We can't think of a better way to start the new year than with the La María by Pura Cepa Project. To us, this image of the sun over La María Farm, Caldas region, Colombia represents not only the year to come, but a new era for Colombian coffee; one that pushes the boundaries of innovation, science and sustainability. And it is being driven by the passionate people behind the Pura Cepa Project.
La María Farm, Colombia. Image source: LaTorre & Dutch
Producer: La María Farm
Lot: La Borbonera
Altitude: 1750 - 1950 m.a.s.l.
Varietal: Arabica (Bourbon, Caturra, Castillo)
Processing: Carbonic Maceration using their own special Kefir cultured at Origin.
Milk chocolate, red apple, wine, mid-high body, clean aftertaste.
With a coffee like this, we've chosen a roast profile that preserves its sweetness, acidity and complex flavours. Roasted specifically for manual brew methods (filter coffee, etc.), or to be enjoyed as a long-black.
Cream of the Crop
Pura Cepa is an expression in Spanish that means “the cream of the crop”. The name embodies the values and dreams of the initiative which is to provide full-circle sustainability: healthy incomes for 3,000-4,000 farmers and families, as well as social, environmental and educational benefits to the community as a whole.
Pura Cepa was created with the objective of establishing a sustainable model in the communities and challenging the status quo in the coffee industry.
"This project is based on the transformation of coffee with a scientific and innovative sense, we do not improvise in our processes and this is reflected in our constant results. First of all, we work hand in hand with the community where we establish the project; in this case in Colombia, we are in Villamaria, Caldas; in the heart of Colombia and in a region that has historically been a coffee producer, the Colombian coffee axis.
To begin to fulfill our objective as Pura Cepa, our first step was to meet with the coffee growers of the area adjacent to our La María farm; they are usually producers that have an average of 2 to 4 hectares of coffee and that sell in the local market at prices established by the New York Stock Exchange. We meet with them and propose that we buy their cherry coffee at a jointly established price and a higher percentage of the local market; we reach an agreement on the price and quality of the cherry they have to deliver."
Benefits for the coffee growers
- Reduction of costs since they do not have to process their coffee (Water, Electricity and labor)
- Increased cash flow since they do not have to wait up to 4 weeks until the coffee is dry. They don't have to depend on bank credits to pay for coffee pickers at the beginning of the harvest.
- Opportunity for crop diversification; coffee processing takes a lot of time and labor that doesn't let producers do anything else
- Fixed and high income over time, as it is specialty coffee and can achieve higher prices above highly-fluctuating commodity coffee prices.
A project 100% cemented with science.
Pura Cepa is an ecosystem of biological engineers, microbiologists, winemakers, Q Graders and mechanical engineers who work together at every single Pura Cepa washing station around the world, bringing true science into the processing.
Cross-Pollination of science and passion; where winemaking and coffee processing merge
Pura Cepa is revolutionising the way coffee is processed in Colombia, and they're producing fine coffees with a depth of flavour and wide-ranging aroma profiles. Currently at La María farm, they employ various processing techniques such as Carbonic Maceration, Naturalis and Aqua Cherry.
Piloted in October 2016 in the region of Cañasgordas, Antioquia, Colombia, where they co-own a mill, "everything started for the love of coffee and wine and the knowledge gap found between the two" says Andres Latorre, Managing Director of Latorre & Dutch the organisation behind the Pura Cepa Project.
"One of the biggest inefficiencies in coffee production lies in the fermentation and drying process, where any number of variables of a given processing location may cause a huge impact on the final quality of the product. Previously, it had not been possible to directly relate cause to effect when high rates of variability are noticed in coffee lots, as wild yeast and bacteria react differently, and even more, the added impact in quality that fungus and mould generation caused during the processing stage."
It was at this time, Pura Cepa along with a handful of industry leaders began experimenting with different coffee techniques to control the processing at a microbiological level, including carbonic maceration - a technique that has evolved out of generations of winemaking.
Carbonic Maceration at Pura Cepa La María
Pura Cepa Team ferments coffee cherries in stainless steel tanks using a special kefir that they culture themselves, and put in place strict measures controlling temperature, time, pH, sugar content, bacteria and other microorganisms.
They also created an innovative drying mechanism that has proven to reduce drying time by more than 300%, leaving no trace of mould or fungus generation, while preserving the molecular structure of the coffee intact and keeping the all-important embryo alive.
Every harvest, it's a fine dance of identifying and selecting specific strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria, culturing the kefir and adding it to the coffee cherry to aid the fermentation, while simultaneously monitoring for any counterproductive bacteria, fungus and moulds, and eliminating it from the process.
"Our Kefir was developed by the team of biological engineers of Latorre & Dutch" says Sebastian Diacono, the manager leading the farm operation and processing at La María, Colombia.
This development was based on designing our own microorganisms that would give us a unique and differential character; these microorganisms come from the same coffee and its environment, after several trials, lot of trial and error, we were able to isolate certain yeasts and lactic bacteria that make our kefir the ideal complement for our coffee. Our kefir is of natural origin and is constantly fed by natural sources of energy, produced in the area of our farm.
We firmly believe that this is the future of coffee growing and the ideal for obtaining differentiated coffees."
We believe so too.
What they've succeeded to do is capture the terroir of La María, distilled into every coffee bean. Terroir, or the taste of the place, represents the intricate relationship of the coffee to place, people, and microorganisms. There's purpose, complexity and deliciousness every time we drink the La María carbonic maceration.
What is coffee fermentation?
Until recently, the fermentation of coffee (when sugars and starches found naturally in the coffee cherry, are broken down and become acids or alcohol) has largely occurred from a spontaneous reaction by yeasts and bacteria that exist on the fruit skin, and in the air and water. During the process, the yeasts and bacteria produce sugars, organic acids, volatiles and other enzymes that can positively and negatively affect the end quality of the green bean.
There are many methods of processing coffee, but the three that are mainly used include: dry, semi-dry (honey or pulped natural), and wet. Below is a journal extract from *Martinez, et.al. 2019 about the wet method.
"Wet method coffee fruits are first depulped mechanically, leaving part of the mucilage. Then, beans are put in fermentation tanks with water, allowing fermentation take place for 6 to 72 h (depending on the environmental temperature), followed by drying (Avallone et al., 2001; Evangelista et al., 2015). Coffee from the wet method contains a higher acidity than the other methods (Peñuela-Martínez et al., 2018). Acidity is due to the lowering of the pH by bacteria during wet fermentation."
Sometimes the fermentation result can be complex and spectacular, but sometimes it can be complex and dreadful. Most times, it's somewhere in between. Specialty coffee producers who care deeply about their product try to limit this variability as much as possible. Proper drying procedures can go a long way to help also. For roasters like us, even though we always roast and taste small samples before purchasing, sometimes there is that fear that we could have one green bean in the bag that could affect the entire batch when roasted. Controlling these variables at every step of the way, starting from origin, is critical.
Enter in the science of winemaking and the cross-pollination of ingenious minds. We first heard of a new technique of coffee fermentation in 2015 when World Barista Champion, Sasa Sestic
presented a coffee bean at the Barista Championships that had been "washed carbonic macerated" - a method of controlled fermentation using a technique borrowed from the wine world. It came out of an experimental collaboration with renowned Australian winemaker, Tim Kirk, Clonakilla Winery. Read more about this in ab article by the Perfect Daily Grind here
What is Carbonic Maceration?
The Wine Enthusiast
breaks down the method and origins of carbonic maceration really well:
"Carbonic maceration is a winemaking technique that’s applied primarily to light- to medium-bodied red wines to make them fruitier and to soften their tannins...
This method involves filling a sealed vessel with carbon dioxide and then adding whole, intact bunches of grapes.
...[M]odern, controlled maceration carbonique
was invented in the Beaujolais
region of France, just south of Burgundy, where the light- to medium-bodied Gamay
grape rules. In the mid-to-late 20th century, Beaujolais’s reputation was elevated thanks to carbonic macerated wines, particularly Beaujolais Nouveau
, an early-drinking wine released just weeks after fermentation is complete. The man credited with the discovery of carbonic maceration is French scientist Michel Flanzy who used carbon dioxide as a grape preservation technique in 1934. It didn’t gain speed until the 1960s, however. Around the same time, Jules Chauvet, a négociant
and chemist from Beaujolais widely considered the godfather of natural wine, also made great strides with his studies in semi-carbonic maceration of Gamay grown on Beaujolais’s granite soils. The technique is used widely by natural winemakers today."
*Martinez SJ, Bressani APP, Dias DR, Simão JBP, Schwan RF. Effect of Bacterial and Yeast Starters on the Formation of Volatile and Organic Acid Compounds in Coffee Beans and Selection of Flavors Markers Precursors During Wet Fermentation. Front Microbiol. 2019;10:1287. Published 2019 Jun 26. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2019.01287