by Ted Stachura
A few weeks ago Kenneth Davids and I were asked to roast, cup and assess two samples of Haitian coffee. This request came in before January’s devastating earthquake and its horrific consequences struck Haiti. As I write, news outlets continue to report on the tragedy while charitable organizations step up their efforts to supply labor, material and money to those in need.
In light of this tragic event it is somewhat bittersweet to report that the coffees we tasted a couple of days before the earthquake were good, in fact they were very good. If we were to write a formal review of the coffees we would use terms like – sweet and round, chocolate and aromatic wood, rich, clean and perhaps the ultimate compliment for me, butterscotch-like.
As a student of coffee, the samples were particularly interesting to me because they were meticulously processed and, save for one variable, they were treated identically. The only difference between the two samples was that one underwent twelve hours of fermentation while the other a full twenty-four hour fermentation period. You can read more about the role of fermentation elsewhere on this site but simply put, fermentation is a step taken during washed processing where pulped coffee beans sit in tanks or other containers while natural enzymes and bacteria loosen the sticky coffee fruit pulp by partially digesting it. It is a step often replaced today by mechanically scrubbing the pulp off the beans, but it is one of the ways coffee producers can influence the taste of the coffee they are processing. The resulting cup, under ideal circumstances, is often enlivened, highlighting aromatic and flavor nuances.
Which of the two processing types was better is academic (although it happened to be the twelve hour version) the effort and dedication put forth by the farmers in the coffee growing area around Ranquitte, Haiti is most impressive.
We were happy to learn that no loss of life, injury, or property damage happened in the community of Ranquitte. We do understand however that the earthquake’s impact in this area will still be felt. Many of those in Ranquitte have family and friends in Port au Prince and other locales impacted by the earthquake. They also rely on Port au Prince as the primary life line for coffee exportation, medicine, agriculture supplies, and food.
The organization that brought this coffee to our attention is EcoCafé Haiti, a newly formed coffee cultivation and processing group whose purpose is to enable economic self-sufficiency in rural Haiti. Over the last several years their work has included construction of coffee washing stations and hulling operations, as well as guidance of 300 farmers in proper cultivation, pruning, and harvesting procedures. To learn more about the organization please visit their website.