Coming Together to Learn at Archers
An Archers gathering is a gift that keeps on giving.
Be it the Archers Partners Workshop, an SCA or CQI class at our Academy; public cupping; Producer’s Talk; a learning trip to origin like CQI Q Processing 2 Professional in Sidama Bensa; or a private cupping event — like the first we had for this year, where we featured one Ethiopian coffee processed in 20 different ways.
Each time, everyone walks out of the roastery’s doors sharper-minded, hearts fuller, and just keener to learn more and do better in the daily practice of our shared passion, specialty coffee. Ourselves included.
Diverse Community, Present
We held our first Private Cupping event last March 18, 2023, and were delighted to welcome friends representing different links in the coffee value chain and adjacent fields — full-fledged Q Processing Professionals, roasters, baristas, roastery regulars, coffee enthusiasts, and even clients visiting from Qatar!
As we intended, we tasted, created sensory memories, and learned more about the impact of 20 processes on the cup profile of a single Ethiopian variety together.
Why 20 Processes
Perhaps you don’t need to be a skeptic to ask, “Why twenty processes? Isn’t that excessive? Is it worth it?” There could even be genuine specialty coffee lovers wondering the same, and we’re more than glad to share what we believe the answers are.
Why 20 processes? Because every coffee has a home — which we can start to understand from two points of view.
First, from the producing country’s POV, all cherries need to be sold because all coffee farmers need to make a decent living. And these creative processing explorations — aimed at determining the practicable methods that can bring out the most appealing flavors from whatever cherries a farmer has — are an impactful way to increase the chances of selling their harvest at a premium.
We recall how Bryce Castleton, CQI Instructor for both Q Processing 1 The Generalist and Q Processing 2 Professional, at our last QP1 run, emphatically shared that post-harvest processing is critical because there are situations when it is the only way coffee farmers free themselves from the clutches of volatile and, from time to time, unfavorable commodity pricing.
Second, from the consuming country’s POV, since we know that each specialty coffee lover's preferences are specific, unique, and ever-evolving, we are driven to keep discovering novel profiles and expanding the range we can offer.
Understanding at least these two points of view, the answer to the question “Isn’t that excessive?” becomes “No, it’s not.” And the answer to “Is it worth it?” can only be a resounding “Absolutely. 100%. Yes.”
As a roaster, green coffee buyer, and coffee educator, we consider it our great privilege and responsibility to be in this position, where we are entrusted to facilitate knowledge-sharing and meaningful connections, and be able to apply that knowledge in ways that bring the most benefit to the producing and consuming sides of the specialty coffee value chain.
Gatta Farm Stories and Straight Talk
To set the context for cupping, our Co-Founders Frederick Bejo, Green Buyer and Head of Operations, and Dave Peralta, Head of Archers Academy, recounted the highlights of their January trip to Daye Bensa’s Gatta Farm, Sidama Bensa, Ethiopia.
While we couldn’t all be there, our Marketing Manager David Disuanco’s atmospheric snippets of the picturesque scenery soothed our FOMO to some extent and set our minds on aspiring to make it to the next Q Processing 2 Professional trip, slated for the next harvest season, February 5 - 10, 2024.
True to Archers form, Fred and Dave also spoke transparently of the tougher realities at origin that producers and their partner smallholder farmers contend with to deliver coffees with the level of quality our consumers enjoy and have come to expect.
Challenges include unpredictable weather, varied measuring and processing equipment, and the intensive labor involved in picking and sorting coffee cherries to make sure only the suitable ones go into post-harvest processing — all of which are only some of the considerations a Q Processing Professional needs to manage to steer any processing project towards a successful outcome.
Fred also disclosed that it takes years of experience — getting to know an origin, building mutual trust, and closely collaborating with a producer to learn the limits and potential of a variety and gain a sufficient grasp of processing — before you can attempt to influence a coffee’s flavor profile and cup quality.
Dave then emphasized that it is crucial first to know what you have in terms of the coffee cherry’s anatomy to determine which processing method to use (and within that, which parameters to adjust) to get the best quality and attributes possible.
Much Cherished Cherries
It’s a fact — the flavors we get to enjoy in our favorite coffees derive from the coffee cherry, where the healthiest cherries at optimum ripeness are known to carry the most desirable flavors.
It was good to be reminded that getting the properly ripe and healthiest cherries doesn’t just happen, although it may be something easily taken for granted when we see roastery shelves well-stocked with some of the world’s finest coffees.
It takes years for a coffee plant to grow into a tree capable of bearing its first fruits. It takes well-nourished soils, often requiring significant investment and mindful interventions to preserve or rehabilitate, and the natural confluence of beneficial climactic conditions. And then, it takes additional time and effort during the pre-cleaning, prior to processing, to separate the ripe and healthy cherries from the rest. Fred touched on cultivation, harvesting, and sorting practices to reinforce this point.
Dave then focused the discussion on the coffee cherry’s basic anatomical structure, layer by layer, and related the cherry’s anatomy to post-harvest processing, as he explained that the main processing methods are defined and categorized according to what layers of the cherry remain attached to the seed when they go into fermentation and drying.
Our friends sitting in a processing course for the first time may have been surprised to hear that all coffees, even washed coffees, are fermented. The fermentation in washed coffees, though, serves only to free the seed, aka the bean, entirely from all layers of fruit before it is made to dry.
In contrast, layers of fruit are left on the seed — partially in honey processing and fully in natural processing, to deliberately influence flavor development during fermentation and drying. The chemical reactions within the bean during these stages account for and direct the flavor character or sensory qualities of the coffee, such as its aroma and taste, which are later on perceived as its cup profile and assessed as its quality.
Coffee Adventurers: Q Processing 2 Professionals
And so it was, twenty dedicated and like-minded coffee people from different parts of the world converged in Gatta Farm last January to get firsthand experience of processing at origin and work towards CQI certification as Q Processing Professionals.
Four teams were formed, and each was tasked to carry out five post-harvest processing styles. Their overriding objective was to demonstrate mastery of processing theory through practical application, while discovering the limits and possibilities of flavor creation using a single variety, grown on a single farm.
They left Ethiopia without knowing what flavor profiles were indeed created and what cup quality their experiments achieved. The question of whether the creative processing risks they took would turn out to be rewarding would also only be answered during cupping.
Tasting 20 Cup Profiles and Our Takeaways
After a practical and reassuring brief about how to identify and describe tastes and flavors, it was finally time to cup!
Fred and Dave decided it would be a blind cupping to encourage objectivity while infusing some fun and an added challenge — not only to note their sensory impressions but also to try to guess the processing style used for each coffee.
We’re ecstatic that our intended fundamental takeaway came through. In the words of Fltr Magazine’s Andy Anderson, “… how processing elevates a bean. Or makes it entirely unremarkable.” Recounted by The Need for Coffee’s Syed Naveed, “Processing can make or break coffee.”
On top of that, this Private Cupping was also an opportunity for our friends to discover more about their own preferences, and gauge and hone their sensory skills — just by tasting coffee and calibrating their impressions alongside Fred and Dave, who are both seasoned, passionate coffee professionals and licensed Q Graders.
Further, our friends gained insight into how Archers evaluates and identifies the standout coffees during buying season. This, in turn, aids our understanding of which creative processing risks would be most rewarding for the producer and the farmer — meaning which would result in the most desirable flavors, better cup quality, and arguably higher market value.
To illustrate, only three among the 20 creatively processed QP2 Gatta Farm coffees were jointly shortlisted by Fred and Dave as exceptional —
While Fred’s list included three more —
Forge Your Path in the World of Coffee
Our recently certified Q Processing 2 Professionals showed us how dedicated coffee people worldwide commit to developing themselves with the intention to make a positive impact in our global community, whether by directly applying their learnings to improve coffee’s quality and value, sharing it throughout their network, or both.
They are also examples of how well-designed and well-executed programs like the CQI’s Q Processing Professional allow passionate coffee people to build their technical coffee competency alongside transferable cognitive skills (like creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving) and social skills (like collaboration and communication).
Like them, you can forge your own learning path through the courses on offer at Archers Academy.
Come Curious and Bring Questions
The gathering wrapped up later than intended as Fred and Dave generously deepened discussion around our friends’ questions throughout the afternoon, mostly related to processing — like the origin and distribution of varieties, harvest and buying seasons, the levels of cherry ripeness, and proper storage and the shelf life of greens.
For everyone interested to learn more of Fred’s insights about specialty coffee buying and being in the specialty coffee business, we highly recommend tuning in to Episode 9 of Ira Sharipova’s podcast Coffee People in the Middle East, which first aired on March 27, 2023.
We hope more of you, friends, come to learn with us soon — whether at our next events or in class at Archers Academy! Until then!