I am writing this on DAY 13 of the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ). I admit that being locked down inside the house is boring AF but at least I am safe. That is the most important thing so let us cooperate.
Interestingly, being on quarantine is not that bad because it gives us time to reminisce childhood memories. Yesterday, I saw my uncle cutting the branches of our coffee trees and picking those coffee cherries. I remember how I used to join my grandfather doing all that. And so I didn’t just sit back and watched, instead, I jumped in and helped transform those coffee cherries into a savory cup. I realized that after all, there is more reason why staying at home is a good thing. It sparked my interest in coffee making and processing.
But before going into that, I need to put a disclaimer that I am not an expert in the coffee industry. I am just here trying to re-live a tradition I once learned from my grandfather. Through this blog post, I will share with you the bean-to-cup process of coffee in the comfort of your home.
I live in a house where the elders would get mad if no coffee was brewed. That is indeed a taboo. The elders told me that my grandfather regularly produced our coffee enough to last for a year. There was no need for us to buy the commercialized coffee at the Baguio local market. I am quite lucky that our great grandfather planted coffee trees in our backyard way before the World War II. Now, our coffee trees grew taller than a two-storey house.
Coffee likes warmer temperatures, I guess?
The daytime temperature here in Itogon gets as high as 32°C and at least 20°C at night. I guess the coffee plants that we have here like places with this warm temperature that is why even after more than 50 years, our coffee trees still yield good fruits. Sometimes, I get to see these coffee plants produce white flowers and emit a sweet fragrant. You cannot believe that a tree that produces a sweet scent will later give you an addicting, bitter and aromatic taste. My aunt told me that the coffee plants that we have here is called Liberica Coffee, the real “Barako” coffee. I checked on the internet how it looks and I also asked around. It’s true. The coffee beans are longer and almond-shape.
Learning the methods of coffee processing
I grew up watching my grandfather perform the dry method of coffee processing. After collecting the coffee cherries, we then lay the coffee cherries on a used galvanized metal sheet and let it dry for months. If the rain comes, my grandfather will just cover it with another galvanized metal sheet. When the coffee cherries have dried and turned into blackish color, it is then ready for pounding using a large stone mortar and wooden pestle. The purpose is to separate the bean from the pulp or the outer fruit. After that, the difficult and boring part is actually to manually separate the bean by hand because we don’t have a machine for that. When the harvesting and processing are done, we can now roast, grind and brew the coffee.
My uncle said that the way my grandfather processed coffee takes too long. He told me that in order to make the process faster, we just have to soak the coffee cherries in the water and remove the pulp or outer covering of the coffee beans right after the harvest. It took me few google searches to know that this process is called the wet method.
Picking the coffee cherries
The coffee trees that we have here yield fruits at least twice a year. Our coffee trees have grown very tall that we need to use a ladder and climb our roof in order to harvest the cherries. First, you need to gather all the bright red and separate those dried and black ones. Immerse the cherries in the water. Bad or unripe fruits will float and these floaters need to be removed so as not to spoil the good ones.
After washing and sorting the good ones from the bad ones, the coffee cherries should be placed into a depulper. My uncle made a de-pulper out of wood and steel. The depulper squeezes the cherries so that the red skin will be separated leaving the mucilage (sticky thing) and the bean itself. If you don’t have a depulper, you do it manually by squeezing it or you can pound it with the use of a mortar and pestle but that would entail a lot of work.
After de-pulping and separating, wash the beans and soak it in water overnight. There are different ways how to ferment these coffee beans considering the climate, temperature, time, and your preference of course. I really don’t know about a thing but according to some websites, soaking it in water causes some chemical reactions like enzymes to be naturally produced. This results to the breaking down of that sticky thing around the bean.
In another batch of coffee beans that I have previously processed, I did not soak it in water. Instead, after the skin and pulp are removed, I immediately spread it in a tray to dry leaving the mucilages around the bean. The coffee beans then stayed sticky and slimy. Some researchers say that the more mucilages remain on the beans, the sweeter and fruitier the coffee will be.
I read that drying the coffee beans depends on the kind and quality of the coffee beans as well as the method of processing used. In one website, it said that drying takes at least four to seven days. I usually dry the coffee beans for 7-14 days. At first, I was afraid that my coffee beans will overdry because they said that 12% of moisture should remain. But because I don’t really know how to measure the moisture inside, I just move on to the next step once I see that the parchment layers have really hardened and dried.
Once the parchment has dried and hardened, pounding it through a mortar and pestle will help the parchments come off easily. Do not use a lot of strength in pounding because pounding it too hard might break the beans itself.
If you are not satisfied with the dryness of the beans, you can dry it again under the sun otherwise, you can proceed to roasting. From my experience, roasting is a tricky stage. Because I am doing it traditionally, using wood to make fire makes it more difficult because I have to control the heat and manage the smoke that goes to my eyes while consistently mixing the beans with a wooden paddle. Not to mention the presence of my niece who is trying to put off the fire by sprinkling water in the firewood. Anyway, before putting the beans in the pan, make sure that the pan is hot and the fire is kind of stable. Prepare also a container or a tray where you can spread out the roasted beans later. Put the beans in the pan then consistently and slowly mix them to make sure that the roasting is uniform. From the color green, the beans will start to turn yellow, brown, chocolate brown to dark brown and then black if burnt. You can also hear cracking sounds and you will notice that the beans start to expand. I really don’t know when to stop but that depends on your preference whether you want it light, medium or dark roast. I remember my grandfather used to tell me to stop when the beans are darker in color and some kind of oily. He wanted it that way.
We have at home a manual grinder. You can buy this at a cheap price in your local market. It grinds the coffee beans perfectly but requires a workout because you have to turn the handle manually.
There’s a lot of ways how to brew coffee but the easiest probably is to use a coffee maker. Hehe. But if you don’t have one and you want to do it traditionally like how my grandfather does, you just have to boil water in a kettle. Put the fire off once it’s boiling. Add spoons of ground coffee and give it a stir. The number of spoons depends on your preference. Let it sit for about five (5) minutes allowing the grounds to sink at the bottom. With that, you can now pour your coffee in a mug or store it in your thermos.
Well, that’s basically how we enjoy our rough and rugged cup of coffee here in the mountains. If you have other ways to do it, share it in the comments below! Remember that there are many ways how to make coffee and I believe there is actually no wrong or right way to do it as long as you are enjoying then that’s good enough.
The Backpacking Lawyer is a practicing lawyer and a nurse by profession in the Philippines. While she enjoys her day job, she loves traveling and sharing her adventures and misadventures with you.