Thursday, 11 November 2010

Coffee Beans and Chick vs. Chicken

Manizales, Colombia

We visited a beautiful coffee Finca in Manizales called Hacienda Venecia to see and taste how good coffee is made. Please excuse the length of this post, a lot of coffee had been consumed.

The Finca is at 1300m altitude and has 160 hectares of Arabica coffee plants – this makes them quite a large producer in comparison to the average Colombian coffee farm, which are around 5-10 hectares. There are two main types of coffee, Arabica and Robusta. Robusta is generally grown between sea level and 800m, but because Colombian farms are at a higher altitude only Arabica is grown.

Arabica coffee is generally considered to make a higher quality roast, with greater flavour and aroma. Our guide, Alex, explained the production process of washed Arabica bean from cultivation and picking through to processing and roasting.

Roasting some fresh beans!

For more information on the tour visit


Plants are grown from seed in bags of composted coffee berry flesh. They use the berry flesh because it is a nutrient rich waste product of the production process, and the seedlings remain in these bags for four to six months.

Preparation of the seedlings

Compost pile
An older plant after pruning


Since Colombia is near the equator the climate is such that the plants produce berries all year round. This contrasts with other countries such as Brazil where there is one distinct harvest season. In Colombia, you can therefore see red and yellow berries (those ready for picking) and green berries, flowers and buds (developing berries) all on one plant.

Despite the consistent temperature, there are two main harvest periods in Colombia. High season is between September and November, when 75% of the picking is carried out, and March to May, when the remaining 25% are picked.

According to the guide, teams of 40 to 60 people do the picking with one supervisor per team whose job is to oversee the process and control quality. In the high season, Hacienda Venecia have between 400 to 500 workers on the farm. One team can pick between 5000 to 10000kg per day depending on the season, and the pay varies between 300 to 1000 pesos per kilo – again, this rate depends on the season due to the abundance of beans and therefore the ease of amassing a greater quantity.

Working with the average figures though, this would mean that 1 person picks 150kg per day, earning 97500 pesos - about £30.


Get ready for more facts and statistics. The berries are received and the quality of the batch is assessed. You don’t want too many green berries in the batch because these produce ‘quakers’ when roasted. Other problems that affect the quality of the harvest include insect damage from broca – a type of insect that eats the berries, and fungal infections on the berries before or after processing.

Collection area
Red and Yellow Berries
The beans are collected and washed down into a deep vat some 5m deep. When in water, berries with insect damage tend to float because of the hollow centre the broca cause and therefore these can be easily separated.

Separation Vat

The remaining beans are passed through machinery that removes the first fleshy outer layer of the berry – this wastage goes to the compost pile. When berries are picked the sugars of this fleshy layer cause fermentation to begin and therefore whilst the picking of berries is done during the day, the processing takes place the same night to reduce the damage caused.

Flesh removal machinery
Once the outer layer is removed, the beans need to be dried to prevent infection and fungal growth. At Hacienda Venecia, they opt for an oven process as opposed to sun drying, here the beans are gradually dried over a period of 18 to 24 hours at a temperature of 40 to 50 degrees. The beans need to have just 12% humidity before they are ready to be put into bags. They leave the second shell on the bean for protection during storage and exportation.

Coffee mountains

Wet beans pre-oven
Checking the humidity levels
A bag of 70kg costs about £125 and these are exported where the rest of the process (shell removal and roasting) is carried out to produce the brown coloured coffee bean we recognise. Their top three markets are Japan, Belgium and Canada.

The finished product
Coffee bean with inner shell
And with shell removed - this is what roasted coffee beans are made of

Sacks ready for export

According to Alex, the biggest importers in the world are obviously the U.S. but much of this is simply roasted and exported on again. Per capita, the biggest coffee drinkers are apparently the Philippines and Demark, the latter are also the biggest importers per capita.

The aroma and taste of coffee varies in a similar way to wine, the myriad factors affecting which include bean variety, climate, soil characteristics, roasting etc. and we had a lot of opportunity back at the ranch to explore this.

Good coffee beans
... and the quakers
Coffee taste & aroma wheel

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

That video is brilliant! Really wasn't expecting that, I thought it would just break its neck not snap it right off! Hope it tasted good. Gareth x