as they mature, and deepen to a bright red when ripe. The coffee shrubs and cherries are different depending on the varietal of the plant itself, and harvest seasons vary based on the hemisphere, country and micro-climate of each coffee farm. Things like precipitation, temperature, qualities of the soil, and altitude are all extremely important factors when it comes to how that cherry ripens and what flavors are present when all is said in done.

So now that we have the cherry, when does the coffee bean make an appearance? The cherry itself has several layers, the center of which are two coffee beans. These two beans mirror each other, like a sphere that has been cut down the middle. Moving from the inside out, it goes as follows: bean, silverskin, parchment, pectin layer, pulp, and the outside layer of the cherry.

Image sourced from Wikimedia Commons

The cherry undergoes an intense process of soaking, de-pulping, fermenting, many other micro-steps. It is then dried, hulled, and sorted until we are left with a flaxen, hint-of-green bean that is not a far cry from what our finished product.

From this point, producers export bags of what is known as “green coffee,” roasters load it by the scoop into their respective roasting mechanisms (Metric uses a vintage cast iron Probat roaster from the 1960s), and 9-15 minutes later a chocolaty brown coffee bean emerges. 

We grind it, steep it in hot water, and enjoy a nice simple cup of coffee. 

At each step, there is opportunity for mistakes to occur, for something to compromise the quality of the final product. These are not simple processes, in case that hasn’t been made clear. In abbreviating these steps, we must add the note that there are hundreds of people working incredibly hard to make this nice and simple cup of coffee happen. Your cup of coffee is really and truly made by humans, made possible by their substantial efforts. To honor these people, keep supporting local roasteries that support and act upon direct trade ideals. Keep asking where your commodities are coming from, and keep enjoying what is good.