When we started the Catracha Quality Project (CQP), our first goal was to create a map to visualize how the Catracha producers were processing coffee from cherry to dried parchment. Over the last two harvests in Santa Elena, we interviewed producers and observed their practices to create a post-harvest process map. This map outlines current practices and is a visual tool for identifying best practices with producers in Santa Elena.
We can make one significant observation: all of the Catracha producers that we interviewed and observed generally followed the same post-harvest process as delineated in the map. This is not surprising given that all of the Catracha producers participate in monthly seminars for coffee cultivation, which are a platform for collaboration.
Logistics, however, play a large role in how farmers make similar decisions throughout the post-harvest process. The farms are small, consisting of only a few acres, and are remote from one another. This is likely why producers choose to process coffee on their own micro-wet mills rather than on a larger collective wet-mill.
Above: Mateo Perez tending to young coffee plants in the nursery located near is coffee farm.
Interestingly, we have seen infrastructural improvements over time at the wet mill level. The new mills become a collective resource for an entire extended family. This is the case at one of the wet mills, where Luis Nolasco, his wife Fidelina, and his brothers Atonacio and Jose Antonio, all process their coffee.
The map allows for another key set of observations: the various places along the way where the quality of the coffee benefits from separation, as noted in the steps preceded by red arrows on the process map that point to the boxes describing the separation of under or over-ripe cherry, as well as, the removal of underdeveloped beans that float in the wash channel because they are less dense.
The most obvious first point for separation is picking. Selective pickers separate desirable cherry from defective cherry, that means only the best product is loaded into the hopper. However, the map focuses solely on post-harvest and thus does not include the picking process.
During our interviews we learned that there was variation in picking from farm to farm (independent of size) and even within each harvest on the same farm. Producers are often faced with a choice: Do you use many pickers (perhaps twenty or even more) who can do more in a day but might be less selective on the whole? Or do you use less pickers (as few as five) that are more selective but pick less for the day? This decision may also be driven by other factors like the availability of labor or the available capital to pay for the labor at the end of the day. See our next CQP article for more on cherry separation and cup quality.
Above: The 2016 harvest was the first year that Catracha farmers used solar dryers and raised beds.
We believe the CQP map for processing cherry to parchment will be our most valuable tool for implementing consistent best practices and promoting innovation for years to come. Prior to the next harvest, we will introduce the CQP map as a reference to discuss processing with the Catracha producers in Santa Elena. We invite you to use the comment section to communicate with us so that we can learn and share from your experiences.