The flight to Piura was uneventful, and we met up with Elmer, the partner of Farm to Roast, and our Peruvian guide for the trip. We met our driver for the trip, Robbie, who warmly greeted us and loaded up our gear into his truck. After introductions and exchanging pleasantries, we departed the airport and headed across the city of Piura to the Norandino coffee-processing factory.
This is one part of the trip that was completely new to me. All of the conversation about coffee exportation concentrates on the harvesting and processing at the farm level. Once the coffee is properly dried and packaged at the farm, there is a whole series of steps that need to take place before the green coffee is ready to be packed into containers and shipped to the docks for export. We got to see the process in action, and we walked through the entire plant with the manager of operations.
The coffee at this point has been carefully harvested, processed at the farm, dried to the proper moisture content, and shipped from the remote coffee growing regions, the Norandino Mill. Each coffee bean has a thick parchment that is natural to the bean itself, which needs to be removed before bagging and export to the roasters. This is accomplished by using a series of machines that work at a very high rate of speed to rub off this parchment and “clean” the dust off the beans with massive blowers.
The cleaned coffee is immediately dropped into large oscillating tables, which help to sort the coffee away from any contaminates like stones, sticks, coins and other junk that sometimes makes its way into the coffee supply. These tables also work to sort the coffee into different sizes. This table is on a slight angle, and as it shakes, the larger beans move toward one side of the table and the remaining smaller dense beans begin to collect in another corner. These beans shake off of the table at two different points, with the higher quality and more dense beans being kept for the specialty exports, and the rest being used in commercial grade coffee.
This first sorting is important to ensure that there is consistency in the size, density and shape of the coffee being exported. There is still one more concern in the specialty world; the presence of defects or “bad” coffee beans. Defects can occur naturally as part of the growing genetics from that particular coffee bean, or as an error in harvesting (picking a cherry too early or too late). These defects often have negative tasting consequences, and in order for a coffee to make it to “specialty” grade, there must be exceptionally few of these defects present in the green coffee.
This would be an incredibly time consuming task to do by hand, but we were fortunate to be able to see some cutting-edge technology being employed at the Norandino Mill. The mill uses optical sorting technology, where hundreds of beans per minute pass by a bright light in a single file line. A computer quickly determines weather that particular bean has the proper shape and size, and gives that single bean a pass/fail. The failures are sorted out of the machine into a holding bin to be sold as second-rate commercial coffee. The passing beans are approved for bagging and shipping to the port. There were about 200 of these light samplers, and each sampler can test hundreds of beans per minute. The process is lightning fast, and incredibly accurate.
The final stage of the processing is to load all the passing coffee into a giant hopper, where workers will bag it up in specially sealed bags to ensure that the coffee makes it safely across the ocean to its destination.
The Norandino Mill is certified to process Organic, and Fair Trade coffee, and it has won numerous awards for its exceptional processing and milling procedures.
We finished the tour by cupping coffee samples in their coffee lab, and learning about some of the different farms in the area, and how the mill keeps careful records of processing, and segregation of the coffee to ensure that the individual farm’s coffees do not get blended together for Direct Trade models such as Farm to Roast. Norandino makes sure that the farms that Chris buys from are properly labeled and sorted so that each lot retains its distinct characteristics and flavors.
Seeing this kind of precision and accuracy on such a large scale was extremely impressive. To know that our coffee was coming through a mill with such advanced technology helps to explain why we are getting such a high quality product from these beautiful Peruvian farms.