Thursday, May 31 – Day 3: Coffee Commercialization at the Co-Operative
Blog by Catherine Meyer
Today we headed off to la Cooperativa de Caficultores de Andes – “punto de servicio de compras de café” where farmers can sell the coffee beans they have grown, harvested and dried at their own farms.
Before a single bean is bought, employees from the mill run an entire battery of tests here on the coffee to ensure its quality. The mill employees sort through each bean in order to separate the damaged ones (by insects, fungus, the de-pulping process, etc.) from those that are of high quality. Afterward, they formulate a percentage that will show whether or not the farmer’s coffee meets Nespresso’s strict standards, and how much the co-op is willing to pay for the beans (the price fluctuates daily, much like that of ever-changing gasoline prices).
After bean density and humidity tests, the next step in the Co-Op’s testing process is sensory evaluation. Nespresso has employed a person whose sole responsibility is to taste and smell cups of coffee from each farmer’s batch. Orlando, the leader of our tasting class, samples up to 300 cups of coffee each day. In just one whiff he can pinpoint any and all exact defects caused by as few as one single bad bean that may have made its way into the roasted and ground coffee. I watched in awe as he took a single sniff from a cup and told me that the coffee contained bean(s) that were kept too long at the farm before they were sold, inhibiting their freshness and often contributing to a fermented/fungal defect.
Nespresso is so dedicated to precision, that Orlando even uses a special spoon to taste the coffee during this process. He used his spoon, made of pure silver personally engraved, to carefully part the foam on top of the coffee cup, break open the notes by twirling the mug’s contents close to his nose. His technique was very delicate, but his dainty demeanor quickly changed as he began to slurp up the coffee, swish it around his mouth as though he had just taken a gulp of mouthwash, and spit it into a bucket. We each took turns trying to emulate Orlando’s technique, and after much smelling and tasting it became easier to understand which cups contained a higher quality of coffee than the rest. In the end, Orlando approved only two batches of coffee to be sold to Nespresso out of the six we tried this afternoon.
Today I was continually was impressed by how thorough Nespresso’s quality control process is, and learned that this is just the beginning of an entirely different set of tests each coffee bean will endure before it is allowed to make its way into your cup. Now when I reach for a Nespresso capsule at my office in New York City, I will have an entirely new appreciation for how much time, thought and care went into those few little grounds, which help kick start my day each morning.