An introduction to Abira’s QC: How do we produce great coffee?

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It’s no coincidence that our coffee is among the best in the world. How do we do it? We cheat.

Ok, so it’s not really cheating, but our ability to control the production processes gives us such great coffee, it does feel like we’re cheating. 

We start managing quality right on the farm and our obsession with that quality extends all the way to delivering the coffee into your hands. We rigorously test each of our coffees so we can offer only the best with confidence. Roger Roland, an experienced cupper and coffee industry veteran, and David Gallon, our certified Q Grader, direct our quality control operations.

Cherries arrive at our wet mill and are immediately put in a tank of water.”Floaters” or undeveloped beans, are skimmed off in a different direction. The heavier cherries are then sent into channels drawing them into the depulping machine, which gently separates the coffee seeds from the cherry. Floating beans are again removed in the fermentation tanks after the beans are depulped. It’s important to remove lower grade coffee during each processing in order to minimize the number of defective beans in the final parchment lot.

Fermented and washed beans move into the mechanical dryers, which gently bring the coffee’s  humidity level down to 12%. Then, the dried parchment is bagged and moved to our Medellin warehouse, where we can begin to analyze the lot and understand its quality. 

With a view overlooking stacks of warehoused parchment, our Medellin coffee lab is the hub  of Abira’s QC activities. Here, we analyze, roast, cup, and brew coffee. There are several cupping profiles we look for- red fruits, floral, chocolate, citrusy, etc. David and Roger work to find the best profiles and quality in each cup. 

For this part of the process, we take a sample of parchment from each sack of the same lot. This ensures the sample is representative of the lot. This parchment is weighed and then milled in the lab. 

Once milled, the coffee sample, now in green form, is weighed again to determine the yield factor of the particular coffee. The ‘factor de rendimiento’ (yield factor in Spanish) is an important indicator of general quality. Factor yield tells you how much unmilled dried parchment you need to create 70 kg (one sack) of green coffee.

We utilize SCA protocols– these internationally recognized guidelines standardize the quality analysis process of green coffee samples. Green samples always pass through the same rigorous evaluation process in our lab: defect count, density, humidity, screen sizing, color, and finally, cupping. 

350 grams of green coffee is laid out on a black mat and meticulously sorted. Primary and secondary defects are picked out by hand and totaled according to the SCA’s defect guide. We consider this defect count when we determine how we will mill the coffee. Specialty coffees have no primary defects. Premium coffees, on the other hand, have slightly less stringent standards.

A high-defect coffee isn’t ideal for specialty milling because the mill would have to remove a higher percentage of beans (the defective ones). Only parchment lots with few or no defects are selected to be milled for our specialty coffee offerings. 

Back in the lab, density is calculated. Dense beans benefitted from plentiful nutrients while growing and consequently, they offer more distinct flavor notes than their malnourished counterparts. 

Humidity measurements come next. Appropriate humidity is between 10-12%. The drying phase can impact the longevity of a green coffee’s flavor, so we check for consistent dryness between samples.

Screen sizing is next. This happens inside a boxy machine that slides side to side, shaking the beans. This shaking motion causes the beans to fall through screens with decreasing hole sizes in each level until they land on their appropriate size level. Understanding screen helps us further understand what type of offering we can create from a specific lot. 

After all the green coffee details have been recorded, the beans are transformed inside the roaster. Roasted samples must rest at least 8 hours before cupping to allow the chemical changes from the heat to completely develop. Then it’s onto the cupping table.

Cupping is the ultimate QC activity. After all, what matters most is the drinker’s experience with every cup. David’s and Roger’s scores can vary in certain instances. In this case, they must discuss their scores and come to an agreement for a final score. Our cup scores accurately reflect what we expect others will find in the coffee. The cup doesn’t lie!

By closely examining our coffee, we can also discover opportunities for improvement. Feedback from the QC process shines light on all of our coffee procedures: agronomy, wet milling, fermentation, drying, and storage. This feedback loop helps us tweak processes on the farms, in the wet mills, and in our warehouses, all for creating high quality coffee for our customers.

Arduous in nature, there are no shortcuts to specialty coffee. Consistently upholding high standards ensures maximum quality. A critical, subjective analysis enables us to share samples with you the roaster, who we expect will love the coffee just as much as we do.

Roger and David manage a tight QC process in strict accordance with SCA protocols. Even so, roaster feedback is even more valuable to our team. We want to know what YOU think! A critical customer perspective can help us better understand how we are doing. If you’ve sampled our coffee, we’d love to hear your honest opinions. If you haven’t tried Abira coffee, shoot us an email so we can share our great coffees with you.

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