Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

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Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Jon Brudvig on Thu Feb 25, 2010 8:15 am

I just posted this to our blog, and thought I would share it here as well.

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This is something that's intrigued us for quite some time. We're always interested in what kinds of experiments are being done in origin to produce coffees that push the envelope and stumble upon new flavor profiles in the cup, and a lot of work has been done to this end lately. We've seen interesting experiments with fermentation procedures in Hawaii, SL-28 plantings outside of Kenya, incredible dry-process coffees from Ethiopia, and some exciting pulped naturals coming out of Panama and elsewhere. Finding and tasting these new coffees is perhaps my favorite part of this job.

We think we have another new idea that has some potential, and we'd love to collaborate with a producer to see what we can do. Here's a quick run down:

It is generally accepted that the best coffees come from relatively low yielding varieties like Typica, Bourbon, Sl-28, Gesha, etc... In 2006, at the SCAA conference, there was a discussion about an experiment designed to test for the correlation between productivity and cup quality among two common varieties of Coffea Arabica. A research team gathered beans from both Caturra (higher yielding) and Bourbon (lower yielding) plants grown on the same farm, harvested on the same day, and processed and roasted in precisely the same manner. In numerous blind cupping trials, tasters rated the Bourbon significantly higher.

The experiment was conducted again. Only this time, researchers used flower removal to reduce the Caturra's yeild to an amount similar to that of the Bourbon's. In this cupping trial, there was no significant difference in quality. This suggests that lower yield may be the primary reason for the superior quality of the "heirloom" varieties. This shouldn't be much of a surprise; With many other agricultural crops it is well known and accepted that lower yield has a strong correlation with higher quality. Why should coffee be any different?

I stumbled upon some more support for this correlation this morning when I read an article from Kenneth Davids on the Coffee Review blog. Here, Davids discusses the controversy over the new Ruiru 11 plantings in Kenya, which many roasters and cuppers believe produces inferior coffee when compared to the currant-laden SL-28 coffees. It is a great article, and one part really stuck out at me: "The more thoughtful agronomists I spoke to nuanced the situation. Essentially, they admitted the Ruiru 11 cup is sometimes simple and empty, but the reason, they say, is that farmers don’t prune these new Ruiru 11 trees aggressively enough, so they simply produce too much coffee with a diffused or empty character. Cut the Ruiru 11 trees back so that they bear less fruit and the coffee they produce will taste just like coffee from the lower-bearing SL28 and SL34."

Here's my question: If higher yielding varieties produce better coffee when their yield is restricted, either by pruning or flower removal, what would happen if the yield was highly restricted on an SL-28, Bourbon, or Typica plant? Could we make an even more Kenya-like Kenya? Could we make an even sweeter El Salvador Bourbon? We want to find out.

We want to collaborate with a producer who can produce a small quantity of coffee from trees that have at least half of their blossoms removed at flowering time. To anyone who is growing a high-quality, low yielding variety, has the ability to wash small batches, and the interest to give this a try; Please contact us! No quantity is too small, and we will, of course, be willing to pay very fairly. We want to work with you on this!

-Jon
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Edwin Martinez on Fri Mar 12, 2010 7:13 pm

This is a GREAT question!

The answer is, it dies.

There are many ways to "manipulate nature" or simulate things that aren't.

Many varietals that have lower yield also have a longer life span and don't need as much EXTRA attention in higher elevations. They literally are a more natural fit. If an sl28, or bourbon were at low elevation, they would not survive disease or pest very well and it's values become irrelevant as it struggles to battle something it's not equipped to deal with.

6 years ago I was curious how shade impacted cup quality so I compared coffee we produced under heavy shade and some with none at 5500 feet. I thought since I was doing this, I might as well do it at 4500 feet as well. All producing countries have their own methods and variations for classifying and naming coffee. In Guatemala it has been common to break it down SHB (stricly hard bean) Fancy, HB (hard bean), SH (semi hard), Extra Prime, Prime, Extra Good, Good.

In Guatemala the last 3 categories are essentially non existent today and the remaining are basically a density or hardness rating. It is commonly accepted that the more dense come at higher elevations. However hardness is REALLY a function of yield, or more importantly how long it took to yield whatever was yielded. It represents slow growth. I find some of the brightest acidity and most intense sweetness come from a coffee that struggled the most through a longer period of time in a season.

So back to my experiment 6 years ago. I put all 4 coffees on the table and made an observation. The shaded coffee of lower elevation that did in fact grow slower than the non shaded next to it (we had to pick it later) cupped exactly the same as the non shaded at higher elevation. And what about the shaded at higher elevation? Well we picked that last and I believe the shade was slowing it's growth down to where there were diminishing returns. The coffee was simply struggling TOO much to survive. It cupped the same as the non shaded coffee next to it and of course due to shade it yielded even less. The only difference was these trees were dying.

It's a fine line. It turns out most of our coffee at 4500-5000' has more shade than the coffee at 5000-6000'. They're just happier that way.

Bottom line Jon - what you're curious about is how would a caturra or catuai do at higher elevation. Of our crop maybe 10% is Caturra and 10% Catuai. They desire to yield more, but can't and they're wired to fight diseases and pests that we just don't have, but they are not thick skinned enough (literally) to stand up to the cooler weather at night. And due to taking longer to mature at a higher elevation (i don't mean the fruit during harvest, but the tree over it's life span) paired with already having a shorter life span by design they don't yield a great return when you weigh out every cost that goes into it's life span and the value of the coffee it produces over that life span. So why do we have them? They grow fast. They're quick to spread roots and useful where land erosion is a problem due to the land being SO steep, or being next to a road, river etc. There are other reasons, but that is a common one for us. It is not all that different than you buying a smaller roaster than what you need or should have, but doing so anyway because there may be times where you want to roast a smaller batch, but more than a sample.

I find the cup quality and profile the same. The only time I think it's appropriate to make comparisons is when 2 varietals are produced in a region where they SHOULD both thrive. Usually when one varietal on a cupping table is so different than another it is almost always due to coming from a completely different elevation, soil type, rainfall etc. I realize I'm probably in a smaller school of thinking and I don't want to downplay difference in taste among varietals, but I think we often focus too much on this when the conversation may have more to do with the obvious. The realities of how terroir impacts the cup.

An inverse way to explore this, is cup a bunch of varietals grown in a VERY CONTROLLED greenhouse in Bellingham, Washington just above sea level. It's environment is almost too perfect. It's unnatural. In fact they're the highest yielding coffee shrubs I've seen. Ever. It's all very drinkable and it all tastes the same.

A third totally different perspective on the same is what happens when we plant our bourbon that is designed to thrive in high elevation, just a bit higher? It too struggles TOO much and dies. My take away here is a little struggle is not bad, TOO much struggle is.
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Robert Goble on Fri Mar 12, 2010 11:00 pm

I'm just loving this. Edwin -- Wow. Amazing stuff you guys. And here I am stuck doing accounting reading this amazing stuff. Wow again. I so bloody LOVE coffee and coffee people.
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby andynewbom on Sat Mar 13, 2010 7:52 am

Edwin is my coffee hero. :D
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Robert Goble on Sat Mar 13, 2010 12:53 pm

I believe that Edwin posted this from Guatemala...
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Edwin Martinez on Sat Mar 13, 2010 9:19 pm

Yes, I am in Huehuetenango right now with Casper from the Collective.

Looking back, I'm a little embarrassed that my entire response was a bit of a tangent.

I rambled more about how higher elevation or less sun both restrict yield and the questions was "what happens if you restrict a low yielding varietal by pruning." Right???

The answer?

I don't know.

However if you heavily prune a healthy low yielding varietal, new branches grow out faster and I THINK existing branches may be more fruitful than they would have been otherwise.

We can try this in a controlled manner and see how this impacts cup quality by summer of 2011. I may need someone to contact me and remind me to post results.
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby andynewbom on Sun Mar 14, 2010 7:29 pm

edwin:

he was talking about removing a good amount of the flowers NOT pruning recipre or whole branches I think. He is talking about restricting the Flowering and FRUITING not the branches.

My guess is that this would work better on older varietals especially when using aggovio reis and para techniques so you have fewer verticales. But not sure.

Either way Edwin rocks! And I will be at the finca menana!
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Jon Brudvig on Mon Mar 15, 2010 6:03 am

Edwin,

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply. I'll take a tangent like that any day.

Like Andy said, I am mainly interested in restricting yield by removing flowers or immature fruits, but I would be very interested in seeing what would happen if yield was heavily restricted by pruning as well.

If lower yield does indeed correlate with greater quality, I can think of several reasons why it may have this effect:

1) Increased leaf/berry ratio. If a tree has fewer fruits to ripen, it should have more sugar (and maybe flavor and aroma compounds) that can go to each one. This reason is the basis for the experiment I proposed above.

If this indeed is the cause for the increase in quality that is sometimes seen with lower yields, then removing a large percentage of the immature fruits or flowers should, in theory at least, result in even greater quality. There is one large possible contradiction that I can see, however: having fewer fruits to ripen would probably mean that they would ripen more quickly, and faster ripening and development is rarely associated with quality.

Restricting yield by pruning would not necessarily have an effect on the leaf/berry ratio. It could have the opposite effect. The remaining branches could set more fruit than normal, and the decrease in berries would not keep pace with the decrease in leaves. I would still be extremely interested in testing this out though. If you do it, please keep us informed Edwin.

2) I suppose soil resources or relative root mass could also be the driving force here. In other words, root/fruit ratio is the important factor, and if this is the case, any decrease in berry number should produce an increase in quality, whether it comes from fruit thinning or heavy pruning.

3) A combination of 1, 2, and who knows what else.

4) Coincidence is also a possibility. It could be that yield and quality don't have a causal relationship. I don't believe that this is the case, but I don't deny it as a possibility. This comes back to what you mentioned Edwin.

Maybe the higher yielding varieties are often planted at lower elevations or in full sun, over-fertilized, etc... In a way, this comes back to the stress issue as well. Like you said, a moderate amount of stress can be beneficial, and maybe the higher yielding varieties are often grown in less stressful situations or are inherently so robust that they do not respond to stress in the same way that some of the older varieties do.



In any case, I think this is a great discussion to be having, and I really hope to see some exploration on this relationship. I don't think hand thinning of fruit or flowers is a practical or efficient way to produce a special coffee, but I do think that, on a trial basis at least, it could really help us gain a better understanding on the effect that yield has on quality.

It would be awesome if you could test this out Edwin. If I were to do it, I would select a few Typica or Bourbon trees, and at flowering time or right after fruit set, I would remove at least half of the flowers or fruit by hand. Once the remaining cherries were ripe, I would prepare the coffee from these trees in a small batch of their own, and do the same to a few neighboring trees of the same variety (without flowers or fruit removed), taking care to handle them exactly the same. Cupping these two batches side by side is perhaps my ultimate coffee dream. Seriously.

-Jon
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby R Miguel Meza on Mon Mar 15, 2010 12:23 pm

Jon,

what you describe is exactly something i meant to get done here in Hawaii this season. didn't get around to it unfortunately. but will definitely do next season. though on red caturra not typica or bourbon. going to try and do on a reasonable scale. take about 1 acre block and thin out half. keep batches separate the whole season and have several harvests to compare. also going to compare cup quality to that of coffee from the nearest bourbon trees. will be interesting. what i generally have noticed with caturras here is some similarity in flavor to bourbon but more subtle and less mouthfeel and sweetness compared to bourbon and typica though acidity is typically the same and sometimes higher. be curious if it will cup similar to the lower yielding cultivars particularly in terms of sweetness with yields reduced.
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Jon Brudvig on Tue Mar 16, 2010 8:29 am

That is awesome Miguel. Please keep us updated on the progress and results. I'm excited to hear how it goes.

-Jon
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Luis Rodriguez on Tue Mar 23, 2010 5:37 pm

Jon:

Since Edwin and Miguel will be doing some restraining experimets or like-methods what I could offer here is coming with a simlar approach of researching the "less is better theory" which is always fascinating... since my farm is quite small i could select higher yield bourbons trees vs. low yielding bourbons trees from similar conditions and see what happens, i mean comparing cup profiles among group of healthy trees producing what seems comparatively more/less fruits... plus there is some Pacas within the same farm so i can use them for references as well... i'm sure there will be some variables to take into account for sure but sounds like fun....anyway, let me know if you find it interesting...

cheers,

Luis

PS: and if someone did this already please share...
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Jon Brudvig on Wed Mar 24, 2010 7:55 am

Luis,

I think it would be awesome to cup those coffees side by side. Like you said, there are many variables to contend with, but it would still provide another piece of information.

If two trees of the same variety and same age grown in similar conditions had significantly different yields, what do you think would be responsible? Do you think this is a seasonal phenomenon? In other words, if you monitored the two plants and compared their yield over a five or ten year period, do you think the overall production would be similar?

Please let me know if you go ahead with this.

-Jon
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Re: Innovative Coffee Roaster Seeks Likeminded Producer

Postby Luis Rodriguez on Sat Mar 27, 2010 10:48 am

Jon:

Well i guess bienality could be a factor on trees planted on different times, but also i guess it should be something regarding each plant, like some people are better at sports than others you know, i guess this is something geneticist look for example when doing massal selection to improve varieties... the best looking trees both phenotypic and genotypic... so i guess overall coffee plots should be producing the same if they have the same age and similar growing conditions but i guess (my thinking) this should be not the case when comparing just two trees, anycase this is something we can find out...

take care, i'll keep you guys updated...

Luis
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