When a cluster of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes is fermented whole with the skins on, the end result is a deep ruby red that most people are familiar with. Ferment those same grapes without the skins however, and you’ll get a white wine colour that that is more reminiscent of a Riesling or Chardonnay. In the same way, there are various methods of processing coffee beans at origin that result in a drastically different sensory experience once it gets to your cup. Certain varieties of coffee favour certain methods of processing, but some farmers are beginning to experiment with different processing methods of beans from the same lot. In fact, that’s exactly what Pilot Coffee Roasters in partnership with the Rodas family recently did.
In a limited edition boxset, Pilot Coffee of Toronto, ON is featuring three special edition coffees. The same beans from the same lot, processed three unique ways. Each bag has a unique story to tell with distinct flavours, differing aromas, and a truly exquisite coffee experience worth talking about. But first, a little bit about coffee processing.
Process makes perfect
Before coffee ever makes it to your cup, each bean goes through a spectacular process. If you trace back its journey to origin, you can’t help but appreciate each sip you take of your morning joe. Prior to travelling thousands of miles to be roasted and sold by your local cafe, green coffee beans have to be processed. Coffee is a fruit that grows on a shrub-like tree, growing green in its infancy and turning brilliant red like an indicator light alerting the farmer to its ripeness. When coffee cherries turn red and ripe, they are handpicked, sorted, and sent down the line. The processing path they take can go one of multiple ways: washed, honey, or naturally processed.
The coffee that Pilot chose for this project is from the Rodas family farm in Antigua, Guatemala, comprised of fruit from Bourbon and Caturra trees grown between 1,600-1,900m. The Rodas family did a tremendous job supplying this coffee and processing it all three ways - washed, honey, and natural. Each coffee is labelled with a unique variety of tasting notes and flavour profile, and so I opened my box and began my journey.
I prepared my brewing water by putting one pack of Third Wave Water into four litres of distilled water and brought it up to 206 degrees in my Fellow Stagg EKG+. While my water was heating I prepared my brewing device of choice, the faithful Hario V60 #02. I wet my filter using hot water while simultaneously preheating my drinking vessel, tared my scale, and opened each bag. Using my standard 16:1 recipe I ground a 20g dose of each coffee at 11 clicks on my Baratza Encore. With the help of my Kruve sifter and my grind dialed in, I had insured that each brew would be consistent compared to the next.
I first brewed the washed processed coffee. Washed coffees are cleaned of their fruity skin and sticky mucilage for fermentation, and is by far the most common means of processing. The bag claimed tasting notes of milk chocolate, orange, and a silky mouthfeel. The beans look evenly roasted, and freshly ground coffee had a mellow aroma of chocolate. The bloom phase brought aromas reminiscent of most Guatemalans I’ve had - chocolate, almond, and cream. I got chocolate again on the nose of the freshly brewed cup, and I gave it a few moments to cool before my first sip. Up front the cup was balanced and smooth, silky as the roaster’s notes claimed and milk chocolate through and through. As it cooled I got some more clarity, tasting some muted citrus fruits like orange and plum.
Next up was the honey processed coffee. Honey processing has always been the most intriguing to me, as the care it requires to execute to perfection borders on obsessive. Honey processing can be awfully volatile, and almost perfect conditions are required for a successful process. In this process the fruit is washed of its skin but a layer of mucilage remains. This added element to fermentation increases development of fruity flavours and increases body of the final brew. The scent of this coffee right off the brew was very familiar to the washed coffee, but the first sip was notably different. Chocolate evolved to butterscotch in this cup, and the mouthfeel was much more full. Orange also became stone fruit, and this Guatemalan made a move from good to great.
Finally, the naturally processed bag. I must admit, naturally processed coffees are amongst some of my favourites. Because the skin and mucilage are intact for the fermentation, fruity notes are accentuated, complex flavours are most developed, and the overall cup is a more interesting experience. Scents of cherries, flowers, and sweet syrup were synonymous of the roaster’s tasting notes, and before I even took my first sip I was convinced this coffee was special. Like most naturals that have made me to fall in love with this process, this cup was fruity, full, and a sensational way to wrap up this sensory experience. Up front, a sweetness nostalgic of summertime cherries was broad and bold, rounded out as the mouthfeel finished like a dark amber syrup that coats your entire mouth.
More than coffee, more than design
Pilot has a habit of doing everything they do with excellence, and this limited edition boxset is no exception. Not only is it an incredible and unique flavour-filled journey, the presentation is just down right beautiful. Most notably though, I think this project is important. It’s important because it helps to educate the casual coffee drinker about the work that goes into these cups of caffeine that we too quickly consume. It also demonstrates the depth of relationship that Pilot has with their farmers at origin, as projects like this could only be considered if the farmers have assurance in their buyers. Pilot has clearly invested greatly into the work of the Rodas family in Guatemala, and I think that’s a good representation of who they are as a roaster and educator in the Canadian coffee scene.
Speaking of investments, this boxset is a worthy investment for your own enjoyment or the coffee lover in your life. Get them while you can though, as supply is limited!