Knutsen Coffees, Ltd. Newsletter
TO OUR ROASTER FRIENDS,
Well, the Giants won the Series, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are both behind us, and the last of the Turkey is about gone, so we must be well into the Holidays! At this time of year we like to reminisce a little about where the last 30+ years in Specialty Coffee have brought us all. From the days of teletype machines and long torturous journeys to origin seeking the finest coffees and the relationships which have endured, to micro-lots, farm internet auctions, barista championships, so much has grown and evolved.
And yet as always, the proof is in the cup, and as Ted Lingle put it many years ago, ” Quality is the only thing which earns a premium! All else is temporary, either charity or market manipulation.” We have built many wonderful relationships around the world, with growers and exporters, other importers and brokers and, most of all, with talented and dedicated roasters in many countries.
Thanks to all of you who have helped our little business grow and prosper over the decades.
COSTA RICA TARRAZU “TAPARTO” FINCA SANTA ELENA
As long time readers of these chronicles will remember, this is one of our favorite Centrals. In 1999 we wrote, “Luz Marina Trujillo, proprietress of Finca Santa Elena is proud of her coffee and the premium she charges for it. Her workers are paid more for picking only the ripe cherries, and the premium has made it possible for her to help with the construction of a church for the workers and to provide school supplies and uniforms for the children on the farm. Under her supervision and fierce devotion to quality, TAPARTO TARRAZU has become one of the most consistently excellent coffees in the world.”
This is the farm that the family kept when they sold a certain other 40 hectare or so plot to the father of the man who has now made it the most famous coffee in Costa Rica. To our minds they did the right thing to retain Finca Santa Elena and deacquisition the lesser and smaller finca. From the treatment of the workers to the traditional shade growing methods to the modern conservation practices, we are proud to present one of the most “ethical” coffees we know . The clarity of the cup and the excellence of the preparation make it well worth the premium price. We are delighted to say that we now have it back in stock.
JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN RSW ESTATES
Just a quick note on this superb coffee grown at up to 5500 feet altitude in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica. This year’s crop was smaller than usual, and we ran out of coffee to sell this week. After hurricane Sandy, next year’s crop is likely to be no larger. We will probably get our first availability in May, and our second and probably final shipment of the year in October. Because of the packaging options ( 15, 30, & 70 kilo barrels in Grade 1, Grade 2 or Peaberry) we try to tailor our ordering to your needs. We will remind you in future newsletters to get your orders in, and apologize to those of you who didn’t get all that you wanted this season.
YEMEN SANANI HAIMI
For a couple of years now we have featured YEMEN ISMAILI and loved it, expensive (exclusive?) as it always is. Politics and unrest in that part of the world have affected availability and that has impacted price. This fall we sampled several lots and found that the coffee called YEMEN SANANI HAIMI was the cleanest and offered the most complex and layered fruit. Off dry and not as pungent or earthy as some coffees from around the capital of the country, this is a notable exemplar of the region. We believe it is the best cupping of the available offerings from this fabled region.
KENYA “BLACKBERRY” SASINI
Many years ago we first visited Nairobi to cup coffees at C. Dorman Company. We learned of almost unique defects like “potato”, a special sort of mustiness associated only with Kenyas. We also discovered the delights of “blackberry” aroma at the other end of the spectrum. Only a few co-ops seem to produce this, and it is not consistent from chop to chop. We are delighted to announce that this chop of KENYA “BLACKBERRY” SASINI is one! Along with winey acidity and the high notes in the cup this coffee has the elusive “blackberry” aroma that makes it special, even for a Kenya. Like the best Kenyas, it is not inexpensive, but we believe it is worth what it costs.
Not long ago we updated our website, www.knutsencoffees.com and we regularly post our offering sheet there. There is also an archive on newsletters going back to the ’90s. Please take a moment to visit and let us know what you think.
If you are receiving this by snail mail we invite you to send us your e-mail address ( and those of any of your associates or friends who would be interested ) so that we can save a tree ( as well as postage and printing costs ). You will get our missives more quickly and reliably, and we can all be a little more environmentally responsible.
Erna Knutsen: Paving the Way for Women and the World of Coffee
Written by Corinne Garcia Tuesday, October 23 2012
If there was ever an example of the value of working for passion rather than for a paycheck, coffee pioneer Erna Knutsen could be the perfect specimen. At 90 years old, she can be found at her San Francisco-based headquarters of Knutsen Coffees, LTD just about every day. Here, she’s likely to be sitting around a table with a few men, her employees, silently sipping a newly roasted batch of a specialty coffee. Together, they analyze the flavor profiles of the various beans that come to her from growers all over the world, from Brazil to Jamaica. And if she’s not at the table, she’s probably searching for the best green coffee beans or speaking at an international coffee conference somewhere. She is known not only for her quick wit, but her depth of knowledge in the area of specialty coffee.
Today we have Starbucks and small coffee houses on nearly every street, serving up steaming cups of dark roasted coffee from faraway places. Terms like “fair trade” and dark or medium blends are commonplace, but back when Knutsen got her start in the coffee world, not only was specialty coffee extremely rare, so were female entrepreneurs.
Knutsen came to the U.S. from Norway as a young girl with her mother and sisters.
“The first thing Mother wanted was good coffee,” Knutsen recalls. “She knew she didn’t want coffee in a can; in Europe they buy roasted whole bean coffee.”
Her mother found a guy who would sell her five pounds of good quality, roasted coffee beans, and every morning she would grind it herself and make a big pot before Knutsen’s father went to work at the docks in New York City, where Knutsen grew up. Here, she dabbled in modeling and secretary work on Wall Street before moving to California to raise her daughter.
When her daughter was 7 years old, Knutsen got a job as a secretary for a spice and coffee company, and most of her work revolved around taking dictation. The coffee was a commercial grade, ground and canned like most big brands back then. She started becoming more curious about the coffee industry, frequently asking her boss questions, and she spoke to the brokers coming in and out. One day on their way to New York City, one of them told her about some specialty coffee beans he had in the back of his car.
“My boss said we could buy it if I could sell it,” she says. The men wouldn’t let her into the sales room to roast it, so they did it for her and brought it back to her cubicle.
“Everyone went crazy for it,” she says. “We bought 300 bags.”
And that was Knutsen’s start in the wild world of coffee.
“No woman had ever crossed this threshold – from secretary to selling,” Knutsen says. “I loved it, and I love people, but men gave me a really hard time. They didn’t like the idea of women coming in and doing what I’m doing.”
She explains that there are still very few women in the coffee industry, and none that she could think of who are actually importing coffee on their own.
But Knutsen never paid much attention to the men who tried to stand in her way and instead sought out the few who were willing to help her, such as her boss at the coffee company who let her make that first buy. And it wasn’t long before she was accepted and respected by brokers from New York to San Francisco.
“I would go to the library and read books about it,” she says. “Now I have five or six great big hardcover books about coffee, and my pictures are in there!”
In 1985 she decided to go out on her own, starting Knutsen Coffees, LTD at a time when specialty coffee was just a little niche she carved out. She was instrumental in organizing the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA), and their website credits her for coining the term “specialty coffee” in 1974 to describe high-end, limited-quantity green coffees that she sold to small roasters.
“Isn’t that nervy? I can’t believe I did it,” she laughs. “I went out and found an office and some phones – and did it all on my own for about six months. I called all these little coffee houses I knew about, and soon enough I was selling it all over the country.”
Knutsen’s motto was: If you have good quality, people will buy. And they did. She moved into her current location in San Francisco about 10 years ago and has a staff of three men aside from herself. They have a warehouse full of coffee and, according to Knutsen, almost every bag they buy is gone within a month.
Over the years, Knutsen has traveled the world, visiting the coffee growers face to face, seeking out the most high quality beans and forming longstanding relationships . She recalls a trip to Nicaragua about 20 years ago with a group of women in the coffee industry – all of whom worked for larger commercial companies. While visiting one growing region, there was a large banner on the wall that read, “Welcome Erna Knutsen.”
“I’d never believed anything like that would happen!” she says happily. “They were so glad to see American women all interested in coffee.”
Today, Knutsen speaks at conferences internationally, educating roasters, retailers and the general public about the ins and outs of specialty coffee. She has been the only woman invited to speak at the International Coffee Symposium, giving talks in Switzerland and Bali.
“I’ve spoken in so many companies, it makes me think that I’m valuable – I’m likeable,” she says.
But she also loves the tasting days back at the office.
“If I’m not traveling – we get samples from growers all over, and we have a 4-barrel roaster in the office that does a nice sample roast,” she explains. “We all sit around table and taste and spit.”
She says that they’d all be too “hyper high” if they swallowed every sip!
“There’s no talking, just writing notes,” she says. “You have to concentrate – if you buy 100 to 150 bags, you have to know what you’re doing.”
Knutsen has watched the specialty coffee industry soar to new heights as the most rapidly growing portion of the entire coffee industry, and she still loves working with small roasters to provide some of the best quality coffees in the world. She remains dedicated to making sure these coffees remain “special” instead of just plain ordinary and is willing to pay premium prices to the farmers who put in the extra effort required to produce the best beans.
And at 90, slowing down is not in Knutsen’s sights, even as she watches her own daughter retire. She has a zest for life and people and a passion for coffee and the hardworking growers worldwide.
“Coffee is something everyone loves – so many people grind and roast their own coffee,” she says. “If you’re enthusiastic and you love what you do, work is easy.”
To Our Roaster Friends:
RSW ESTATES JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN # 1
Well, the Christmas trees have been for sale at Costco for over a month now and Halloween is just around the corner, so the HOLIDAYS must be upon us. For more than thirty years now that has meant that we can offer the finest gifting coffee in the world to our roaster friends. This year we have 15 kilo barrels of RSW ESTATES JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN # 1
Coffee from the highest quality farm in all of Jamaica! We also have 30 and 70 kilo barrels, but the 15s have proved so popular that we have laid in an extra supply. Some of our friends sell this superb coffee by subscription, taking deposits and then roasting in early or mid December, or both, to assure freshness (and that customers don’t forget to purchase what they’ve ordered).
Grown at up to 5500 feet in the moist, cool Blue Mountains of Jamaica on a farm chartered in 1797 and revived by an American family in the ‘60s, this is the best
offering we’ve had in more than thirty years. The preparation is nearly flawless, the cup exquisite and the potential as a seasonal “house gift” unsurpassed.
Oren Bloostein of Oren’s Daily Roast says, “ Perfectly balanced, ever so slightly tart acidity, good depth of flavor, long smooth clean finish, medium body, fresh, mildly sweet; an outstanding example of an outstanding coffee!”
As always, supplies are
limited, so please call soon!
RSW ESTATES JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN # 2
We want to talk a little bit about nomenclature and its sometimes unfortunate relevance to Specialty Coffee. Most countries of origin grade coffees, officially or unofficially before export. While some of these grades, for instance, hard bean, strictly hard bean, high grown, etc. are useful, many others are counterproductive or even misleading. In many countries the grading is strictly size related, although some make an absence of defects part of the standard. Kenya, Colombia and Jamaica are all to some extent victims of their own grading systems, as each uses a bean size system.
There have been times when we have found the AB grade Kenya from one mill or another to have superior cup qualities to the AA grade from the same producer. We suspect that the larger beans may have been less dense due to heavier precipitation, just as wine grapes may produce less intense juice during rainy seasons. Colombian Supremos are simply larger beans than Excelsos, and sometimes Excelsos have also cupped better from the same producers.
While size is sometimes used by consumers to judge quality, we suspect that uniformity of size may be a more important factor in how a coffee roasts.
For instance, one or our most astute roasters prefers RSW ESTATES JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN # 2 to the # 1 because the distribution of bean sizes is more even, and, he believes, produces a more uniform and denser cup. We agree and can offer RSW ESTATES JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN #2 at a price significantly better than that of the # 1. Please enquire quickly as our last shipment
of the year is about to leave for the Jamaica Coffee Industry Board.
BRAZIL MOGIANA “DAS FLORES”
By dint of a unique arrangement with our supplier we have been able to negotiate a reduced price on this excellent coffee from a single family owned estate in the Sul de Minas region of Brazil. We have compared this fine example of pulped natural Brazil to the famous VARGEM GRANDE, which was not available this year. It is as sweet, with a great body and light acidity, and a clean finish and lingering aftertaste. Fresh and elegant, it makes a great backbone for any blend but can stand alone with pride.
This soft, lush bean makes a lovely creamy espresso whether on its own or in a blend. We are delighted to be able to reduce the price by a full dollar from where it was when we imported this container. Please call if you haven’t sampled this great
example of Brazil’s ascension to the realm of specialty coffee.
SUMATRA PWN FANCY SELECT
As regular readers of these missives well know we have been importing this rich wonderful coffee from the same supplier for so long that the company has been inherited by the next generation! Still faithful to the creed of quality which brought them to our door more than thirty years ago, they send us the most outstanding coffee produced in Indonesia. The heavy body, the smooth dense fragrance and the sweet lingering finish make this our favorite breakfast coffee in the world. We have recently received a shipment and find it the best of any in recent years. Not inexpensive by any means, this is the ultimate coffee which stands head and shoulders above its lesser competitors.
As we approach the season of giving, we would like to give thanks to all of you who have supported our little company in our efforts over the years to bring the finest coffees in the world to the best roasters in the world!
*As a reference, this is how professional coffee cuppers have done it for years.
Knutsen Cupping Instructions
▪The type of glass recommended is a 5 oz. old fashioned glass. The cups should be
clean with no apparent fragrance and at room temperature.
*All cups used should be of the same volume, dimensions, and material of manufacture.
▪ Roast profile should be a light to light-medium
▪ The roast should be completed in no less than 8 minutes and no more than 12
▪The optimum ratio is 7 grams (¼ oz.) of coffee per 5oz of water
▪ Sample should be ground immediately prior to cupping, no more than 15 minutes before infusion with water. If this is not possible, samples should be covered and infused not more than 30 minutes after grinding.
▪ Samples should be weighed out as WHOLE BEANS to the predetermined ratio (see above for ratio) for the appropriate cup fluid volume.
▪ Grind particle size should be slightly coarser than typically used for paper filter drip brewing. At least 3 cups from each sample should be prepared to evaluate sample uniformity.
▪ Before grinding each sample, a small quantity of that roasted coffee should be
run through the grinder to purge it.
▪ Water used for cupping should be clean and odor free, but not distilled or softened.
▪ The water should be freshly drawn and brought to a boil and poured at
▪ The hot water should be poured directly onto the measured grounds to the rim of the cup, making sure to wet all of the grounds. Allow the grounds to steep undisturbed for a period of 4 minutes before evaluation.
▪ After letting the grounds steep for the appropriate time, break or brush back
the grounds with a cupping spoon and evaluate aroma.
▪Remove the floating grounds at the top of the glass, sip the coffee sample, and
Here is the video for the Knutsen Signature single serve, pour-over
TO OUR ROASTER FRIENDS
For the first time ever, KNUTSEN COFFEES, LTD. will have a booth at SCAA! Come by and visit us at booth 5132! We will be happy to talk about green coffee, but the purpose of the booth is to introduce our brand new way to brew coffee.
After more than thirty years of sourcing and importing the finest coffees in the world for specialty roasters, we have embarked on an innovative project to make them available to consumers, one perfect cup at a time. Knutsen Coffees, Ltd. is launching filter brew single serve coffees, allowing consumers to enjoy freshly brewed coffee with ease, anywhere, anytime.
Knutsen single serve Arabica coffees are carefully selected from the world’s best coffee growing regions and expertly blended to yield a truly superior cup. The rich, round flavor in the cup has great depth of body and bright acidity on the palate while hints of berries and spice enliven the aroma.
The KNUTSEN SIGNATURE BLEND has an outstanding aroma and cup quality. It is Nitrogen flushed to stay fresh for up to eight months and is packaged in an attractive single cup package, easy to use and simple to pack and carry.
Brewing is easy. Only hot water and a cup are needed. Simply open package, tear filter end, spread cardboard “wings” over cup rim, and pour hot water through. Slow drip ensures full extraction. Each packet contains ten grams of the finest coffees on earth. Knutsen Coffees will offer Signature Blend, Jamaica Blue Mountain RSW Estates and a decaffeinated option.
Please visit us and sample Knutsen Signature Blend for yourself. We will be brewing at the booth and giving away samples for you to try at home or in your hotel.
KNUTSEN SIGNATURE BLEND will be served at the Saturday morning coffee break at 10:15 AM.
COLOMBIA SAN AGUSTIN HUILA
We want to remind everybody that not all Colombian coffees are alike. This excellent coffee, grown in the Huila valley in the southernmost region of Colombia, is grown by a coop of small holders (families), several of whom have been winners in the Cup of Excellence. We have been importing this coffee for more than twenty years and never had a complaint or a returned bag. It is smooth and rich in the cup and roasts very consistently and evenly. The beans develop well from the exceptionally well prepared green, and the aroma when grinding is superb. If you have not tried this coffee, please give us a call.
SUMATRA MANDHELING PWN EXTRA BOLD
Over 35 years ago a young man stopped by the offices of B.C. Ireland Coffee on his way from Medan, Indonesia to Stanford University. His family had sent him with a sample of Sumatra Mandheling. We were so impressed with this coffee that we brought the first container ever to the United States. Now, of course everyone is familiar with the deep, syrupy body and almost chocolaty flavor of Sumatra. Ours has been consistently the cleanest and best preparation of any we have cupped. Now our shipper is offering SUMATRA MANDHELING PWN EXTRA BOLD, the same lovely cup, but even better preparation and screen size 18 and above. This is the ultimate Indonesian coffee, and, as far as we know, only we have it! The cup is richer and denser than ever, the aroma is enchanting, and the finish is gently lingering. This coffee is not inexpensive, but we never haggle with our suppliers, and it is worth every penny!
UPCOMING GUATEMALA COBAN
GUATEMALA COBAN is a tricky coffee to buy. Many years the COBAN region of Guatemala is so wet that the beans don’t develop the best flavor, and in some years it is so wet that the farmers have trouble drying it properly. About one year in three conditions are perfect, and we get a sample from our friend Max Quirin. This is one of those years, and we are about to get a container on the water, with arrival expected in May. We loved the sample and look forward to receiving this luscious coffee. When it gets here, please act quickly, as it is sure to sell out and there is a limited quantity available, as some of our customers who have loved this coffee in the past are already placing orders.
BRAZIL DAS FLORES SUL DE MINAS (MAY ARRIVAL)
For many years we have been proud to offer the coffees of the Contini family, from their farm, VARGEM GRANDE. This year the family is rearranging ownership and needed cash, so the coffee was all sold as futures for delivery after the harvest. We will not have any VARGEM GRANDE this year at all. Fortunately we were introduced to another farm on the same mountain, and the coffee from DAS FLORES is every bit as sweet and enjoyable as VARGEM GRANDE. We were delighted with the samples, the preparation, the aroma and the cup. This is another of those delectable coffees which show how far Brazil has come since the Brazil Specialty Coffee Association was founded twenty years ago. It will also be in May, as will…
BRAZIL FAZENDA SERTAOZHINO ORGANIC (MAY ARRIVAL)
Our good friend Mr. Alberto Baretto died last year just after the SCAA convention. We miss him, but his widow has kept the farm going, and we are going to receive a very limited amount of this fantastic coffee in the same container with the DAS FLORES. We have loved this coffee ever since Mr. Baretto brought the first sample to the office. The supply has always been limited, and we always sell out quickly. Please call if you want a little of this marvelous organic Brazil.
My personal task this week is to get our vintage Pasquini Vietta operational for sampling.
JAMAICA BLUE MOUNTAIN COFFEE, RSW ESTATES
The year was 1797. The Bank of England issued the first One Pound note, Old Ironsides was launched in Boston, Albany replaced New York City as the capitol of New York, and Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley was born in England. In Kingston, Jamaica, Crown “Patents” were registered creating “Sherwood Forest & Eccleston Plantations”. That was just the beginning, in a country with few roads and only manpower and hand tools.
Native forest were cleared, coffee was planted, a stone building with two foot thick walls was built with hand adzed 12” x 12” hardwood beams carrying the upper floor. Inside the central portion of the 130’ long building an 18 foot diameter undershot iron waterwheel was installed as well as fermenting tanks. Power was carried via shafts, pulleys and leather belts to the processing equipment inside the lower level. The massive post and beam
construction is responsible for the fact the structure still stands today. Polished cedar floors and cathedral ceilings have the charm of old wood and show intricately pegged joinery. Nearly an acre of concrete patios remain on the hillside along with arched stone alcoves for parchment storage during drying.
It is lovely here, with the highest peaks of the Blue Mountains behind the farm and mist and rainbows drifting through the gaps in the hills. The temperature is moderate and the trees are shaded by not only canopy but frequent afternoon clouds and morning mist. All you can hear is the rustling of the breeze and the occasional barking of neighborhood dogs or early morning roosters.
If you visit today you will see the original stone and ironwood structure and patios. No steel silos, screw elevators or drying towers mar the view. Sherwood looks the same as it did a hundred years ago. To take a virtual visit, go to Earth.Google.com and “fly” to 18.02 N, 76.614 W to see the compound and the ancient patios, or to 18.03 N, 76.604 W to see the largest field of coffee trees, “Big Level” comprising about 65 acres, with 30 acres of shade grown trees.
You can see the roof of the original building and the patios in the first location, and the rows of trees contoured to the hillside in the second. Luckily, the view is good in the latest satellite photo, as there are clouds
and mist on most days. Other planted areas are under heavier canopy and can’t be seen as coffee trees. . The trees are mostly on northwest facing slopes at an average altitude of 3900 feet. This means that the harvest is months later than at most other farms, and, like stressed Burgundy grapes with low yield, the best flavors come from coffee which has matured slowly on the tree.
In 1961 a group of 5 people bought the then neglected farm as a partnership and started renovations. It had been abandoned prior to WWII, and the coffee plantings had disappeared as forest reclaimed the old fields. New
areas were identified and planted with a mixture of Geisha and Typica varietals. Native trees were retained. It was a hard slog. All but one of the original partners soon dropped out, leaving Sherwood as a single-family owned and operated entity. It is now their only job, and they are meticulous about the care of the small amount of coffee they produce and process, as well as the coffee which comes from the small handful of other nearby owners.
We were privileged to be able to visit Sherwood Coffee Works two years ago and to see the whole processing stream as it happens. We met the couple who own and operate Sherwood as well as one of their daughters and spent two days in the mountains, on the veranda, and watching how it all works. We
also met the other two partners in the partnership arm which sells the turnout from Sherwood Works under the “RSW Estates Jamaica Blue Mountain” brand.
For many years cherry coffee was sold to Mavis Bank, the largest mill on the island. By 1999 the Sherwood mill was operating again with the help of the RSW partnership. The fermentation tank in the center of the building was restored and modern equipment and electrical power were installed. This was a deliberate choice, as the inherent quality of the coffee grown became lost when delivered to the high volume factory and mixed with coffee of
often indeterminate origin.
Their dedication and hard work has brought up to date equipment and methods but not to the detriment of quality. Cherries are processed the day they are picked, or, if delivered in the middle of the night, the morning of the next day. After the skins are removed the parchment is fermented for approximately 24 hours before being washed and rinsed. Due to the cool tanks and cover, 24 hours is the optimum time at this location.
The wet parchment is then spread on a stainless steel mesh above a squirrel cage fan where ambient temperature air at 3500 cubic feet per minute removes the surface moisture in about 24 hours. Only then is it spread on
patios—locally called “barbecues”—for sun drying which takes from 5-10 additional days. The parchment is raked every half hour during the day. In the event of rain the parchment is covered with tarps. All drying parchment is bagged and covered—every night—to avoid dew. It is then spread in the morning, after the sun has warmed the barbecues.
Parchment does not go into storage until Moisture Content (MC) is electronically measured at 11.0 – 11.5 %—for each individual lot on the barbecue—then hand shoveled into jute sacks holding 25 kilos each. Bags are
dated, labeled and stored in two climate controlled rooms held at 55 – 56 %
relative humidity and 72-75 degrees (F) by two commercial dehumidifiers as well as an air conditioning unit. Climate control is aided by the tempering effect of the thick stone walls built into the hillside over two hundred years ago.
Research in Kenya has suggested that three factors contribute to the gorgeous deep blue-green color of the beans. First, the ultra-violet radiation of sun drying is thought to enhance the color as the parchment drops from 30-20 % moisture. Second the period of rest at 11.5 % moisture allows the coffee to stabilize and maintain the perfect color. Third, it is important to stop drying and rest the coffee at 11.5 % rather than over-drying which can bleach the beans. And of course no mechanical or heated drying is ever employed. Most mechanical drying takes 14 hours and bypasses the UV enhancement, as well as the benefits of slow drying.
The dry parchment coffee is “rested” for 8 weeks and regularly rotated in its climate controlled storage at its initial 11.5 % moisture content before being hulled in 1000 kilo batches which are processed separately through the whole finishing process. Each batch takes about 5 days to complete the finishing. Meticulous turnout dates and data are kept for each lot.
Parchment is milled when ordered by the importer in a low temperature McKinnon “Smout” brand peeler-polisher. The advantage of this machine is that it peels and polishes the beans in two passes so the temperature never goes over 89-90 degrees (F). It is then graded for size on an actual screen grader (a rarity these days) before being sorted for density on a gravity table and run through an electronic color sorter to eject off color and damaged beans.
After all of this a crew of local women further hand sorts each green bean in 5 kilo batches. Since the color sorter does not adequately detect minor insect damage or chipped or mottled beans, these ladies are the final arbiters of quality in processing. Each batch is passed first by the senior sorter and then by the plant manager before it is ready for the barrels. Finished coffee remains in the controlled storeroom until shipment to The Coffee Industry Board for their meticulous Quality Control inspection.
As our hosts said: “Coffee processed at Sherwood Coffee Works we proudly label and sell, through RSW, as RSW Estates Jamaica Blue Mountain. Each barrel of coffee—we guarantee—has been processed as you have seen and described, with no shortcuts taken at any step”.
As we have observed ourselves, this “ultra-niche” coffee has less than 1 % undersized beans and practically zero defects. A previous Director General of the Coffee Industry Board of Jamaica has stated that RSW Estates Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is, “…a special niche coffee within an already recognized niche.”
Our hosts suggested that the several “keys” to top quality coffee processing include: pulping the same day as reaped; 100% wet processing; 100% sun drying to 11.5%; “resting” for at least 8 weeks in controlled storage; hulling and finishing to order. In addition, speed is definitely not of the essence. You can’t rush great coffee, the machines and people must take their time so each step is completed meticulously and thoroughly.
They have no plans to expand their production. They said their primary aims are turning out the best product they can, support the district, and make a little money in the process. “As soon as you exceed your abilities to control what you’re doing, your stress level goes up, you take shortcuts, your stress level goes up again, and things start to fall apart. Then that’s the end.”
This is all very labor intensive and makes Sherwood Works the largest local employer. The total production of the 55 acre farm and associated local input is only about 60,000 pounds per year, and each batch of cherry is processed individually and segregated through the drying process before being stored or shipped. Due to careful and patient processing by generations of local people who are as dedicated to quality as is the family which owns the farm, a high percent is exportable.
All of the above is predicated on a more basic foundation. In our conversations with our hosts, they emphasized that if you want great coffee
you need “happy” coffee trees tended by happy farmers who are eager to ensure that the trees are properly shaded, pruned, fertilized, weeded and pampered. Between harvest and flowering you must carefully prune deadwood and fertilize the dormant trees if you want ongoing great results.
Insect control (coffee berry borer) has been done traditionally with spraying of copper based insecticides, but since this kills all insects it damages the habitat for birds. Here only biologic controls using traps employing pheromones are exploited. So although not an Organic coffee, it is grown in an environmentally friendly fashion.
If a mill buys cherry from “off the street” one has only visual inspection to ensure that no over-ripe or green cherries are included, you are not likely to know how long the cherry has sat in bags or on trucks, or how well the pickers were compensated and what their attitude toward quality was. Further, you do not know where the coffee came from unless you get your
coffee from your own plots, or those you lease from people you know and trust. Coffee processed at Sherwood Coffee Works all comes from within two miles of the Works with the single exception of one of the original contributors.
The difference in RSW Estates Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee is that the whole community prospers because the whole community is involved in
the quest for excellence. From the men raking the coffee on the patios to the
ladies who are “head sorters” and the plant manager himself, each person on the team takes pride in doing the best job possible and making sure that this is truly the best coffee in the world!
When carefully roasted and brewed the results in the cup justify the high prices charged for Jamaica Blue Mountain RSW Estates coffee and make evident the attention to detail and judgment exercised at each step, growing, harvesting, processing and storing. The delicate slightly floral aroma develops into a clear, round, “bell like” sweetness in the cup with hints of nuts and light citrus acidity. A lingering almost buttery finish with hints
of baking spices leaves your taste buds smiling.