Why and How, Pt.1: Our Environment
As the only company, we are aware of, that makes single origin coffee in this fermented way, the question of why and how this started is a great question. It is also one that is difficult to whittle down to one concise answer. In this 3 part series the hope is to answer some of these questions.
Having a positive impact on the environment is one reason fermenting green coffee began.
In short, fermentation, one of the oldest forms of food preservation, allows us to make the most of our food resources. When coffee is roasted we lose about 15% of it by weight; granted that’s mostly water, though water, we would say, is better spent not being wasted.
To cleanse the green coffee of any harmful bacteria, it’s true, the green beans and water need to be heated. However, the same step is required in smaller quantities more often with roasted coffee when you brew a pour-over for example. A single-use coffee filter? Not needed here. Grinding? Nope, also not needed to ferment. We are able to save energy and resources with a single extraction and process rolled up into one. Additionally, electricity is used to brew green coffee compared to most roasting machines which are gas fueled. There are plenty of electric roasters out there, but gas heated ones are generally preferred. There’s a good chance the last cup of roasted coffee you enjoyed was produced on a gas powered machine. Avoiding the use of fossil fuels in this instance has a direct effect of less carbon emissions.
As far as energy goes, bacteria and yeast are an unseen natural resource all around us. In fermentations we are able to harness the sustainable energy of these living microscopic beings without pollution. This process has been described as very slow cooking, except instead of using heat we use microorganisms.
On the side of agriculture, this processing technique also has sustainability-minded benefits. The Arabica species of coffee is widely cultivated because it has pleasing flavors to humans when roasted compared to other species, however, Arabica is more challenging to produce. When non-arabica is fermented, their flavors, not suited for roasting, have potential to make the finished product more unique. As our climate changes, being able to grow more disease and pest resistant coffee at lower altitudes while commanding higher prices for the farmer is a huge asset.
Another detail to roasting versus fermentation is loss of quality from aging green. Coffee has a lifespan for roasting even before it enters the roaster. Some experienced Specialty Coffee professionals won’t roast green that is older than one year because their pallets taste unpleasant flavors. With every brew, we are learning as much as possible about flavor associations in the coffee. The theory is that you will be able to distinguish age even in fermentation, however, with the hope that age can become an asset or at the very least, a non-factor. In this respect, fermenting affords a practical solution to eliminating waste by using aged green coffee without sacrificing quality in an end product.
Lastly, if you poured a glass of Olas green from a keg there would be no extra wasted packaging or process needed, just a reusable keg. In bottling, we are dedicated to using biodegradable packaging. The safety seal and label used on the glass bottles are both biodegradable from companies based in New Jersey and California respectively. It would have been purchased from a place closer than California to reduce carbon emissions in shipping but there wasn’t one locally who prints biodegradable labels. If you know of any in the NYC area, please feel free to reach out.
The aim of reducing waste and making the most of our resources to process coffee was a big factor in choosing fermentation. Being able to buy coffee (which, to some, would have been otherwise deemed unusable) at Specialty prices is also an important feature. It so happens the results are pretty delicious too :)