Fragrance, aroma and flavour

The three major parts of coffee evaluation include fragrance, aroma and flavour.

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Fragrance (dry ground coffee)
This is the first and often most intriguing and complex part of the sensory evaluation. The fragrance is the perception of volatile compounds that escape the ground coffee. These volatile compounds are the least stable (weak inter-molecular bonding) and this is why they leave the ground coffee and enter the environment. With lots of practice and focus it is possible to pick up particular fragrances from the ground coffee, which enables us to give a description of the smell (eg. apple, citrus, chocolate, caramel etc). The way in which a coffee is grown and processed, as well as the particular variety of coffee used, has a dramatic effect on its fragrance. For example, naturally processed coffees often have a fragrance of fruit, berries and chocolate, whereas the same coffee processed using the washed method may smell of caramel, citrus, flowers and honey.

These fragrances are not tasted in the cup. As the smells are made of volatile compounds, it is not possible to keep them in the cup of coffee. As soon as the fragrance leaves the coffee, it becomes less complex and vibrant. This is why we grind fresh for every cup of coffee we make!


Aroma (wet/brewing coffee)
This is the smell of brewing coffee. The aromas of brewing coffee likely include caramel, nuts, chocolate, citrus, honey and brown sugar. When hot water comes into contact with ground coffee, the coffee absorbs the water until it is saturated. Once saturation has occurred, the flavour and aroma within the coffee grounds can be released. The change of state of water from liquid to vapour (steam) also helps some volatile compounds to escape the ground coffee and enter the air. The aromatics released are slightly different to the dry ground coffee fragrance as these particular aromatics are slightly less volatile (they needed hot water to allow them to be released). This is shown by the fact that cold coffee has significantly less aroma than hot coffee and cold-brewed and cold-drip coffee have almost no aromatic element.

These aromas are not always picked up in the tasting part of the process. In fact, the majority of flavours are perceived through the olfactory sense (smell). This is one of the major reasons why a coffee enjoyed in a ceramic or glass vessel will taste better than a coffee in a paper cup with a lid. This is also why your taste is affected when you have a blocked nose. This can be proven by holding your nose and drinking a coffee, then try it without holding your nose. The difference is remarkable.


Flavour (taste, texture, balance)
This is the actual tasting of the brewed coffee. Coffee is slurped into the mouth from a deep-bowled spoon. This is to aerate and spread the coffee throughout the palette. The aim of this part of the evaluation is to determine things like texture, acidity, sweetness, saltiness, bitterness, richness, balance and of course any specific flavours that are recognised. The combination of all three of these categories constructs a flavour profile of a coffee.

Trip report – Guatemala

The Guatemalan coffee industry is steeped in tradition. With famous growing regions like Antigua and Huehuetenango, high altitude, mountainous regions and volcanic soil, the coffee consuming world loves Guatemalan coffee. Guatemalan coffee is grown at privately owned estates and to a lesser extent, at small-holder farms. There is very little experimentation with processing as the typical Guatemalan flavour profile is sought after by the coffee roasting and drinking communities. With consumption growing and supply dwindling, a lot of specialty quality Guatemalan coffee is being bought before it has even been processed and dried. This means that having a long term relationship with farmers is the best way to secure good coffee year after year. Guatemala is a dangerous country, in which drug cartel involvement is ever present. Estates are paying for security guards to walk around the farm’s perimeter to try and deter theft.

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Antigua and Huehuetenango are 2 of the most famous coffee growing regions in the world. The quality and consistency of coffees from these areas are unsurpassed. In fact, a few producers that we spoke to in these regions had already sold their whole harvest of coffee, before the coffee had been processed and dried. This says something about the consistency of quality from this area.

A large proportion of Guatemala’s specialty coffee comes from privately owned estates. A very small amount of these estates are experimenting with different forms of processing and varietal planting. These experimental farms are rapidly growing in popularity and are selling their most unique and tasty lots of coffee through online auction systems (e.g. El Injerto Estate and Santa Felisa Estate). The majority of Guatemala’s specialty quality coffee is simply washed and sun-dried, the traditional way. To get consistent supply of coffee from specialty coffee farmers, long term relationships must be built. If the farmer can sell their coffee to a long term customer, rather than taking the risk of drying and processing their coffee, then trying to sell it to the coffee market, they will.

Cartels use the coffee industry to launder their money. Farmers are offered premium prices (sometimes more than double the market value) for their coffee, regardless of quality. This coffee is bought in cash by the cartels, then sold to the local market, sometimes at a loss. When the coffee has been sold, the cartels have a traceable, ‘legitimate’ income. This may sound like a win-win situation because farmers are getting high prices for their coffee. The reality is that if cartels continually buy coffee at inflated prices, the quality of coffee will drop. Cartels don’t care about quality, so farmers will do everything they can to maximise the quantity of coffee they have available to sell. This means less sorting and grading. If the quality of coffee drops, the farmers lose their legitimate buyers, and if cartels know that they are the only customer, they will drive prices down to well below market value. This is not a good situation.

The coffee farming community in Guatemala is aware of the potential growth in world consumption, so new areas are being planted with coffee. New Oriente and Acatenango are two of the ‘new’ growing regions that are producing specialty grade coffees. Farmers that have successful coffee estates are expanding their farmable land and are planting new varieties to prepare for the specialty market, which seems to be growing. Hopefully this means more great coffee in coming years.

Trip report – Panama

The Panamanian coffee industry is a relatively new one. Fame was brought to the region upon successful planting of the Gesha varietal. Experimentation is so widespread in Panama that it is almost expected of Panamanian farmers. As Panama is well located between the USA and the majority of coffee farming regions in Central/South America, there has been substantial capital input from the North American or ‘gringo’ coffee community. Land prices have increased dramatically in recent years due to high demand. Boquete is the most famous area for coffee growing in Panama, but recently there have been some exceptional coffees coming out of Chiriqui Province, Volcan.

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Esmeralda Estate in Panama was one of the first to grow the Gesha varietal of Arabica coffee and they have been enjoying that fame for a few years now. They have plans to find the next ‘super-coffee’ variety. When we were in Panama in January 2015, there was a whole range of new varietals being planted to assess their quality, flavour profile and marketability. As the industry experiments more and more, the farmers are realising that not all varieties will grow well in all conditions. Unfortunately it takes up to 7 years to determine whether a varietal is going to grow happily in a certain environment.

Having a very close relationship between a coffee producing country and a developed coffee drinking culture (USA) has given farmers confidence to conduct experimentation. There seems to be a real competitiveness between coffee farmers to produce the best coffee in their region. This can only be a good thing for the consumer. As there is no traditional farming practice in Panama, there is an open mindedness about the industry. I have even heard of top notch producers attempting a Sumatran wet-hulled process with a Gesha. The process involves removing the parchment layer of the coffee while it is still wet and soft. This can damage the beans by shaping them in the huller. It is incredible to have someone use the world’s most expensive varietal of coffee to experiment with a process that is quite controversial.

Passionate producers like Carlos Franceschi (Carmen Estate) and Ratibor Hartmann (Hartmann Estate) are leading the way in Volcan. Carmen Estate has big plans for new varietal planting and processing. They have built a new warehouse to house their brand new mill. These guys are also processing coffees from local farmers within the Paso Ancho Valley. Hartmann Estate are producing some of the best coffees to come out of Panama. All of their coffees are dried on raised beds, under cover. There is a huge range of varietals and processing styles coming out of Hartmann Estate and they are seen as industry leaders within their region.

Panama’s coffee industry is the cool kid in coffee. Beautiful climate, altitude, soil and a general can-do attitude makes Panama one of the most sort after coffees in the specialty coffee community. They have certainly made a name for themselves as a quality driven coffee producing country.

Trip report – Costa Rica

The Costa Rican coffee industry has very close ties to the USA’s coffee roasting community. This means there is a clear chain of communication between coffee producers and the people that end up serving it to consumers. This has led to experimentation with varietal selection and processing techniques. As Costa Rica’s cities grow, farming estates that are close to these areas are in danger of being demolished. Coffee plant diseases like ‘Roya’ and ‘Ojo de Gallo’ are forcing lower yields, increasing demand.

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There is a certain level of confidence needed for a coffee producer to do experimental processing or varietal planting. With coffee consumers becoming more educated and interested, there are more producers willing to experiment with new farming and processing techniques. Coffea Diversa is a coffee estate like no other. Growing over 10 species of coffee, including 500 varietals, the farm is more like a research facility than a coffee plantation. The owner, Gonzalo Hernandez, is a passionate producer who has no interest in doing volume based farming but rather small lots of differing varietals and processing styles. His state of the art estate includes a network of drying tables inside a green house that are connected to a fan with controllable temperature and air flow parameters. None of this ‘weather dependent’ stuff.

Tres Rios is a traditional, old growing region of Costa Rica. This region used to be full of coffee plantations, but is slowly being urbanised. This is not unique to Costa Rica. All over the world, coffee plantations are giving way to cities that are ever growing in population and area.

Coffee plant diseases are not a new thing. There has been a recent outbreak of ‘Roya’ (AKA leaf rust) that has been causing damage to farmer’s crops and incomes. With yields dwindling and demand growing, Costa Rican coffee is rising in value. As coffee is a major revenue stream for Costa Rica, the government has conducted research into high yielding, disease resistant varieties of coffee. Timor coffee is a member of the Robusta species, known for high yield and disease resistance. These high yielding species can often have negative flavour attributes, so rigorous tasting has been undertaken to discern whether there is a bad influence on cup quality from using the Timor hybrids. There was no outstanding difference in cup quality, so the conclusion was to suggest to farmers that planting Timor hybrids like Catimor (Caturra X Timor) and Sarchimor (Villa Sarchi X Timor) was a safe way to continue growing coffee into the future. Unfortunately, the Timor hybrids are more comfortable in hotter, low altitude climates. When planted in high altitude, cooler climates, like some of Costa Rica’s specialty coffee farms, these hybrids are quite susceptible to a disease called Ojo de Gallo (Rooster’s Eye).

Costa Rican coffee is popular for a reason. Flavour profiles exhibit comforting, classic notes of citrus, cocoa and caramel. With new varieties being planted and experimental farming techniques being undertaken, there are endless possibilities for more complex and unique coffees. Coffee trees take 5-7 years to reveal themselves entirely, so we're excited to see what's to come from Costa Rica's upcoming harvests. Hopefully, with collaboration between farmers and government, the effects of the current disease outbreak can be kept to a minimum. Some specialty coffee farmers we spoke to were planting a range of varieties, trying to see what would grow well in their specific micro-climates. We hope to see higher yields in the coming seasons and can’t wait to taste some new and exciting coffees.

Sumatra Origin Trip

Sumatra is one of the ‘old-school’ coffee growing regions. The two main shipping ports that exported coffee to the world were Moka, in Yemen and Java, in Indonesia. Moka Java is actually a term used for blended coffees from Indonesia and Africa. Sumatra is a very poor part of Indonesia, which means that there has been very little experimentation with processing techniques. There has been lots of interest in the Indonesian coffee from the specialty sector as there is great potential to improve quality and traceability. Often very simple changes can be implemented to see a dramatic change in quality.

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The wet-hulled method of processing and the in-bag fermentation are unique methods to Indonesia. These are widely controversial forms of processing. The coffee is milled, removing the fruit layer of the coffee. This leaves coffee which still has its mucilage (sticky flesh) and its parchment layer (husk or shell) attached. The sticky ‘parchment coffee’ is then stored in bags to allow the decomposition of the mucilage. This coffee is then raked across patios to dry. Usually, coffee is dried completely (10-12% moisture content) in its parchment layer, but with the wet-hulled process, it is dried to approximately 30% moisture. The coffee is then hulled (removal of parchment layer). Because the coffee is still wet and soft, the huller often shapes the beans into a crescent shape. There is much debate about whether this changes the flavour attributes of the coffee or not. It certainly changes the way it has to be roasted.


Some producers who are working closely with coffee buyers have done some small experimental lots. Due to Sumatra’s high humidity, the producers are scared that if the coffee sits in parchment for too long, it may go mouldy, thats why they hull it really early, at 30% moisture. Some trials have been done with allowing the parchment coffee to dry to 20% instead of 30%. The results were good as the beans weren’t being deformed by the huller. Honey process is also occurring on a small scale, which removes the need for bag fermentation as the parchment coffee is laid out to dry immediately after milling.


Sumatran coffee often gets a bad wrap due to the commonly found blended coffee that is exported under the brand of ‘Mandheling - Grade 1’. The best coffees we’ve had out of Sumatra have been meticulously hand sorted to remove any foreign material or defective beans from the rest. The coffee we buy is ‘Triple Picked’, which means that it has gone through a process of hand sorting three times.

Traceability is almost non-existent with Sumatran coffee. Very few Estates exist in Sumatra. The reality of their industry is that the majority of the coffee comes from extremely small scale farmers, some of which have only a few coffee trees in their front or back yard. These small-holder farmers sell their coffee to local buyers. The government has made it illegal to sell coffee cherries, as there has been a lot of theft as coffee often grows alongside the road, where it is easily picked straight off the tree. Due to this law, small-holder farmers have been forced to buy small processing machines so that they can sell their coffee.

Fermentation in washed coffee

Wet, dry, 72 hour or none at all. What does it all mean?

Fermentation is the part of coffee processing that enables the removal of the mucilage (sticky flesh layer) from the coffee seed. The majority of the coffee’s sugars are found in the sticky mucilage, the process of fermentation is where sugars are transferred from the coffee fruit to the seeds. Some farmers and processors are now experimenting with different methods of fermentation to try and increase the complexity of flavour of their coffees. Some coffee growing regions don’t use any fermentation at all, but rather a mechanical mucilage remover.

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Wet fermentation
Traditional washed coffee includes a period of wet fermentation. This means the pulped coffee is soaked in a tank of water. The water allows the sticky mucilage to degrade slowly. Wet fermentation is undertaken in 12-72 hours depending on weather and the farmer’s desired outcome. The hotter the weather, the shorter the fermentation period. Usually the coffee can be rubbed together in the farmer’s hands to indicate whether fermentation is complete or not. Fermentation is complete when the coffee has no stickiness or sliminess left. Longer fermentation times can lead to increased acid complexity (eg. Acetic, Citric and Malic). The coffee is then rinsed and put out to dry. This style of processing encourages clean, bright acidity and sweetness.

[caption id="attachment_3487" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Karimikui Pulper Karimikui Pulper[/caption]

Dry fermentation
Dry fermentation is a much more aggressive process. Coffee is pulped, then placed into large soaking tanks. No water is added, so the coffee is more exposed to the effects of oxygen and weather conditions. Common dry fermentation periods are 8-24 hours. This fermentation style creates a coffee with more body, similar to a honey processed coffee.

Bag fermentation
Indonesian coffees are often fermented in bags during transport from the smallholders to the drying areas. In Sumatra, it is illegal to sell coffee cherries. This law was made in order to reduce the amount of coffee cherry theft. Thieves wouldn’t own coffee processing equipment, so would be unable to sell stolen cherry at the local market. This means that smallholder farmers have pulping equipment on site. The pulped cherry is placed into bags and taken to the local drying station. The pulped coffee sits in these bags overnight and is then laid out to dry on concrete patios.

No fermentation
Some coffee farmers In Central and South America are using a process of mechanical mucilage removal. This is a spinning cylinder that intensely rubs the mucilage off the seeds.

Kenya Origin Trip

The Kenyan coffee industry is one of the fairest and most transparent in the world. Co-operative groups and estates sell their coffee at the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. The auction system creates a highly competitive environment, which rewards famers for high quality. Experimentation of varietal selection and processing styles is occurring in the specialty coffee sector around the world, but very little is undertaken in Kenya. Coffee growing is diminishing due to land value and the expansion of urban areas.

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Estates often look after the growing and processing of their own coffee. Small holder farmers bring their cherries to the local co-operative mill. Depending on the mill, there are differing levels of ‘acceptable’ coffee cherry. Rung’eto co-operative, for example, only accepts the ripest and freshest of cherries. Farmers that bring sub par coffee to the mill will be told to sort through their cherries and remove any over or under-ripe fruit. The coffee is weighed and the farmers receive a receipt with the weight of fruit that was accepted. No currency exchanges hands until the value of the coffee is determined at auction. The cherries are immediately pulped, to remove the fruit from the seed. The coffee is then soaked in tiled tanks. This is called wet fermentation. The parchment coffee (coffee seed with its outer husk in tact) soaks for 24-72 hours, depending on weather conditions. The aim of fermentation is to remove the sticky mucilage layer that is attached to the parchment coffee. The hotter the day, the quicker the water breaks down this layer. The level of fermentation is checked with a quick rub of the coffee between the mill manager’s hands. The sliminess should be gone, but the parchment should still have a smooth feel to it, rather than a rough, stone-like texture. The coffee is over-fermented at this stage. Once fermentation is complete, the parchment coffee is rinsed and then dried on raised beds. The drying process takes 10-20 days.

6 - Kiangoi cherry hopper

Once the coffee has been dried, it is taken to a dry mill. This is where the parchment layer of the coffee is removed. When the parchment, or husk, has been removed, the ‘green coffee’ can now be sorted and graded. There is a market for all grades of coffee, so nothing is thrown away. Every producing country has a different grading system, in Kenya the grades range from AA to TT. The higher grades describe the size of the beans, AA is the largest, then AB and so on. Lower grades include debris and infected, malformed coffee beans and lots are often mixed together to make up a larger quantity. Bulk is the word used to describe these blends of low quality coffee. These ‘bulk’ coffees have no traceability or uniformity.

All coffee in Kenya is bought and sold through the Nairobi Coffee Exchange. Each registered buyer (export company) has a seat and a key that activates their bidding button. The key activates software that reveals whether that buyer has paid their debts from the previous auction. If they have not, their key will not activate their bidding button. Each lot of coffee offered at auction comes up on a large screen and buyers press their button to raise the bid by a preset, nominal amount. The bidding is a very quick process, so no time to think. The auction house makes available samples of all lots of coffee to be sold. All of the bidders at the auction already know which coffees they want and how much they are willing to bid. Once a coffee has been bought at auction, it is made available to the winner immediately.

17 - Auction house sample room

The Kenyan coffee industry is most prized for its famous cleanliness and intensity of flavour. The local market drinks low quality coffee that has been naturally processed, called ‘Mbuni’. I think that this has lead the locals to believe that the unwashed, or natural, process is responsible for the rough and spicy flavour profile. The inequality of exportable and locally consumable coffee, has enhanced the fear of experimentation, especially for the export market. A small number of farmers are combining roots of the Ruiru 11 coffee plant, which is a disease resistant, high yielding variety of robusta, with the traditional SL28 and SL34 varieties of arabica. The thinking is that the roots provide only nutrients and water to the plant, but the variety of the upper, fruit growing region of the plant is the major contributor to flavour, along with altitude and terroir. This is not a wide-spread practice and has had mixed results. A lot of coffee producing countries have tried to experiment with and replicate the Kenyan style of wet fermentation. Why would the Kenyans fix it if it ain’t broke?

Kenya's coffee estates are slowly getting eaten up by population growth and urban development. Famous estates like Gethumbwini are being demolished in order to build apartment or office buildings. This is a fear for the long term sustainability of the Kenyan coffee estates, as some exceptional farms are being knocked down. This doesn’t affect small holder farmers as much, as they are usually further out from the cities and on less desirable land plots to developers.

Kenyan coffee is a particular favourite of ours at Omars as it is so vibrant, clean and fruity. It really stands out with non-pressurised coffee making techniques, like plunger or clever dripper. The prices paid for coffees are very fair, as all lots are bid on by competitive trading companies at the auction. The Kenyan coffee industry is very well educated, from farmers to lab workers, study is usually undertaken to enter the professional world of coffee.

Semi Washed Processing

Semi-washed, honey process, pulped natural, wet-hulled.
As each has its own merits and intricacies, this article will focus on two main styles of semi-washed methods. 'Wet-hulled' and 'Honey'/'Pulped natural'. The basic steps of all semi-washed processed coffees include; pulping, drying, parchment removal, cleaning and grading.

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Honey and Pulped Natural coffee are the same process, just different names. Once ripe coffee cherries have been picked, the outer fruit is removed, but the sticky flesh layer and the mucilage are left intact. The sticky beans are then out out to dry like an 'unwashed' coffee. Once dried, the parchment is removed via hulling and the beans are then cleaned, graded and sorted.

Wet-hulled coffee is specific to Indonesia. It is different from any other method in the world. Once ripe coffee cherries have been picked, the fruit is removed as soon as possible. This is referred to as 'pulping' or 'milling'. The mucilage layer is then washed off the beans. The coffee is then raked across a patio for drying. Once the coffee has reached approximately 30% moisture, it is put through the hulling process to remove the parchment layer. The beans are still malleable at this high moisture content and the beans can often be disfigured by the huller. The reason this is done is because of the high humidity in Indonesia. The farmers and millers are afraid to leave their coffee outside drying for too long, so by removing the parchment skin earlier than usual, the beans are more exposed to the air and therefore dry quicker.

Each seemingly insignificant one of these steps can ruin coffee. If under or over-ripe cherries are picked, the rest is pointless. If the coffee is not pulped immediately after picking, the coffee will taste fermented. If the coffee is left in a big pile to dry it will go mouldy, so the coffee must be dried in a thin layer to ensure even drying. The more we understand about the coffee process, the more we appreciate good quality coffee when we get it.

Washed Processing

This weeks Journal post is the second of a three part series on coffee processing.

Processing using the washed method is sometimes referred to as wet processed, fully washed and semi washed to name a few.

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Once ripe coffee cherries have been picked, the fruit is removed as soon as possible. This is referred to as 'pulping' or 'milling'. The cherries are fed, by gravity and water flow, through a channel that contains a spinning disc that rubs the coffee fruit off the seed. Some mills have a few of these discs in line to gradually remove more and more fruit without damaging the beans. The water channels separate dense beans from light beans and send them to different fermentation tanks.

The pulping discs cannot remove the sticky layer that covers the coffee seeds, the mucilage. To remove this layer, the coffee is either left in a tank with or without water. Dry fermentation is a faster process than wet fermentation, as the temperature of the coffee is higher and it is exposed to the air. In wet fermentation, where the coffee is soaked in water, the fermentation times can be double that of the dry method. The aim of them both is to allow the mucilage to break down without adding any fermented flavour to the coffee.

Once the mucilage has been removed and the beans have been rinsed, they need to be dried. This step can also be done in many ways. Weather is a major deciding factor for the way a mill will dry their coffee. If conditions are favourable, the coffee can be dried outdoors either on a cement floor/patio or on raised drying beds. The raised beds are great as they allow air flow to the top and bottom of the beans as they dry. If weather conditions are unfavourable, there are two options; mechanical drying machines or traditional outdoor methods, done undercover.

When the coffee has reached it's desired dryness, usually 10-12% moisture content, the final layer can be removed. This parchment is a husk that is removed by a 'huller' or 'dry mill'. This is a spinning cylinder that sits in a housing with an adjustable gap between the cylinder and the housing walls. The parchment coffee is fed through the housing and the spinning cylinder separates the parchment from the bean.

The coffee beans are then cleaned and sorted to be sold to different coffee buyers around the world. The grading systems differ for each producing country, just to add another layer of confusion. You might of heard of a 'Grade 1' coffee, 'AA' or 'Fancy'. These are all examples of different size and quality grading systems.

Each seemingly insignificant one of these steps can ruin coffee. If under or over-ripe cherries are picked, the rest is pointless. If the coffee is not pulped immediately after picking, the coffee will taste fermented. If the mucilage removal period goes for too long, the coffee will taste fermented. If the coffee is left in a big pile to dry it will go mouldy, so the coffee must be dried in a thin layer to ensure even drying. If the coffee is not dried properly before it is hulled, the beans will be soft and can get damaged in the hulling machine. The more we understand about the coffee process, the more we appreciate good quality coffee when we get it.

Natural Processing

Coffee processing is the transformation of the coffee cherry into the coffee beans we all know and love. The way in which this is done has a dramatic effect on the flavour of the coffee. Think about grapes vs sultanas. Same fruit, different flavour. There are endless possibilities with processing, but there are three main categories; washed, semi-washed and unwashed.

This week we will focus on unwashed processing. Also known as natural or dry processing. This is the first part in a three part series.

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This is the simplest of all methods and is great for areas that have no access to clean water. The basic steps of the unwashed process are; fruit picking, drying, hulling, cleaning and grading.

Once ripe coffee cherries have been picked, they are dried with the fruit intact. This method gives the coffee more time to absorb all the flavours of the fruit. This method can only be done in areas where the weather, specifically humidity, allows the cherries to dry slowly without going mouldy.

When the coffee has reached it's desired dryness, usually 10-12% moisture content, the fruit layer can be removed. This hardened fruit is removed by a 'huller' or 'dry mill'. This is a perforated, spinning cylinder that sits in a housing. The gap between the spinning cylinder and its housing is adjustable, which enables the processor to choose the right gap for the right bean size and density. The parchment coffee is fed in between the spinning cylinder and its housing, which separates the fruit from the bean. The coffee might have to be passed through this machine multiple times to get a good result without damage.


The coffee beans are then cleaned and sorted to be sold to different coffee buyers around the world. The grading systems differ for each producing country, just to add another layer of confusion. You might of heard of a 'Grade 1' coffee, 'AA' or 'Fancy'. These are all examples of different size and quality grading systems.

Each seemingly simple part of the process can ruin coffee. If under or over-ripe cherries are picked, the rest is pointless. If the coffee is not dried evenly in good weather conditions, the coffee will taste fermented. If the beans are damaged by the huller, the grade will be lower. The more we understand about the coffee process, the more we appreciate good quality coffee when we get it. It doesn’t happen by mistake!

Ethiopia Origin Trip

The famed birthplace of our beloved coffee is still one of the top 5 biggest producers in the world. With government bodies controlling the industry (ECX - Ethiopian Commodity Exchange), there is a certain mystique about the Ethiopian coffee industry. Mystique, corruption, same same. At the moment, specialty, traceable lots of coffee are being exported, but this doesn't come easily. The specialty coffee industry has been battling to get more transparency in the system.

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Ethiopia is where all the coffee in the world comes from. Actually, the spread of coffee around the world is owed to two particular coffee species; Arabica and Robusta. The Arabica species is in fact a hybrid of Robusta and another species known as Eugenioides. Ethiopia has thousands of un-named, wild species of coffee growing. The government has made it illegal to name varieties in order to protect their unique coffee industry. They feel that if no-one else can have these un-named species of coffee, Ethiopia’s coffee can maintain its distinctiveness of flavour. They believe that all Ethiopian coffee of the same grade should command the same price, no matter what variety it is and where it comes from. This is the complete opposite mentality to those in the specialty coffee industry, who want to know as much information as possible about the coffees they buy.


To get coffee out of any producing country takes a few steps. The simplest way to describe it is:
Coffee cherries get picked
Cherries then get processed (natural, semi-washed or washed)
Cherries are dried, sorted and graded for export
Cherries are exported/imported

In most countries, all these steps can be done by the same people. To get coffee out of Ethiopia is a different story. The growing and processing happens very normally, by either a smallholder farmer, who may or may not be a part of a co-operative, or a privately owned estate. The coffee is then sent to the ECX for grading. If the coffee comes from a privately owned estate or a privately run co-operative, the ECX will grade the coffee, then send it back to the co-op or estate to allow them to export it through an Ethiopian export company (no non-Ethiopian companies are allowed to export!). If the coffee came from a small farmer who does not belong to a co-op, the ECX will pay the farmer for his/her coffee and will then blend it with coffees of similar grades from other producers. This coffee is then sold as a regional coffee, rather than a traceable coffee.

Specialty coffee buyers who like to buy Ethiopian coffees will often have an ‘agent’ who either works at the ECX or in its warehouses. Traceability is quite easy to follow for all the steps leading up to the ECX. Once a bag enters the ECX, it is hard to acquire that same bag again. These agents will ensure that certain desirable lots of coffee coming into the ECX, leave with the people who wanted it. This can be quite lucrative for these agents.

At the end of the day, the farming in Ethiopia is quite rudimentary and steeped in tradition. The amazing thing is how good their coffees can be, even when processed with old methods. Imagine what can happen if the government starts allowing other nationalities to do research and put investments into their coffee industry. We may need a new coffee scoring system (>100).


What effects coffee prices?

The drink we all know and love is not only a delicious beverage, but one of the most highly traded commodities in the world. Coffee prices have been known to fluctuate and are becoming more and more volatile. With consumption rising in producing and non-producing countries, there is a growing fear of a lack of supply to meet the growing demand. Agronomical issues like plant diseases and global warming are having a large effect on coffee crops, and therefore prices. Drug cartels are using coffee to launder money, paying higher prices than ever before. In the specialty coffee sector, biodiversity and varietal separation is raising prices for the short term, with hopeful long term benefits for producers and consumers.

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At the ugly, financial side of the industry, lie big trading companies that buy and sell coffee as they would stocks on Wall Street. The majority of trades are not composed with a direct aim of buying and consuming the coffee. Where there’s a highly volatile market, there’s a high risk, high reward situation. Recently, the price of commodity coffee rose sharply due to a fear of lack of supply globally. Trading companies were further amplifying these prices by buying up future contracts, so the total ‘available’ supply diminished even further. The sad thing is that specialty coffee buyers like to buy coffee as soon as it has been processed and rested at origin. This means that they want to buy the coffee within a certain timeframe, leaving them susceptible to volatilities in the market.

The price of specialty coffee is calculated by adding the commodity coffee price and a ‘differential’ for the quality improvement. Usually, the higher the quality, the higher the differential. The differential itself is not directly effected by commodity prices but fluctuations in the commodity market still effect the end price of specialty coffee. All coffee around the world is traded in USD. This can be good and bad. Currently, the AUD is weak and the Reserve Bank of Australia wishes it to become even weaker to make our export industries more appealing to overseas clients. Unfortunately, this means that our coffee prices will be going upwards as our dollar weakens.

With population growth and a rise in coffee consumption in producing and non-producing countries, there is a sense of fear in the coffee markets. With bad rainfall in Brazil and many fear-mongering reports about the severely low harvest yields for the season, fear is heightened to new levels. The fear of a lack of supply drives large trading companies to hold their coffee stocks, which pushes prices even higher on the market as there seems to be a lack of supply. Once the critical point is reached, where these companies are happy to sell their ‘stock’, coffee prices come back down.

Climate change and plant diseases are also pushing coffee prices upwards. There has been a recent Roya (rust) outbreak in South/Central America. This is not a new disease, but it is now effecting higher altitude farms due to higher temperatures. Farmers we spoke to in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala expressed grave concern for the future of coffee farming. Some said they have lost up to 40% of their crops to Roya, while some have had relatively minor losses. Lower yields and anxiety about future crops drives farmers to put prices up to account for the extra risk.

Central American drug cartels have recently been using coffee as a money laundering tool. They buy coffee from a farmer at an extraordinarily high price. In cash, of course. They then sell the coffee on the local market at a loss. They don't mind losing a small percentage as the money is now clean. These transactions change the farmers’ expectations of prices.

Coffee prices are always going to be volatile, until weather, population and capitalism cease to exist. The coffee price at consumer level has been almost unchanged for 10 years or more. Maybe the next time you pay $4 for a caffe latte, have a think about how much work has gone into producing it and how many people are involved in making that experience great.

Smallholder farmers vs Estates

Coffee comes from beautifully organised 'vineyard-like' estates, doesn't it? Most people assume that when they buy coffee, it comes from a single farm or Estate. The majority of coffee production in poorer countries is from smallholder farmers who group together in co-operatives and unions. Co-operatives and Unions deal with the admin, sales and business side of the operation, while farmers do what they do best, grow coffee. Often, the Co-ops will build milling and processing facilities for the local farmers, producing more local jobs.

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Some growing regions, Brazil for example, are extremely well organised and operate with stringent procedures. This is a great way to control high volume farming operations. The Estates allow a more streamlined process than small farmers, as all of the processing is done on-site. Whether there is the expertise within the Estate to complete all parts of the process efficiently and effectively, is the difference between good and bad coffee.

[caption id="attachment_3432" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Coffee Nursery Guatemala Plan Del Guayabo Coffee Nursery Guatemala Plan Del Guayabo[/caption]

What about the poor family in Sumatra who have coffee trees growing wild, in and around their property? Is their coffee worse than that grown on a farm? Any step in the long chain of coffee production can ruin a good coffee. With a Co-operative setup, different groups with relevant expertise run each part of the process. The fear with the smallholder, Co-operative system is the number of steps in the chain, where each step can bring new problems.

[caption id="attachment_3433" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Milling at Caladeras, Guatemala Milling at Caladeras, Guatemala[/caption]

The reality is that both smallholders and estates can produce extremely good and extremely bad coffee. The point of this article is to highlight the misunderstanding that estate coffee is always better than Co-operative coffee. The way we see it, all coffee has potential. If the cherries are picked ripe and processed quickly, there is a much higher probability of getting a good quality cup of coffee.


When we tell people we are travelling to origin, the assumption is made that we are buying directly from the farmers. This is not the case. There is a complex and often confusing chain of custody over our beloved coffee beans. The desire to understand these complexities is the major driving force behind our travel to origin. As we deal with the end consumer of the product, we feel it is our responsibility to understand and explain the complex process that lies behind a cup of coffee. We believe that supporting existing supply chains is the way to have a long term effect on the coffee's quality and the farmers' wellbeing. We are lucky enough to work with suppliers that are more than happy to show us around at origin and explain what is happening (in front of, and behind closed doors).

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Direct Trade is a seemingly simple term, which has caused much confusion and discussion in our coffee industry in Australia. Does it mean that the roaster buys from the farmer? If so, how does the coffee get here? How is it processed to an exportable product? In some countries, only local exporter companies are allowed to sell coffee overseas. Does this mean that Direct Trade is dealing with an Exporter? Or maybe it's an agreement with a Dry Mill. Who knows?!?

[caption id="attachment_3428" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Andy playing in the coffee at Patalillo Dry Mill Andy playing in the coffee at Patalillo Dry Mill[/caption]

How is the end consumer supposed to know how their coffee got to them, when the majority of people in our coffee industry don’t know themselves? Once you've been to origin it all seems to make sense, until you travel to a different origin and see how different it is from the last. This is one reason we choose to buy through an importer with strong relationships with local buyers and agents, living in these coffee-producing regions. Use the local knowledge and expertise, we say! It is a bit naive for a roaster to think he can travel to a country and automatically find the best product and find a quick and easy way to get it to his roastery.

[caption id="attachment_3429" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Ross from MTC in Central America Ross from MTC in Central America[/caption]

In an ideal world, each coffee company would grow its own coffee and control every step of the process (growing, fruit removal, washing, drying, hulling, sorting, grading, roasting and serving). Unfortunately coffee likes to grow in countries where ethics, economics and welfare may not be up to our First World morality. The reality is that moral standards in coffee actually progress with quality, rather than the array of stickers on the bag. The higher the quality of coffee, the higher the prices paid, which leads to higher income for farmers and better life standards.


Coffee farming techniques in different countries vary due to traditional methods and agricultural differences. Diseases enjoy a lack of biodiversity as one plant can happily pass the disease on to the next. Climate change is becoming a major driver for change in the coffee farming industry. Biodiversity is the way forward for coffee as an industry and the specialty sector is the driving force behind it. These changes may lead to a larger market share for specialty coffee (currently < 1%).

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One of the main reasons for any disease outbreak is a lack of biodiversity. Coffee growing started in South/Central America due to the spread of one singular variety of coffee. There are now lots of mutations of that species, but they are all genetically related and therefore susceptible to the same diseases. Specialty farmers are now choosing to plant multiple varieties for a myriad of benefits such as disease resistance and flavour uniqueness. Farmers are also able to plant at higher altitudes than ever before, due to higher temperatures. These higher altitude, cooler microclimates allow a slower maturation of cherries, which produces a denser, more complex fruit. Some varieties work better than others at different altitudes. Gesha, for example, is a famous variety of Arabica coffee that enjoys the terroir of a very high altitude (>1700masl). One of the short term issues with planting new varieties is that they can take 4-6 years before viable fruit is produced. This means lots of work and no gain for a few years before the results are seen. Farmers we spoke to decided to plant up to 10 different varieties of coffee on their farms to see what would do the best in their specific microclimates.

Rising temperatures are forcing farmers to change their ways. Plant diseases have effected crops all over the world, but there has been a recent Roya (rust) outbreak in South/Central America. This is not a new disease, but it is now effecting higher altitude farms due to higher temperatures. Farmers we spoke to in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama and Guatemala expressed grave concern for the future of coffee farming. Some said they have lost up to 40% of their crops to Roya, while some have only had a very small impact. A broad range of farmers are planting Timor hybrids (Catimor, Sarchimor etc.), which is a mix of Arabica and Robusta. Robusta varieties are much more disease resistant and high yielding than Arabica plants. There are a few concerns with the recent mass planting of these hybrids. One major fear is a loss of quality of flavour due to the addition of the Timor variety, but research has been undertaken to prove that there is an insignificant loss of cupping score between Caturra (Arabica) and Catimor (Arabica/Robusta) varieties. Another fear with the Timor hybrids is their susceptibility to a disease called Ojo de Gallo (Rooster’s Eye). Roya effects the leaves of the plant and reduces the plants ability to produce healthy, ripe cherries, whereas Ojo de Gallo attacks the seeds within the cherries. The cherry seems to form normally, then when fed through a pulper, the seeds disintegrate.

[caption id="attachment_3418" align="alignnone" width="4608"]Royal effects the cherries Royal effects the cherries[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_3414" align="alignnone" width="4608"]Plant infected by Roya Plant infected by Roya[/caption]


[caption id="attachment_3416" align="alignnone" width="4608"]Ojo De Gallo Ojo De Gallo[/caption]

Hopefully we start seeing more species and varietals of coffee being planted as each provides something unique and different from the last. The farmers doing a good job will hopefully secure their futures by starting relationships with coffee buyers who can appreciate and find a market for these unique coffees. The difference between specialty and commodity coffees is becoming greater and there has already been talk of pricing specialty coffee without the use of the commodity market price as it is a completely different product. As coffee prices rise globally, consumers will start to pay more attention to quality. This should inflate the specialty coffee market share, which improves farmers livelihoods due to higher pricing and impeccable farming practise. The coffee supply chain involves pickers, farmers, processors, exporters, freight providers, importers and roasters. To produce specialty coffee, each of the steps in the supply chain must be completed with a greater care and attention than it would to produce commodity coffee. Like everything in life, if you want something done differently, it costs more money. This is true of each step in the specialty coffee supply chain.



These are the guys and girls who help keep Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird going. They are the heart and soul of the business and without their loyalty and hard work we wouldn't be where we are today. Deano and Andy salute you.

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[caption id="attachment_3356" align="alignnone" width="863"]Cupping at OMCB Cupping at OMCB[/caption]

Where would we be without the crew that makes this place run? Well...I'm not too sure, but what I am sure about is that we wouldn't be where we are now. Andy and I (Dean) are always saying too each other how fortunate we are to have such a strong team of staff helping us with everything that is Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird.

Hamish Pope-1

Hamish (the HAMMER) Pope came to work with us in 2013 with a strong background in customer service and many many years working in some of the best establishments in Melbourne and New Zealand. Hammer has an old school work ethic, hard and fast. It is difficult to slow this guy down, he's an inspiration for the young starts in the industry. He has recently been promoted to Supervisor working closely with myself to help run the show. You may know him as the 'lord of the kids', they love him. The inner child in Hammer comes out when the littlies run through the cafe.


Jeremy Bethell came on board when we opened the cafe in 2010. Andy and I were really keen to have Jeremy work with us after seeing how skilful he was behind the coffee machine. He really is an asset to the business with his loyalty, attitude to work and willingness to help out when needed. His evocative, sometimes controversial views add much spice to the working day, polarising customers and evoking passionate discussion. Jeremy is now our main coffee roaster and has taken to the role like a duck to water. You rock.

Shaun McGeachin has been with the team since 2013 and is a stickler for detail and is ever keen to learn. He is one of our main baristas who has now started to roast coffee with Jeremy. Shaun also works closely with Dean to look after our wholesale customer list, including training, deliveries, machinery maintenance and all the other bits and bobs. Is there anything he can't do?

Our newest member of the team is Terry, who started this year. She is our quiet achiever who learns quickly and can make one of the best coffees ever. She balances out the boys extraverted personalities and injects a degree of humility into the business. Terry is our full time barista who is working closely with Andy to ensure our coffees are being presented the way they should.


You can thank this crew for your daily brew and keeping Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird rolling along its tracks. Thanks peeps, your hard work is greatly appreciated.

Dean and Andy




A popular question we get asked is 'who is behind Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird' and 'How did the business come about?'. So here is a brief history of the two co-founders and how Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird was born.


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Andy Gelman started by making coffee in 2003 at a 250 seat Cafe Greco on Chapel Street, Melbourne. An average shift would involve 700-800 cups of coffee. The quality of coffee was low, but Cafe Greco had very strict standards of milk texturing. Unfortunately, a lot of cafes have a similar focus on milk, rather than coffee. The high volume at Cafe Greco trained Andy to be consistent in a high pressure environment. After working there and at various other cafes around Melbourne, he eventually found himself working at a café in St Kilda called INKR 7, where Dean was working at the time. This was the first time the two had met and quickly developed a solid working relationship. A few months after this chance meeting, Dean opened his first cafe called Rupert and the Fig, in Brighton. Andy moved over to work with Dean at Ruperts and this is where their coffee journey began.

Andy worked with Dean at Rupert’s for five years whilst moonlighting at other jobs. Andy helped with the the roasting at Icoco in Albert Park, which was one of the first roasting cafes on the Melbourne scene. It was a small, locally minded shop that produced some beautiful coffee. It was a real inspiration to both Dean and Andy and showed them how good coffee could be. Andy then roasted with Andrew Kelly at Auction Rooms, when they were initiating their roasting operation.

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The more the boys learnt the more they realised they didn't know. They were determined to immerse themselves in the coffee industry even more and began planning their own roasting space.

Whilst coffee roasting was their main goal they felt a cafe attached to the business would be a great way for them to show off the coffees they had sourced and roasted. It took Dean and Andy two long years to find the right location for the business.
Queue 124 Gardenvale Rd, Gardenvale. It had the corner location, tall ceilings, huge boxed sky light, character and most importantly, it was on the south side of the city. Dean and Andy engaged the creative team at March Studios to design the space and they didn't disappoint. The design is a major talking point and draw card with the tables fabricated to roll on tracks and the whole bar built into Dexion pallet racking, using ply boxes for storage and bench tops. Smart, utilitarian, and industrial.

As for the name, they wanted something fun, not too stiff and serious. Dean and Andy did a lot of research on the history of coffee and realised there wasn’t much scientific evidence about the discovery of coffee. The lack of solid evidence has given rise to popular fables depicting the discovery of the magical bean. One particular story the boys were enamoured with was of Sheikh Omar, based on the Abd-al-Kadir manuscript. See our previous Journal post for this story in full.

The boys love what they do at Omar's and are continually working on ways to empower and excite people with the stories behind the bean. They consider themselves students of the industry and their job is to get people excited about coffee and teach people how to make amazing coffee anywhere.

Where did the name Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird come from?

'Where did the name Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird come from? is one of the most common questions we get asked.

So we thought it was about time we explained.

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Dean and Andy spent two years researching and searching before they finally opened Omar and the Marvellous Coffee Bird. During their research they read loads of books and found one that was intriguing. It was a book called All About Coffee by William H. Ukers. And this is where they found the name, notice the caption of this drawing?

OMCB drawing-1

The first edition was released in 1922 and the book we have is the second edition which was released in 1935. Whilst this book is quite old now it is still relevant and a captivating read. The following is an extract from the book.

Ukers, William H, 1935, All About Coffee, Pub. city, Pub. name p 9

"A Popular and much-quoted version of Omar's discovery of coffee, also based upon the Abd-al-Kadir manuscript, is the following:

In the year of the Hegira 656, the mollah Schadheli went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. Arriving at the mountain of the Emeralds (Ousab), he turned to his disciple Omar and said 'I shall die in this place. When my soul has gone forth, a veiled person will appear to you. Do not fail to execute the command which he will give you.

The venerable Schadheli being dead. Omar saw in the middle of the night a gigantic spectre covered by a white veil.

'Who are you?' he asked

The phantom drew back his veil and Omar saw with surprise Schadheli himself had grown ten cubits since his death. The Mollah dug in the ground and water miraculously appeared. The spirit of his teacher bade Omar fill a bowl with the water and to proceed on his way and not to stop till he reached the spot where the water would stop moving.

'It is there' he added 'that a great destiny awaits you.'

Omar started his journey. Arriving at Mocha in Yemen, he noticed that the water was immovable. It was here that he must stop.

The beautiful village of Mocha was then ravaged by the plague. Omar began to pray for the sick and, as the saintly man was close to Mahomet, many found themselves cured by his prayers.

The plague meanwhile progressing, the daughter of the King of Mocha fell ill and her father had her carried to the home of the dervish who cured her. But as this young princess was of rare beauty, after having cured her, the good dervish tried to carry her off. The king did not fancy this kind of reward. Omar was driven from the city and exiled on the mountain of Ousab, with herbs for food and a cave for a home.

'Oh, Schadheli, my dear master,' cried the unfortunate dervish one day; 'if the things which happened to me at Mocha were destined, was it worth the trouble to give me a bowl to come here?'

To these just complaints, there was heard immediately a song of incomparable harmony, and a bird of marvellous plumage came to rest in a tree. Omar sprang forward quickly toward the little bird which sang so well, but then he saw on the branches of the tree only flowers and fruit. Omar laid hands on the fruit, and found it delicious. Then he filled his great pockets with it and went back to his cave. As he was preparing to boil a few herbs for his dinner, the idea came to him of substituting for this sad soup, some of his harvested fruit. From it he obtained a savoury and perfumed drink; it was coffee"