Hand Crafted Meets Automated


Last week we got a colour sorter installed at the roastery. As it sounds, this machine can be used to sort coffee beans by colour. It can be used for both green and roasted beans, where a change in lightness of colour is associated with a negative issue such as a quaker in roasted coffee.

A quaker is when the coffee seed was from an underripe cherry, and if you separate out quakers and make a cup of coffee from them exclusively, the taste is really quite negative, however the real test is to sample a “cleaned up” batch beside a non-cleaned up batch. We are still experimenting with how we would like to use the equipment in the roastery for optimal results.

It did get me thinking about the balance between technology and “hand crafted” within coffee, as in recent years there has been much discussion around automation, especially around the role of the barista. The same discussion is relevant throughout the coffee chain.

I remember heading out to Brazil in 2015 along with other championship barista competitors to visit the Daterra farm in the Cerrado region. The top six competitors from the World Championship were lucky enough to be given the opportunity. It was a wonderful trip, one of the activities was to pick, sort and process our own coffee cherries. Each of us headed out and picked a variety and a row of coffee shrubs to select our cherries from. There was no time limit (we were all very slow), and as we are all highly competitive we sorted for only the ripest looking, perfect cherries.

We each took our cherries, re-sorted them, and began to apply a processing technique that we had each decided upon. We were not at the farm long enough to utilise the ideal things and processes, and it was all supposed to be just a bit of fun. Charlotte Malval, the French Barista Champion,, macerated her cherries beneath bare feet, inspired by rudimentary wine making techniques. Some of us partially de-pulped and fermented the cherries and all sorts in between. We took our lots all the way through to be mechanically dried, again we dried too quickly for optimal results. Although technical driers are often seen as inferior to natural drying, if used well a mechanical drier allows you to control the process more closely and avoid the coolness of night and the high heat of midday.

By the time we put our green processed coffee under UV light I was pretty confident I had a stellar lot. I was surprised to see the uv pick up a considerable amount of fungal growth that I couldn’t see with my eyes under normal light. We eventually cupped all our coffees blind after roasting. If I remember correctly Ben Put, the Canadian Barista champion, had the winning lot.

The whole experience was eye opening in many ways, but what really stuck with me was the qualitative benefits of the technology we used and saw utilised throughout different practices at the farm, used to separate the coffee into batches of different quality.

Visiting other origins and producers there are a wide variety of approaches, with Brazil being known as the most mechanised. At different stages in the process of harvesting coffee I was impressed by the clever technologies, to the point where I thought, blimey it must be hard without these!

As is the case with coffee brewing techniques, we often associate the quality of a processing technology with the quality of the coffee they are most commonly used for, which is larger commercial situations.

There is a sweet spot where the quality that is achieved from a hand crafted specialist approach is elevated and complimented by a more conscientious and careful use of technology.

I look forward to touching base to share how we have utilised the colour sorter over time and for which coffees and processes, bearing in mind we expect the coffee delivered to our roastery door to already be exceptional. It is worth noting that some exceptional coffee we have isn’t fully uniform in appearance. There is joy to be found in the exploration and pursuit of optimal balance, and the never ending search for the very best cup of coffee.