Let’s talk about coffee picking

This is a very important part of the year for us … coffee farmers. We are beginning our harvesting period, and the fruit of our work will be rated. However, our work is still not finished and harvesting plays a critical part in the quality of coffee. Even if the coffee trees have been properly nourished, guarded from diseases, protected from the wind and from too much sunshine; if the coffee is not picked at the proper ripeness the quality will be damaged.

Ripeness can be determined by the colour of the cherry. The best time to harvest is when the cherries are red, just before they begin turning into a dark violet colour.

During the harvesting, workers put into their baskets only the “red coloured” cherries. At the end of the day, they go through what they have picked and separate the ripe red cherries from any green, unripe (orange-yellowish), over ripe (violet) or dry cherries that might have been picked.

Full mature cherries will produce the sweet taste we look for in a Specialty Coffee cup. The terroir and the environment that surrounds the coffee forest will also accent floral, nuts and fruit notes that will be perceived in the aroma and cupping profile of the coffee. Once the coffee has been picked it begins its natural fermentation process; therefore, it is important to take the coffee to the mill for same day processing.

Why can the different levels of ripeness damage the quality of the cup?

Green and Unripe cherries are coffee beans that did not finish their evolution process. They will give an astringent taste to the cup quality, thus affecting its sweetness. Over ripe cherries and cherries that are not processed on the same day of harvest will give a sour fermented and unpleasant taste.

Our farms are beginning to turn red, in the next few weeks we will begin the picking of red ripe cherries. The mountains are looking beautifully green and red, and soon we will hear the sound and echoes of our workers singing and laughing while they enjoy the new harvesting period. Trees will be filled with sweet, honey, juicy coffee cherries that will be exported around the world.

In the mean time, and until you come to visit… here is a small view of nature’s beauty. Look forward to seeing you soon!121124 Maduración café

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Let’s talk about experiences

Aside

Last month Kirstie, from New Zealand,  came to visit our farms with the purpose of learning how to make a great cup of coffee. It was the first time for her in a coffee farm and in Latin America. I asked Kirstie to share her experience with you….

On my first day at work as the “More FM” intern I was asked to make a cup of coffee.  After failing miserably I was handed an envelope which held my fate. The letter inside read “you are going to the country where Gravity coffee beans come from-El Salvador”.

Before I knew it I found myself running out of 239 Ponsonby Road in Auckland, New Zealand and arriving into San Salvador airport in El Salvador.  I knew little about El Salvador, where it was or what I would be faced with when I arrived. When I stepped out of the airport I was immediately struck by a wave of heat. It was nine in the morning and about 37 degrees.

We drove through San Salvador the capital city on the way to Monte Sion the coffee farm. Everything was so surreal, I still could not believe I was half way across the world. The landscape was beautiful a lot of mountain ranges, volcanoes and greenery everywhere I looked. It was about an hour ride up to the farm along a very bumpy road. It felt like I was constantly on a roller coaster but once I saw the brightly painted blue and yellow gates of Monte Sion it all seemed worth it.

We were about 1,300 feet above sea level looking over mountain after mountain. It was absolutely breathtaking I had forgotten all about the heat. The farm was all beautifully hand painted mostly in blue and yellow. We went on a short tour around the farm before breaking for lunch. I was amazed at the number
of trees one farm contained they just did not seem to stop. We headed back up for lunch with the workers. It was hard to communicate with them since no one spoke english but you can always use the emotive language.

After lunch Lilliana started handing out food packages to the workers. This happens each month and is totally voluntary from the owners of Monte Sion. Depending on the number of people in each family determines how much food is given. Monte Sion do many things for the community including running health clinics as well as numeracy and literacy programs for the children.

Then we walked up into the hills where I learnt about the coffee making process. It was hard to take everything in because we had the most stunning view but I did my best to listen. There is so much I never knew about coffee. Firstly, the bean grows as a bud on a tree this then becomes a gorgeous white flower which drops off and begins the cherry growing process. A green cherry shaped flower develops and in time turns a deep red colour.

At Monte Sion these cherries are all hand picked. I learnt how the altitude, hand picking and organic materials used influences the taste of the bean. Inside the cherries are two small coffee beans. The beans have a sticky nectar around them which tastes like a sweet melon. The sticky substance is what gives the beans there amazing flavour.  Stu, the Gravity Coffee brewmaster, showed me which were the best cherries to pick to ensure the beans are at there prime and then he left me to pick 6000 of them.

After carefully selecting 6000 cherries I was taken to the Mill where my beans were de pulped which mean taking the skin off so only the beans are left and then dried. At the mill there is a huge courtyard specifically for drying the beans. After the beans are dry they are turned onto a conveyor belt where workers hand remove any effected beans so only the best beans are bagged up and sent all over the world. Some of the defects include weather and animal destroyed beans or left over shells. Once only the best beans are selected they are bagged into large Hussein sacks, stamped and sealed ready for delivery.

This is only the first step of the coffee making process, I am extremely lucky to have this unique opportunity. I never knew how much work actually goes into producing a single cup of coffee. I learnt so much from my trip and I am so thankful that we had the best hosts possible. It was then time to head home to learn how to create the perfect brew and how to make the perfect barista coffee before testing out my new found skills on the “More FM” breakfast crew, all within one week. I cannot wait to wow people with my extensive coffee knowledge.

Let´s talk about Roya

Roya is a disease caused by the Hemileia Vastatrix fungus. It germinates with water and young living plant tissue, and causes leaves to fall down from the trees leaving coffee cherries exposed to the sun and wind thus producing:

  1. Acceleration of the maturity process
  2. Cherries that will not be able to reach ripeness
  3. Lighter weight cherries
  4. Ripeness in different stages, not all at the same time
  5. Damage to the vegetation growth that will support more than 50 to 70% of the next year´s crop (2013)

In normal rainy seasons Roya begins its multiplication and dissemination between May and September. But the highest incidence is observed between the months of December and January (dry season).

Similarly to what happened in 1981 and 1982, the heavy rains that were received in El Salvador in 2011 and 2012 have not allowed Roya to diminish its levels as it would on a normal year. On the contrary, it gave it the perfect condition to grow rapidly in April and May 2012; thus El Salvador´s coffee forest have experience heavy Roya problems in August and September.

Due to the world wide climate changes, Roya is a problem that is not only seen in low areas, but it is now affecting high grown and strictly high grown crops.

Farms that are most affected are those with:

  1. Old Coffee trees and trees that have not been pruned
  2. High incidence of ground plagues
  3. Soils with bad nutrition and/or high acidity
  4. Varieties that are not resistant to Roya such as those of the Arabica variety (95% of the coffee forests in El Salvador)

For those farms that still have one or more months before they begin picking, PROCAFE has recommended to apply a systemic fungicide and a foliar fertilizer containing Potassium, Phosphorus, Calcium, Boron and Zinc.

The proper management of our farms through renovation of the coffee forest, pruning, fertilizations, plague control and fungicide applications in March and August have allowed us to have a low incidence of Roya in our fields (between 10 and 20%). At the time we are following Procafe´s recommendation and are applying in addition to the systemic fungicide Boron, Zinc and organic juices to help prevent mayor damages.

Source of Information on Roya: Procafe, El Salvador

Let´s talk about Health

Among some of the causes of health problems in El Salvador we can mention: air contamination, lack of potable water, poor education on hygiene standards, bad nutrition habits and poverty.

According to statistics provided by the Health Ministry in El Salvador in the year 2008 the main diseases that affected the population (all ages) of El Salvador were:

Disease Percentage   Rate
Acute   Respiratory diseases 26%
Urinary   diseases 5%
Digestive   system diseases 4%
Skin   problems 4%
Traumas 4%

Respiratory problems, digestive/diarrhea and skin diseases were the highest problems suffered by children under the age of 14.

To help reduce these problems in the communities with which we work, we have taught them on the importance of washing their hands before eating, boiling water used for drinking, the use of latrines and the importance of having a healthy balanced diet combined of fruits and vegetables.

On a permanent basis we conduct campaigns that include free medical appointments with physicians of different specialties such as internal medicine, cardiologists, gynecologists, dentists and ophthalmologists among others. At the same time we have counselors available that advice with spiritual teachings to those with emotional problems.

Last September 1st we conducted a Medical Campaign were more than 300 people were blessed with check-ups, free medicines and glasses, here is the video. Hope you enjoy it.

Let´s talk Safety

“He who digs a pit may fall into it, and a serpent may bite him who breaks through a wall. He who quarries stones may be hurt by them, and he who splits logs may be endangered by them. If the axe is dull and he does not sharpen its edge, then he must exert more strength. Wisdom has the advantage of giving success.”                                                                                                                      Ecclesiastes 10: 8-10

Since the beginning of times risks have been around us, and as the verse above advices: “it is of wise to recognize danger and prevent it.”

The past few months we have been investing time in workshops that will prepare our people to work in a safer atmosphere. A committee has been formed to identify the possible risks in each of the work areas. When we talk about risks we take into consideration: physical, mechanical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial risks that could be affecting the workplace. The committee has been formed by key administration, mechanic, electrical and agricultural people. Having a good representation of all areas allows us to consider all possible risks.

At the time we have reviewed all aspects on the agricultural side and have been satisfied to find that there are no mayor observations or risk factors encountered in our processes. However, there are uniform & equipment policies that need to be reinforced.

Training will be the key to the success of this program. Sometimes, workers are reluctant to use safe procedures because they are used to doing things their own way. It is going to be the role of the farm butler to point out the consequences of not using the proper procedures that have been placed for their own safety. More visual aid in forms of posters will also be put as reminders of important procedures.

Next month we will review processes related to milling, transportation and medical emergencies.

All risk factors are being measured by the level of consequences they might have and the probability they may occur. Those that represent an “intolerable risk” are the first that will be looked into.

The whole process may take up to a year to be implemented, but we expect the most important factors to be fixed by the beginning of the next agricultural season.

Lets talk about coffee forest renewal

For the past decades our company has been working hard to increase the quality of the coffee it produces; making sure the trees and the soil are well maintained and that the cherries are properly handpicked and processed.

In our farms we had trees that were up to 50 years of age and which had to be replaced by new ones if we wanted to increase the quantity of coffee produced. So, in the year 2007 we began a project designed to renew our coffee forest.

The coffee trees in our nursery come from the careful selection of seeds of those coffee trees in our farms that have proven to be more resistant to plagues, weather inclemency and which have had a better yield and have achieved higher cup quality scores. To reproduce these seeds, we only pick ripe cherries that are in the middle of carefully selected branches. The coffee is processed and dried separately making sure its humidity does not fall below 20 degrees. Before it is cultivated, the coffee is cleaned by removing any seeds that are not suitable for reproduction.

We cultivate the seeds in the nursery during the month of November and on July we transport and plant them in the farms. The response of the plant at this early stage has proven to be better than if we wait for the plant to be older.

All our farms are planted mainly with the Arabica Bourbon variety. However, Shalom farm is planted mostly with Arabica Pacas, a variety that grows well, has excellent cup quality and is more resistant to the microclimate of such farm.

This year we are planting 40,942 new trees throughout the farms, on average we try to have between 1,750 to 2,100 plants per hectare. At the time 38% of our coffee forest has been renovated.

Let´s talk about our school proyects

Through our Non Profit Organization named Fundacion Monte Sion Nuevo Amanecer, our company takes active roles in the progress of the communities were our farms reside. The program has been designed to provide a better lifestyle for its workers, their families and the communities. Activities can be classified in three important areas: health, education and spiritual growth.

In terms of health, we have been working together with a Christian Non-Profit organization to help two schools: one near Monte Sión “Escuela Tapacun” and the other near Shekinah annex farms “Escuela Los Arevalos”.

In spite that there is a Government Nutritional Program for public schools, some rural area schools cannot be benefited from such program because of their locations; and these two schools are not the exceptions.

In January we began providing a meal to the 160 pupils from these two schools. They have been fed with: cereal, rice, beans, minestrone soup, dried and canned fruits, among other. Knowing that care also depends on the child´s home lifestyle, on a monthly basis parents are invited to receive a bag full of provisions. We take this opportunity to teach the parent on the importance of hygiene, nutrition factors, education and a balanced life.

By the end of the year we will be able to measure the impact that these efforts have meant in the growth of our children. We are pleased to testify that children look healthier and we have the satisfaction of knowing that a balanced meal guarantees a better intelligence development for them.

Finally, if the schools are able to purchase a piece of land, the non-profit organization has promised to build them a new school; one with more healthy construction standards such as cement floor and built with bricks instead of mud material.

These activities in addition to those health and educational programs that Fundacion Monte Sion Nuevo Amanecer has in its yearly plan will help in the development of the younger generations…after all they are the future of our country.

 

Emerson Nathanael is an 11 year old boy, studying 5th grade at Escuela Los Arevalos.

His dream is to become a lawyer.Emerson Nathanael is an 11 year old boy, he is studying 5th grade at Escuela Los Arevalos. His dream is to become a lawyer.