Our beans are carefully roasted in small 12 kilo batches to the peak of perfection. Quality roasting is essential to an epic cup of coffee but there are many other factors that directly effect it's flavor. When roasted properly the origin, cultivar, process and altitude of the bean will be apparent with each sip you take. As you learn about coffeeʼs journey from from crop to cup you will begin to understand why careful precision in roasting and brewing coffee is so vital to what we stand for. At Agro, we honour the farmer by roasting in a way that highlights the uniqueness of each bean they have so carefully cultivated.
Photo by CafeYVR
Coffee grows in a narrow subtropical zone around the world. From its origin in East Africa, coffee traveled to form a growing region between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. The differing terrain has created varietals with widely varying flavour characteristics. The volcanic mountains of Central America split into the Andes and the Cordillera, and then continue into South America. The soil around these old volcanoes is extremely mineral-rich. In areas farther away from the equator, the coffee is grown at lower elevations, and tiers of shade trees are used to protect the coffee from heat and direct sunlight.
Combined, the countries of Central and South America are the largest coffee producers in the world, with Brazil topping the list by volume of coffee grown and exported.
Seed to Green
To really know your coffee, you need to know where it came from, the varietal, and the milling process that was used. By the time coffee arrives at your lips, it has undergone an intensive process that takes years of effort and thousands of miles to travel. Each step in the coffee chain -- growing, harvesting, processing, shipping, and roasting -- directly affects the flavours in your cup. Coffee "beans" are the seeds of the coffee plant. Most seeds destined for cultivation are planted in a nursery and carefully monitored until they are hardy enough to plant. It typically takes 3- 5 years for a coffee tree to mature. The coffee tree first produces delicate clusters of while blossoms, resembling jasmine in shape and scent. Every time it rains, parts of the coffee trees will flower. After a few days, these blossoms are replaced by small green cherries, which ripen to yellow, then red, and finally almost black, all within six to nine months. Because the tree flowers after every rain, all the stages of the coffee cherry are happening at one time: flower, greens, and finished reds. This makes it difficult to pick the ripe ones except by hand. All of our beans come from coffee cherries that were hand picked at the peak of ripeness. Normally, a coffee cherry produces two seeds, which grow with their flat sides facing each other. So, each cherry produces two beans. It takes approximately 2,000 cherries, with two beans each, to produce just one pound of roasted coffee. Many coffee plantations are very small - less than 10 acres, which (at about 100 trees an acre) means 2,000 trees.
There are two commercial species of coffee: Arabica and Robusta. Robusta beans have a narrow range of taste, sometimes described as rubbery. The vast majority of Robustas are of relatively low quality. These beans are often used in high-volume commercial coffee blends for their higher caffeine content and lower cost. Very high-quality Robustas are out there and we are constantly changing our opinion on what a Robusta can be. Arabicas, on the other hand, have a wide range of tastes, including the berry flavours associated with Ethiopian Harar, the earthly tones of Indian and Indonesian coffees, and the citrus notes common with Central American beans. Arabicas grow at higher elevations (2,000 to 6,000 feet) in relatively cool tropical climates with rich soil, a variety of shade and sun, and lots of moisture. Within the Arabica family there are many different cultivars (synonymous with varieties or varietals).
Ciltivar (synonymous with variety and varietal) means one Type of Bean, from One Region.
A varietal is a coffee made exclusively from one type of coffee bean from a specific growing region. Like fine wine-growing areas around the world, coffees also have preferred growing areas where environmental conditions are perfect for creating premium coffee.
You will notice this distinction on our labels. Since we know exactly where our beans come from and who grew them we can tell our customers exactly what they are drinking. Some farms grow more than one variety of bean and may or may not separate them during harvest and milling.
For instance, Sumatra Indonesia coffee comes entirely from the Sumatra region/island of Indonesia, the premier coffee-growing area high in the mountains of Indonesia.
Even the slightest difference in growing altitude or conditions can account for flavor difference between varietal coffees. For the purist, varietals capture the essence of a particular region's unique coffee characteristics.
At Agro, we offer a number of different origin specific coffees. By doing this we try to encourage new regions and locations to become your favorite coffee. We want people to know where their coffee is coming from! We want to help these regions establish themselves in the market place and allow our family and friends here in North America to enjoy our coffee producers family and friends coffee. Agro Roasters is a community-based organization linking the coffee producing families to the coffee consuming families.
Typica is the base from which many coffee varietals have been developed. Like the other Arabica varietals that have been developed from it, Typica coffee plants have a conical shape with a main vertical trunk and secondary verticals that grow at a slight slant. Typica is a tall plant reaching 3.5-4 m in height. The lateral branches form 50-70° angles with the vertical stem. Typica coffee has a very low production, but has an excellent cup quality.
Bourbon produces more coffee than Typica but still remains a low yield varietal. A tall tree with deep red cherries, itʼs similar to Typica and produces a similar bean. It is used throughout Central & South America.
Caturra is a mutation of Bourbon with a medium-high yield. It produces a high quality cup however requires much more care than the original varieties.
Catuai is a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra. It has a high yield and needs plenty of care.
Geisha or Gesha originated in Ethiopia and was brought to Costa Rica and Panama in the 1960ʼs. It was rediscovered recently on a farm in Panama and has been renowned for its high quality. It is now only grown in Panama and produces a very limited quantity.
Peaberry is the result of a naturally occurring mutation wherein the cherry produces two coffee seed halves fused together to form one small spherical bean. Some consider peaberries to be superior in flavour than the typically flat faced beans and they are highly regarded as rare and unique.
SL-28 typically has a medium to sharp acidity and medium body. This varietal comes from Kenya. To be followed along the Bourbon and Kent line.
Once the ripe coffee cherries are picked, they must be processed quickly to extract the seed, which is the green coffee bean. A thin membrane called the silverskin covers the seed, along with a parchment, which separates it from the fleshy pulp. Then there is the outer skin (cherry), which covers the pulp. All these layers must be stripped off the seed while leaving the seed itself intact. This is generally done by one of two processes: the dry process, also called the “natural” process, or wet process. Washed coffee tends towards uniformity, while naturals are known for their sweetness and fruity aroma.
The dry process is common in Brazil and drier parts of Africa. Natural processing is not as uniform, but because the bean re-absorbs some of the pulpʼs sweetness and fruit flavours, it is said to add complexity to the coffee. As its name implies, the dry process involves placing the cherries in the sun to dry. When the skin and flesh are completely dry, the drupes, as they are then called, are put through a mechanical husker that breaks the skin, flesh, and parchment, thus freeing the beans. The beans are still covered by the silverskin, which is sometimes left and sometimes removed before shipping by "polishing". In general, the wet process, which is more resource-intensive, is used in water-abundant countries. The advantage of the wet process is uniformity, because every factor of the process can be controlled. Of course, the disadvantage is the large amount of water consumed. The wet process produces beans that are referred to as “washed coffees”. After being picked the coffee cherries must be processed within eighteen hours or less in order to avoid off-flavours. First, beans are put in a tank of water, where the overripe beans float to the top and are separated out. The ripe beans which sink to the bottom are put in de-pulpers which gently separate the bean from the pulp. After this, they go through another round of density-sorting and washing in long water-troughs. Again, the best beans are those that sink to the bottom. After the washing process, the pulp is gone but the seed is still coated with the residue of pulp on the outside of the parchment, called mucilage. At this point, the beans are fermented in baths of water to remove the mucilage. Fermentation must be timed carefully. If it goes too long, it will start to affect the flavour of the bean. After fermentation is complete, the beans must be dried. In a state-of-the-art processing mill, they may be tumble-dried in huge dryers. Otherwise, they will be spread out by hand in thin layers on burlap sacks or on a patio to dry in the sun. After drying, the beans rest for up to thirty days, and then are put through a machine to break through the hard skin of the parchment and release the beans without damaging them.
The global commodity chain of coffee involves a long line of producers, middlemen, exporters, importers, roasters, and retailers before reaching you, the consumer. Our goal is to reduce this chain to only those involved in adding value to the product.
Coffee beans have been one of the most precious commodities in the world for at least a thousand years. Itʼs the second most traded commodity, second only to oil, and the most traded agricultural item--even more than rice and wheat! There are approximately 25 million farmers and workers in over 50 countries involved in coffee production around the world. Coffee was traditionally developed as a colonial cash crop, planted by wage laborers in tropical climates on large plantations. Coffee producers, like many agricultural workers in Canada and around the world, are kept in a cycle of poverty and debt by the current realm of globalization that is designed to exploit cheap labor and keep consumer prices low. An estimated 11 million hectares of the world's farmland are dedicated to coffee cultivation. The largest producer and exporter is Brazil, followed by Colombia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Mexico. Around the globe, the annual consumption of coffee has expanded to 12 billion pounds.
Coffee is often depended on as a source of export earnings for many of the developing countries that grow it. Most small farmers only have the opportunity to sell to middlemen and brokers who are commonly referred to as coyotes. These coyotes are renowned for taking advantage of small farmers, paying them below market price for their harvests and keeping a high percentage of the profits for themselves. Large coffee estate owners usually have the financial resources to process and export their own harvests. These coffees are sold at the prices set by the New York Coffee Exchange. However, extremely low wages and poor working conditions for farm workers characterize some estate coffee jobs.
Importers purchase green coffee from established exporters and plantation owners in producing countries. More and more importers like our partners buy directly from the small farmer cooperatives. Importers bring in large container loads and hold inventory, selling gradually through numerous small orders. Since many roasters rely on this service, importers wield a great deal of influence over the types of green coffee that are sold in North America.
Sourcing is a method of purchasing coffee. Agro Roasters and its partners visit the countries and regions where great coffee is being produced. We then identify small farms and cooperatives from whom we can directly purchase our coffee. During this process we view their harvesting methods and processing equipment to ensure the highest quality coffee. We perform a number of quality control tests including cupping a number of different farms coffees.
When it comes to sourcing our coffee beans, we take a hands on approach and is committed to sustainability. Agricultural expansion is the single largest threat to tropical rain forests. Farmers need education in several areas to reduce this threat, especially regarding sustainable farming practices. By sourcing our coffee directly from the farms we help farmers develop a sustainable policy. Not only does direct sourcing ensure you the highest quality coffee but it also establishes a family relationship with our producers. We show them the families that drink their coffee giving them an enormous sense of satisfaction knowing their family is producing coffee for your family!