Many people are surprised when we say that Daterra has over 12 million coffee plants. Out of our 6.600 hectares, we have 2.700 hectares of plantation – everything else is environmental preservation (that’s over 50% of our area!). We are often asked how we segment this amount of coffee into our menu and the answer that, basically, we are very organized.
Our manager Gabriel is heading to the UK to give you more details of how we manage this huge amount of coffee, but you can get started right now:
First, you should know that this whole area is segmented: the farm is divided into 216 small plots that range from 5 to 15 hectares. These plots are managed individually – we monitor each one separately and, by doing that, we can make sure to use only the right amount of water, fertilizer or defensive necessary for that individual plot. This is our mini-farm concept.
Around May, all these mini farms start to show ripe cherries and it’s time to talk about harvesting: apart from young trees and some special areas, our farm is harvested by machines, but not any machine: we build our own from scratch at the farm and they are designed for coffee quality. These machines perform the selective mechanical harvesting: basically, they are gentler on the tree, moving and vibrating in a softer way. This movement makes the ripest cherries (which detach easily from the branch) get collected while the immature cherries (that are strongly attached to the branch) stay on the tree, giving them time to continue their maturation journeys.
When you have so many hectares to harvest, it’s important to coordinate the logistics very well. We want to send a harvesting machine to the plots when most of the cherries are ripe to minimize the amount of times that an area needs to be harvested. We do that by picking samples of the trees: when the plot shows 60% of ripe or overripe cherries, we know it’s the optimal time to harvest it – but there is an extra step before that: tasting!
As you know, coffee is not about the cherry, it’s about the bean. That means that a cherry that looks ripe doesn’t always carry ripe beans and the only way to know is by tasting. Once our plots show optimal maturation, we select the ripe cherries, pulp, roast and taste them: if they taste good we’ll proceed with the harvest; if they taste astringent, we’ll wait a couple more days and repeat the sampling until it tastes good.
Even though we do all these steps to ensure that the most even maturation comes out of the harvesting machine, we still get varying maturation levels and that’s why we created the UNIPAC – our Smart Coffee Processing Unit can separate these cherries into eight maturation levels. After going through a series of physical selections the cherries are sorted into:
Dry Underripe: you don’t want this in your cup – these are the cherries that went from green straight to dry. Because they didn’t go through the whole maturation, they didn’t develop sugars and acidity, so they taste bitter and “dirty”. They end up becoming low-grade commercial coffees or organic compost.
Dried-on-tree: also known as the Cerrado natural, these cherries went through the whole maturation process and dried still attached to the tree. They taste chocolaty and full bodied, sweet and clean.
Raisin: these cherries started to dry on the tree, but there is still some mucilage left in there – they look like a raisin and taste fruity, sweet and full bodied.
Overripe: these cherries have the highest sugar content and their beans have a silky mouthfeel – so sweet it might give you toothache (not really).
Fully Ripe: the name says it all – these are the cherries at their peak maturation. The coffees made from them present sweet citrus acidity and are very balanced.
Ripe: these cherries are just a couple of days from reaching their peak maturation. The beans present more acidity than sweetness and have notes of yellow fruits.
Underripe: these are between green and ripe: because they aren’t developed enough at this stage, the beans taste astringent and dry so we direct them to commercial lots.
Green: beans from green cherries don’t taste good at all – very astringent and bitter. Many times, the beans inside the cherry is not even fully formed yet, and in this case, the immature cherries become an ingredient in our organic compost.
After all of these, we have our mise en place: we get all the flavors that our farm can produce, and, with them, we assemble the tastes of our menu. We can get the high sweetness of a plot’s overripe cherries and mix that with another plot’s fully ripes to create a more balanced and interesting coffee.
Gabriel from Daterra will go into more detail about these processes and, if you want to try out all these tastes for yourself, there are three opportunities where you can meet him and join some cuppings: In Edinburgh, in Manchester or in Bristol.