Re;Co speech, Budapest 2017

Article by Sasa Sestic

[Transcript from Re;Co seminar, World of Coffee (Budapest 2017)

“You are only as strong as your team is.

It is so true when we look at any level of success in anything.

I could not be here talking to you without my team of amazing people that make our wholesale, retail and green bean department strive to get better.  I could not be a producer, run our Project Origin non-profit auctions for producers, or have even won the World Barista Championship if it were not for my team.

The importance of building a team that actually feels like a team is absolutely crucial.  In order to build the right team, one must start with choosing the right people, who share the same or similar values in life.

Members of a team may have different skills, but it is essential that you have the same goal in mind. It takes a lot of time and care to mentor and coach a team and takes great leadership qualities to hold teams together and make everyone involved.

 You may have a team that acts as a very strong chain – however, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and if one member of your team doesn’t feel involved and appreciated as part of the team, then the whole chain can break.

Today, I would like to talk about our team.

Not the ONA Coffee team, nor the Project Origin team. We are all part of a different team, the Global Specialty Coffee Supply Chain.

Over the last five years, we have seen trends change, with more and more specialty coffee roasters appearing. We have more technology, machines, software, tools… globally, coffees are tasting better and better, cafes are getting busier and our demand   for  specialty coffee is constantly growing.

 However, on the other hand, our supply for coffee is not growing and supporting the trends. In fact,  as a result of climate change, we have less trees, lower production and it is getting a lot more expensive to run and sustain farming production.

Take, for example, our Project Origin farm in Nicaragua. In order to keep this farm healthy, we need to apply twice as many treatments for la roya and broca this year, as compared to previous years.  As a result of the la roya/leaf rust problem, our production was decreased by 30% in 2016. Futhermore, with the heavy rains in October, the coffee cherries started fermenting on the trees, reducing quality by 30%. But we still sold coffees for same low price as last year and of course we were at a loss financially.

The reality is if these diseases and seasonal events continue to occur, we will produce less and less coffee, which will start affecting everyone.

 I would like to share with you today some more of my experiences not only as a coffee buyer, but also as a producer in three countries in Central America.

 About 7 years ago, I was traveling through Central America, cupping coffees and selecting lots to buy and ship back to Australia. I was given 10 coffees from the same producer, from a farm which was a COE winning farm, the same varietal and process for each coffee. The process was traditional washed process dry fermentation.

The difference in the taste between these 10 samples was huge. Some lots tasted really flat, some were nutty, others sharp, some dry, some amazing.  I was also surprised that out of all the amazing coffees in these countries, there were quite a lot of inconsistencies in flavour profiles; some coffees had flavour profiles of citrus, while others had stone fruit and some even berry characters. I found that these inconsistencies were very disappointing both for producer and also coffee roaster and baristas.   

Several years later, after tasting coffees with so many different producers all over the world, I realised that there is a common problem with consistency of quality and flavour complexities.

Why is coffee constantly inconsistent?

This gave me the idea of trying to understand how to achieve consistency and how to improve coffee on the farm level. This lead me to try several different experiments with over 50 producers in 10 countries I work with. We learned how to build better flavour complexities and also how to increase the quality of coffee. This resulted in multiple coffees winning awards, such as CoE, multiple times.  However, for some producers but we still had problems with consistency and I have  learned that this is coming mainly from fermentation.

So, why did I start producing coffee? In order to have even better understanding of coffee farming, I wanted to become coffee producers, so I could experiment for myself. In 2014, I bought my own Research and Development farm in Honduras in Santa Barbara region, ‘Finca Beti’.

I started looking for inspiration in more established industries, such as the wine and beer industries. One man in particular helped me and inspired me. His name is Tim Kirk and is the owner of Clonakilla Winery, which is a beautiful winery located near Canberra, my home.

When I visited Tim for the first time, I was so impressed with his set up. He knows the exact rainfall on his vineyards, as well as wind temperatures and exactly how this impacts flavour profile of his wine. I found this fascinating – I have never seen anyone with such a thorough understanding of climate and how it affects their product.

Tim controls temperature and humidity of environment for fermentation. He uses double-insulated stainless containers to increase clarity of fermentation. The pH, alcohol and Co2 are monitored and recorded, to ensure he achieves the consistency he desires. Tim explained to me that consistency of temperature humidity for wine is very important to standardise bacteria to get the taste he desires.

When I walked out I felt sick, and I wondered why we don’t not have these technologies and support in coffee. However, I was also inspired and already started thinking how can I apply this to coffee in my own farms and of course, with the producers I work with.

Fermentation

So the way fermentation in coffee works is that after we pulp parchment, we start breaking down sugars from mucilage in to yeast. The yeast that we activate is called sacromises cerevisiae.

This is a sugar fungus and it is wild yeast, that is also found on grapes, cacao beans and other fruits. Then we start creating bacteria, called lacto bacillus, and finally we start developing alcohol acetic acidity.

If we spend too much time in this last stage he have a risk of acitic acidity dominating the cup profile. This is usually associated with notes of  balsamic vinegar and a dry aftertaste. If it is completely over fermented, it also has risk of having phenolic defect, which presents itself as notes of rusted metal.

There are three different types of washed fermentations:

Open dry fermentation, where we pulp and place parchment in concrete tiled or stainless containers . This fermentation will help encourage sweet, chocolate and Fruity characters out of coffee

Closed fermentation, which attracts more wild bacteria called ‘Enterobacrices’. These encourage more floral notes in coffee.

Finally, we have wet fermentation, which means after we pulp the cherries, we cover the parchment in water. This will help to extend fermentation time and will result in smoother, softer body and more complex acidity.


Temperature and time

When our ONA Coffee Head trainer, Hugh Kelly, was preparing for the Australian and also the World Barista Championship in Dublin last year, we worked with the BanExport Team and producer, Elkin Guzman on chilled fermentation .

During this process, the coffee was fermented at 6 degrees Celcius. The reason for using this low temperature is to break down less sugars during fermentation, and to slow down the speed of alcoholic and lactic fermentation.

So, when we tasted a standard dry fermentation, which was done at ambient temperature at Elkin’s farm for 14 hours, the coffee was cupping 82 points. It was slightly astringent, with sour acidity and a hint of grassy notes.

But when that same coffee was fermenting in ‘chilled fermentation’ in a fridge at 6 degrees, we achieved some interesting results.

From a 24 hour chilled fermentation, we got a sweeter coffee, with apple like acidity, which scored approximately 87 points.

But at  32 hours, the coffee was cupped at 90 points with complex white grape acidity, as well as floral and  stone fruit characters.

Temperature and time of fermentation play huge factors in creating different flavour experiences. From these experiments, we learned that at cooled temperatures, complexity of acidity increases.

 I finally had this idea to make a style of fermentation that can build new flavour experience consistently, every single time. Imagine the best attributes of washed and natural process coffees in one cup, with amplified terroir and varietal characteristics. I wanted to create a technique where where we can add more aroma, flavour, tailor the taste, balance of acidity and sweetness, and even increase quality of these. And also, even more importantly, I wanted to create a process that we can replicate on farm level every singe time.

After many trials and  errors, we  came up with completely new coffee process, which we call Carbonic Maceration.

The way it works is we start by pulping cherries in stainless steel container; the reason we use stainless is to increase clarity. Then, we moved this container indoors, so we can control temperature. I realised that with different temperatures, we have flexibility to control taste, balance, intensity and the complexity of acidity vs sweetness. For example, if we wish to have more acidity, we should ferment at lower temperature or for more sweetness higher temperature.


 Low temp                                                    high temp

Higher quality acid                                      more sweetness

When we seal the containers, we encourage aromatics and add new flavour complexities. This means that we have attracted not only bacteria’s and sarcomysis yeast, but also wild yeast this together adds more floral flawour notes  in coffee 

CO2

Finally, we remove oxygen from this environment. Because of this, we reduce the breaking down of sugars and slow down growing bacteria; so, we can afford to have such long fermentation without attracting any unwanted acidity. With long fermentations we build more aromas and different layers and complexities of flavour, just like we do in natural process coffees.

 I believe that there is no perfect coffee varietal and there is no perfect process. However, if we can better tendencies of the flavour complexities in different varietals, we can better know how to control fermentation we will be able to create great coffees. And once we set right parameters we can replicate this process every single time, consistently.

 In order to add more value to the entire specialty coffee chain, we need to ask ourselves questions, such as ‘how can we support demand of great coffees?’

I believe that we need to achieve greatness in all parts of the coffee supply chain, with everyone working together as a team towards a common goal.

 Each one of us in this room  here is part of this chain. We all have a responsibly to be a part of and operate our businesses, but we all depend on the supply of great coffees, made by dedicated producers.    

Producers, roasters, baristas: We all want farmers to produce better quality coffees, consistently, as well as receive better returns so they can make their business sustainable. Only by working together as team towards these common goals can we make Global Specialty Coffee more sustainable and the future brighter for each one of us.

Thank you.”

Sasa Sestic