Home-grown vegetables, a family meal made with love, the comfort of a handmade gift – some things are just better when they are kept small and crafted by hand. That is the idea behind the Kauai Coffee Seed to Cup Project, launched by roast master Mike Shimatsu in 2016. As a relative newcomer to the global coffee stage, Mike saw an opportunity for Kauai Coffee to experiment with yeast fermentation and push the boundaries of flavor and processing methods with some unique, small batches.
After initial trials in 2017 and 2018, Kauai Coffee released Sun Dried Typica, the second small batch product from the Seed to Cup Project. In August of last year, Sun Dried Typica received a score of 90 points from Coffee Review. As the world’s leading coffee guide, receiving high marks from the online publication is an exceptional achievement because coffee scored at 90 and above is considered outstanding. With the success of 2019’s small-batch, we knew we were on to something grand, so what’s in store for 2020? Big innovation with the mini mill!
Miniature Mill for Small Batches
If you have visited the Kauai Coffee Estate and taken a walking tour of the Visitor Center grounds, you may remember seeing this replica of the Kauai Coffee Wet Processing Plant.
Well, replica no more! The mini mill behind the Kauai Coffee Visitor Center is now a working operation used for processing and experimenting with the next exceptional small-batch Kauai Coffee products. The mini mill has some of the same high-tech, state-of-the-art equipment as our full-size plant, plus a small fermentation tank.
If the words “fermented” and “coffee” in the same sentence sounds crazy to you, rest assured fermentation is a natural part of all coffee processing methods. To put it simply, fermentation is the natural chemical breakdown of a substance by yeast, bacteria, or other microorganisms. In the case of coffee, yeast can be used to breakdown the sugars in the coffee fruit and layers surrounding the coffee bean when elements like water and oxygen are introduced. So how does fermentation affect coffee flavor? It’s not always easy to know.
When fermentation goes awry, it can lead to moldy, musty-tasting coffee, but when it is done in a controlled environment by skilled roast masters and coffee experts, fermentation can enhance the acidity, brightness, sweetness, and other flavor attributes of coffee we love. Experimenting with fermentation in small batches allows us to dial up the flavor nuances and create unique products from the many varieties of coffee we already grow on the Kauai Coffee farm.
At the main Kauai Coffee processing plant, we typically use a wet process to separate the coffee cherries after harvest for pulping and remove the skin and fruit layers that surround the beans with a hydrowash before drying.
For the Seed to Cup Project, Mike and the team are also experimenting with honey and natural processes. A natural process coffee leaves the cherry intact while drying and mechanically removes the bean from the cherry when dry.
Honey processing, on the other hand, is somewhere in between the wet process and natural process. The cherry skin is removed from the fruit, but the fleshy mucilage underneath is left intact during the drying process. Yellow honey processing means less mucilage was left on the bean while red and black honey processing suggests more. Each method imparts distinct flavor characteristics to coffee.
Fermentation and processing methods aren’t the only things we can experiment with using the equipment at the mini mill. Creating small-batch products also allows us to test roasting methods and dream up new ways to use discarded coffee fruit in products such as cascara. From processing to fermentation to roasting, imagination is our only boundary. What would you like to see Kauai Coffee experiment with next? Tell us on Facebook or Instagram by tagging @kauaicoffeeco.