PURA CEPA was conceptualised by Latorre & Dutch as a project for innovation in green coffee at origin. Piloted in October 2016 in the region of Cañasgordas, Antioquia, Colombia, where we co-own a mill, we have developed this project to revolutionise the current processing techniques available to farmers at origin, and to deliver many benefits for the sustainability of the industry as a whole.
One of the biggest inefficiencies in coffee production lies in the fermentation and drying process, where any number of variables of a given processing location may cause a huge impact on the final quality of the product. Previously, it had not been possible to directly relate cause to effect when high rates of variability are noticed in coffee lots, as wild yeast and bacteria strains and their role in the fermentation process may not be identified in traditional processes.
Within the scope of this project, we apply controlled fermentation to coffee processing by controlling bacteria and yeast application through the inoculation technique. This allows us to identify and select specific strains of beneficial yeast and bacteria to aid the fermentation, monitor their rates of activity and ensure that counterproductive bacteria are eliminated from the process.
This will also be applied in the subsequent drying procedure so as to control the entire processing chain. To achieve this, we have sourced and implemented fermentation and drying equipment approved by microbiologists that allows us to fine-tune and monitor variables such as pH, time, temperature and bacteria populations during fermentation, as well as humidity and bacteria concentration in the drying process.
Having applied extensive research to the skilled advice from our team, we initiated trials in October 2016. Our preliminary results suggest we can expect to improve the cupping score of a coffee by at least 4 points. This continued success would imply that coffees traditionally never suitable for sale on differentiated markets could achieve a quality that would qualify them as specialty. This reality opens up the opportunity for countless new growers to access market premiums that were not reachable before, this being the greatest outcome of this project. Of course, this would also translate up the line and allow us to supply higher point scoring coffee at a more accessible price to roasters, achieving full circle sustainability for the industry.
Looking forward, the region is suitable for extending the project and achieving a widespread involvement of farmers. Cañasgordas is an important coffee producing region in Colombia, home to 2,345 individual coffee growers and 2,928 different farms that average less than 1 hectare per farmer. The project has already fostered a sound involvement of these families, thus, extending the benefits of improved technologies of our project to a broad number of smallholder producers. In doing so, we hope to break down the barriers to sophisticated processing methods previously restricted to wealthier and/or larger producers.
Therefore, the methods and infrastructure developed through the project lend themselves well to the scalability required for commercialisation. We have the capacity to meet any demand, and intend to produce micro-regional and regional lots as the project expands from Colombia to other parts of the world. Proud to say we started the project already with partners in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, also with great success.
As such, our focus is not on producing ever more expensive boutique or micro-lot coffees but to increase the quality of regional or micro-regional coffees that without these methods would continue being traded as a commercial lot, generating no extra welfare for growers or benefits for buyers. However, through these processing methods we are able to pay premiums to growers as we sell a higher quality coffee at a more competitive price.