In a world getting short on water, coffee lovers should begin to get their palates ready to recognize “Dry Processed” or “Naturals” when they buy coffee.
Naturals are processed from cherry to green bean without the customary water de-pulping and subsequent water bath. In the dry process, coffee cherries are dried with their skins and pulp intact.
The cherries are placed in the sun on concrete patios or raised drying beds. The skins tighten as they dry and the pulp juices move inward into the two seed in the cherry’s interior. When the mass is totally dry and crisp, and hard as a rock, they are milled like rice, cleaned and sorted and sacked.
This process produces quite a different flavor profile from wet processed “washed coffee.” The coffees take on the hints of the fruit and at their best, notes of blueberry and strawberry prevail. There is a jammy sensitivity to the brew, lots of body and fruit aromas.
Of course, these great flavors disappear in the darker roasts. We roast naturals, both light and medium, depending on the initial intensity of the fruit flavors.
This month we are featuring two “naturals.” One is from Ethiopia and received a 91 rating from Coffee Review. The other is from one of our favorite coffee farmers in Nicaragua, Byron Corrales, and received a 94 rating.
Byron began experimenting with naturals about 6 years ago. He was the first to master the art in Nicaragua and his naturals are a tad more balanced and a bit less fruity than the Ethiopians, but the jam is there as are the sweet berry flavors.
One of my favorite blending concepts is to blend naturals with washed coffees. In fact, Paul’s Blend is just that.
– Paul Katzeff Roastmaster Emeritus Thanksgiving Coffee
Back in 1978 (that’s thirty eight years ago) I was just beginning to learn about coffee. I spent the first six years getting comfortable with the fire and heat it took to convert it from a tasteless seed into a toasted reddish brown carrier of comforting flavor.
Then I turned my focus to understanding the botany and chemistry of this magical “bean.” One of the first things I wanted to know was what made my coffee so much better then every canned coffee on the shelf.
Back then, a one pound can of Folgers or Martinson’s cost one dollar. My coffee, packed in a clear bag, closed with a twist tie at the top, was $3.50 per pound. I wondered, how could those big coffee companies turn out coffee at such a low price?
Back then there was not a lot of intellectual conversation about coffee in print or on the web. (There was no web, the closest thing to it was The Encyclopedia Britannica.) Coffee was an unsophisticated cup of Joe and not much more. There were no “to go” cups. You didn’t see people walking in the streets, or driving cars with cups of coffee in there hand. Cars didn’t have cup holders yet. Cane sugar found its greatest use in coffee and there was no such thing as corn syrup in packaged foods. It was a simpler time, a time before craft beer, and when people smoked in restaurants.
My investigation led me to Robusta coffee vs. Arabica Coffee.
Back then Every coffee company said their coffee was “Mountain Grown,” an indication that it was High Quality with “Deep, Rich” flavor. But it was pretty much a lie. The canned coffee was basically the lowest grades of coffee they could put into the mouths of unsuspecting and gullible American consumers. The truth was that the major portion of the canned coffee blends was coffee from a variety called Robusta, and Robusta was really cheap coffee with a rough, leathery flavor with wood notes and an ashy dry finish. But it had a heavy body and packed a punch that my coffee did not come close to.
So what was going on here? I was roasting Arabicas, and they were blending in Robustas with their Arabica’s to lower their cost. Robusta was all about volume and price. Arabica was all about flavor. The difference between Specialty Coffee and the 300 year history of coffee leading up to 1978 was the focus on Arabica varieties and the disdain for the Robusta variety.
The botany of these two varieties was very different. Although a raw coffee bean is known to have over 1600 chemical compounds, we tend to define coffee by its caffeine content. (Did you know coffee is 20% coffee oil by weight?) I learned that Robusta varieties have 2.5 -3 times the caffeine as Arabica varieties. I learned that caffeine is a waste product of photosynthesis and is stored in the plant only because the plant, unlike the animal kingdom, can not get rid of its waste. So there it is. And being water soluble, it is not destroyed by the high heat of roasting, and comes out into the cup when coffee is brewed.
So why do these two varieties produce such different levels of Caffeine?
To get to the answer you need to know that the two varieties do best in different environments. The Robusta variety likes the lowlands where the sun is hot, the air is heavy and moist, and the ground is rich in alluvial soils. The Arabica variety loves the cool dryer climates of the high country between 3,000-6,000 ft above sea level. Here the soils are young, with a very thin layer of topsoil, the ground is cool and the forest shade trees are essential for the light sensitive leaves of the Arabica tree.
Photosynthesis is the process by which the plant takes in sunlight (energy) and along with the soils nutrients and water, converts these assets into food. In this case, into coffee berries which contain two seeds and a whole lot of sweet juicy pulp that surrounds them. The seeds are the way the plants reproduces itself, and in the two different environments that these varieties call home, the seeds wind up with different amounts of Carbohydrates (food) and Caffeine (waste). Why?
Germination risk is the reason. The tree evolved to maximize its chances for survival.
When a coffee tree drops its berries at the end of a growing season, it wants the seeds to have a high success rate, meaning it wants its seeds to germinate. In the case of the Arabica variety, high up the mountainside, the conditions for germination and young seedling survival are slim. The soil is dry and cool , and the rainy season is six months after the seeds are ripe and fall from the tree to the ground. The tree knows that it might be a while for the conditions to become perfect. So it prepares the seed by being very efficient with its photosynthesis.
It produces more food and less waste for each seed. High carbs for the long wait and for energy for sprouting under difficult conditions. The Robusta tree does not waste its energy on producing a lot of carbs for the seed’s germination energy because it knows that the soil is warm and moist, and that the nutrients are there in the soil to feed the plant in its sprouting stage. Why waste energy on producing long chain, complex carbohydrates? So the energy goes into the production of Caffeine.
I like to think of the Robusta as a Buick that will operate without being highly tuned and the Arabica tree as a Ferrari that will not run unless it is highly tuned.
Hardy Robusta – Fragile Arabica. Arabicas taste better because they have the need to put food in the seed. That food is a complex starch that under high heat, breaks down into simple sugars which caramelize and produce the flavor of coffee. Robusta has starch to convert to sugar in the roasting process and thus, it is less sweet. Now, caffeine being one of nature’s most bitter substances, adds a distinguishing bitterness to coffee- and 3 times more in Robusta. Arabica coffees have less caffeine, and more carbohydrates so it is sweeter and less bitter. The major negative in Robusta, Caffeine, becomes a positive when you forget the flavor and use it for the speedy pick-up that its caffeine gives the drinker.
In 1978 Thanksgiving Coffee Company introduced Pony Express, “The Jackhammer of Coffee,” the start your day with a “Blastoff” drink.
It is natures natural five-hour power shot. It will make your heart race, it will keep you on your toes, and if you want to stay awake, you will stay awake!
Today, Robusta coffees are quite a bit more flavorful, mostly because the way coffee has evolved over the past 35 years. Flavor counts for value, and value means higher price. When I first created Pony Express, the flavor was metallic with a petroleum aftertaste. It was rough and not to satisfying. Today, our Robusta comes from places like Cambodia, Thailand, and the Philippines. It is clean and has a flavor that will take you back to a time when coffee was “Just a cup of Joe”, but this time, you might just develop a taste for it and never look back.
In 2015, Thanksgiving Coffee became a B Corporation, joining a global community of socially and environmentally progressive businesses.
What’s a B Corp?
B Corps are leading a global movement of people using business as force for good. They use the power of business to solve social and environmental problems. B Corps are for-profit companies certified by the nonprofit B Lab to meet rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.
Today, there is a growing community of more than 1,550 B Corporations 42 Countries 130 Industries 1 Unifying Goal: to redefine success in business.
Why did we become a B Corp?
Thanksgiving Coffee has been a longtime advocate of sustainable business practices. We pride ourselves on our long standing work with farmers at origin, investing in social justice and environmental projects, Fair Trade and Organic and biodynamic coffee growing methods. We constantly evaluate our decisions based on their social and environmental impact. B Corp certification seemed like a logical step for us, to join others who operate under these same principles .
We first looked into B Corp Certification because we felt the community reflected our company values, and because we wanted to formalize our membership in the socially and environmentally progressive business community. It’s a simple way of expressing our values to our staff, customers, partners and suppliers. We’re proud to be a part of this movement.
B Corp is to business what Fair Trade certification or USDA Organic certification is to coffee. Inc Magazine calls B Corp “the highest standard in socially responsible business.”
To become certified, we underwent the B Impact Assessment. This is conducted by B Lab, a 501(c)3 nonprofit that serves a global movement, “People using Business as a Force for Good.” The assessment shows how a company performs against dozens of best practices on employee, community, and environmental impact.
Once our score was reached, we can then compare and learn how to improve the way we conduct our business for the future. This was a great opportunity to see how we stand and where to set our goals on where we want to be.
The second component to this is our company’s legal status, ensuring that we can justifiably incorporate social and environmental values into our business decisions without risking legal action from our shareholders. This is done by becoming a Benefit Corporation and changing the articles of incorporation.
Finally, we made it official by signing the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence:
We envision a global economy that uses business as a force for good.
This economy is comprised of a new type of corporation – the B Corporation – Which is purpose-driven and creates benefit for all stakeholders, not just shareholders.
As B Corporations and leaders of this emerging economy, we believe:
– That we must be the change we seek in the world.
– That all business ought to be conducted as if people & place mattered.
– That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm & benefit all.
– To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another & thus responsible for each other & future generations.
We won’t stop here. We’ll continue to make strides to improve scores where they’re less than the median, and maintain our practices that are already high. After 2 years, we’ll need to re-certify and prove that we’re still worthy of B Corp status.
Blind Assessment: Delicately bright, exhilarating. Candied lemon, vanilla, pear, baker’s chocolate in aroma and cup. Gentle, lively acidity; light, satiny mouthfeel. Lemon and crisp chocolate carry into a sweet, lightly flavor-saturated finish.
Notes: This coffee is certified organically grown and Fair Trade Certified, meaning it was purchased from small-holding farmers at a “fair” or economically sustainable price. This coffee was produced by farmers in the Worka Cooperative, currently representing 305 members. Southern Ethiopia coffees like this one are produced from traditional Ethiopian varieties of Arabica long grown in the region. It was processed by the wet or washed method (fruit skin and pulp are removed before drying). Ethiopia coffees processed with this method typically express great aromatic complexity and intensity, with a particular emphasis on floral notes.
Who Should Drink It: Those who value gently bright coffees, delicate, aromatic, pure.
Blind Assessment: Richly fruity and cidery. Baker’s chocolate, apple cider, wisteria-like flowers, a brightening hint of grapefruit in aroma and cup. Resonant, roundly tart acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel.
Notes: This coffee is certified organically grown and Fair Trade Certified, meaning it was purchased from small-holding farmers at a “fair” or economically sustainable price. It was produced by the Banko Gotitit Cooperative, established in 2012 and currently representing 300 members. Southern Ethiopia coffees like this one are produced from traditional Ethiopian varieties of Arabica long grown in the region. This is a “natural” or dry-processed version, meaning the beans were dried inside the fruit, encouraging a flavor profile that is less predictable and deeper than the more familiar wet-processed floral- and citrus-toned southern Ethiopia profile.
Who Should Drink It: Those who enjoy the subtle, complexly sweet ferment and lush flowers of the more rustic style of dried-in-the-fruit or “natural” coffees.
Many of the decaf coffees available in the supermarket are sourced from “past crop” coffees, which is why so many people think of decafs as tasting “a bit off” or “stale.”
We care deeply about the flavor of our decaf coffees. We send new coffee crop green beans directly to our Certified Organic decaffeination facility.
Shop Decaf Coffee
We have found a cooperative in Veracruz, Mexico that is a stone’s throw from the best decaffeinating plant in North America, which uses the Mountain Water Process. The green coffee beans are immersed in mountain glacial water to extract the coffee oils and caffeine.
The water/coffee oils/caffeine solution is then passed through a special filter to remove the caffeine. The flavor rich, but caffeine-free coffee solution is then returned to the coffee beans under pressure, to re-infuse them with their original oils. The decaffeinated beans are then thoroughly dried and tested for quality to maintain the flavor profile of the original coffee.
A note from our co-founder, Paul Katzeff, about decaf coffee…
I have always loved my after-dinner coffee with a dessert. The next three hours were bright and awake for me, perfect for reading a book without dozing, or watching a ball game. But, my body stopped metabolizing the caffeine as fast as when I was younger, and the coffee had to go if I wanted some good sleep.
Then the decaf revolution began to speed up, and decaf became tolerable for me. I accepted less flavor in favor of good sleep but I also knew there was a better train a-comin’ and I wanted to ride it, even be it’s conductor.
Thanksgiving Coffee is a small decaf railroad engine and we have done what I had hoped we could do. We have found a way to make decaf indistinguishable from caffeinated coffee flavor. There is a quality in the cup you will find as satisfying as any coffee you ever loved, and wanted more of.
As a coffee lover, I invite you to join me in a good night’s sleep after a great cup or three of our decaf, roasted to the exact flavor profile you love. I know you will be amazed, and hope you will feed me back your tasting comments below!
Sincerely, Paul Katzeff CEO & Roastmaster Emeritus
Blind Assessment: Richly cocoa-toned, crisp and balanced. Cocoaish dark chocolate, blood orange, fig, musky lily in aroma and cup. Crisp, gentle acidity; light, silky mouthfeel. The cocoa-like chocolate rings on in a quietly resonant finish.
Notes: This coffee is certified organically grown and Fair Trade certified, meaning it was purchased from small-holding farmers at a “fair” or economically sustainable price. It was produced by the ASOCAFE cooperative, established in 1990 and comprising roughly three-hundred farmers.
Who Should Drink It: This quietly complex, crisply chocolate-toned cup should please those who prefer the subtle and silky to the bright and assertive in a Fair Trade- and organic-certified coffee.
Blind Assessment: Immaculately sweet; lyrical. Peach, honey, lavender and honeysuckle, fresh-cut cedar in aroma and cup. Sweet, high-toned acidity; lightly syrupy mouthfeel. Peach, honey and flowers carry into a crisply sweet finish.
Notes: Rwanda’s tremendous potential as fine coffee producer has only come to fruition over the past several years owing to generous support from international aid agencies, the specialty coffee community and the industry of its growers. Made up entirely of the admired Red Bourbon cultivar and certified fair-trade, this lot comes from the Dukunde Kawa Cooperative; this collection of farmers in known as Musasa, after the areas major town. In 2012 Thanksgiving won the SCAA’s Sustainability Award for work they’ve done with this cooperative since 2004. One of the country’s pioneering socially and environmentally progressive roasters, Thanksgiving aimed to combine coffee quality with social and environmental responsibility many years before the latter preoccupations became fashionable. Visit www.thanksgivingcoffee.com or call 800-648-6491 for more information.
Who Should Drink It: Those who enjoy a profound natural sweetness in a Fair-Trade-certified coffee. Sweeter and more delicate than a typical good Rwanda.
Blind Assessment: Sweet-toned, gentle, juicy. Pineapple, sweet chocolate, rum, minty flowers, fresh-cut cedar in aroma and cup. Round, richly lively acidity; full, very syrupy mouthfeel. Flavor consolidates in a finish that balances continuing sweetness with a crisp drying edge.
Notes: This exceptional coffee was selected as the #13 coffee on Coffee Review’s list of the Top 30 Coffees of 2014. Certified organically grown from trees of the Maracaturra variety, a hybrid developed by Byron Corrales, the innovating Nicaraguan farmer who also produced this coffee. Maracaturra is a cross between the workhorse local dwarf variety Caturra (itself a mutant of the heirloom Bourbon) and the rare, huge-beaned Maragogipe, making it a parallel variety to the better-known Pacamara, a cross between Maragogipe and Pacas (also a mutant selection of Bourbon). A fine example of a “natural” or dry-processed coffee, meaning the beans were dried inside the fruit, encouraging a flavor profile that is sweeter and deeper-toned than the more familiar wet-processed coffees of Central America. One of the country’s pioneering socially and environmentally progressive roasters, Thanksgiving aimed to combine coffee quality with social and environmental responsibility many years before the latter preoccupations became fashionable. Visit www.thanksgivingcoffee.com or call 800-648-6491 for more information.
Who Should Drink It: Aficionados may enjoy sampling an unusual variety and its enormous beans, but everyone with a refined coffee sweet tooth should enjoy the natural sweetness and tropical fruit (and drink) suggestions proposed by aroma and flavor.
Blind Assessment: Deep, intense but balanced. Peach, sweet chocolate, plum blossom, ripe orange in aroma and cup. Delicate, lyrically lively acidity; silky mouthfeel. Peach and chocolate in particular carry into a resonantly flavor-saturated finish.
Notes: From one of the few certified organic farms in the Kona growing region, Mahina Mele, or “Moonsong Farm” in Hawaiian. One of the country’s pioneering socially and environmentally progressive roasters, Thanksgiving aimed to combine coffee quality with social and environmental responsibility many years before the latter preoccupations became fashionable.
Who Should Drink It: A splendid organically grown Kona that manages to be deep yet delicate, and utterly pure in its peach and floral nuance.