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How to Grow and Produce Great Organic Coffee

coffeeOne year old organic coffee trees are available to local farmers from Blair Estate. Started from “arabica typica” variety of seed stock imported from the famous Kona coffee region on the Big Island of Hawaii our coffee seeds were carefully selected for their cupping qualities and come from award winning farms. After analyzing the root system of every start and pruning for direct lateral growth the tree starts have been raised off the ground and under direct sun light. A mixture of organic top soil as well as a special blend of organic fertilizers have been used to feed these trees thus far. These trees are now 8-12 months old and are ready for ground planting.


Where and how should I plant?

If you are planting more than one coffee tree you should space them in the following fashion. Plant your rows running north to south leaving 6 feet in between trees and 12 feet in between rows. This is important if you intend to maximize your crop as it will allow the maximum amount of sunlight to hit your trees. It will also allow for easier maintenance for mowing and weed control. You should carefully lay out your rows with string and mark before hand where your holes will be dug. It is important to note that planting in this style and in open fields will require frequent watering. Shade grown coffee will obviously require less watering and is easier to maintain... but it will produce less coffee per tree. If you are planting in the row method and with a large number of trees (more than 200) you should consider irrigation. Cost per acre to set up a drip irrigation system is about $2000. There are approximately 623 trees that can be planted per acre using the 6x12 spacing method. In most cases where only a few trees are planted... watering and fertilization are an easy task.

Are you ready to plant?

When you are ready for planting it is important to dig a 5 gallon hole for the one gallon bag that holds your tree. Once your hole has been dug sprinkle about 6 inches of loose dirt back in, spread a cup full of the blended coffee planting fertilizer (BEOF1) on the loose dirt and cover again with another 6 inches of soil. You should now have enough space in the hole from bottom to top to comfortably fit the one gallon coffee start. The loose dirt and layering in the fertilizer is important as it will allow the root system of the tree both growing room and air to breath.

After you have prepared your holes remove the tree from its bag being careful not to disturb or rip the roots. Once the tree has been removed from the bag you must study the root system at the bottom of the tree. Very important... If you notice a large tap root on the bottom of your tree that has taken an obvious turn because it could not grow any further down because of the bag... cut it off. Don’t worry... this will only help your tree not hurt it. You want the main tap root to grow straight down and not sideways so this will help establish healthy root growth for years to come. (A good general rule of thumb is to always remove a half an inch at the bottom of your root ball.) You are now ready to plant. Place the tree in the hole, cover with soil and water so the ground and your planting are sufficiently soaked. You are now ready to top your tree. Once again you will ask yourself, will this hurt my new tree? The answer is no. Your trees should be on average forty seven inches high at the time of planting and healthy enough to sustain this topping technique. In the end your trees will produce at least twice as much coffee utilizing this method. At a height of twenty six inches above the base of the tree make your cut above at least two sets of branches and leave one inch of stalk above the top set of branches when you make this cut. Be sure to leave as much stalk as possible above the last healthy branches you are leaving as this will deter pests and fungus from attacking your new laterals. What this will do is allow your tree to actually grow four trees in one. The four laterals you leave will all eventually turn upwards to support normal tree growth. Once again... this is important if you want to maximize the amount of coffee one tree can produce as well as making it easier to pick.

Now that I’ve planted how do I maintain healthy growth in my tree?

Once your trees have been planted it is important to establish a routine for feeding and watering them. While Kauai is generally a wet enough place to make watering easy... you can never forecast what mother nature will bring or not bring in the way of good growing weather. Thus... you may need to water by hand during dry spells. What is important is the schedule for the organic fertilization program. Keeping to this schedule will induce both healthy vegetative and flowering growth of your trees. Both are crucial elements if you intend to produce a hearty crop. Fertilization should also be done only when the weather is rainy, cloud cover good, and the soil is moist. The following is a schedule for fertilizing your trees per acre. Obviously with fewer trees one can see that less than a pound of fertilizer is used per tree in the growth months and approximately a quart is used in the flower inducing months. Fertilizer can be spread either by hand or made into an organic tea. Organic won’t burn so I spread a handful of dried fertilizer to each tree every two weeks. If you can detect it’s best to throw fertilizer before an oncoming rainy period. Use of organic fertilizer should include elements of NPK but an extra portion of some elements at certain times will increase growth, flowering and fruiting throughout the year. I use a combination of 12.0.0, 8.5.1, and any high Potash source I can get my hands on. Here is a general schedule of fertilizer I use for my coffee trees throughout the year.

November None Good Time to Plant
December None Good Time to Plant
January None Good Time to Plant
February High Nitrogen Spring growth
March High Potash Induce flowering
April High Nitrogen Spring growth
May High Potash Induce flowering and cherry growth
June Equal NPK Growth and fruiting
July High Potash Induce heavy cherry growth
August Equal NPK Growth and fruiting, early harvesting
September None Time for a break, harvest
October High Potash Cherry growth finishing and harvest

November thru January are generally good months to plant your coffee trees in the ground. A high phosphate fertilizer 1-10-1 is used to start rapid root growth before switching over to the above fertilizing schedule.

I’ve made it to Fall... how do I pick all this coffee?

Now comes the test of the true farmer. It has been my experience that the healthier the coffee... the healthier your attitude will be for harvesting it. For most farmers it is this time of quietness and serenity that defines the coffee farmer’s life-style. Picking coffee by hand takes time and patience and there is still no better way of harvesting. Mechanized harvesting methods can not come close to matching the human eye and hand of what gets picked. A secret method about detecting early the quality of your coffee crop can be administered by tasting the raw coffee cherry. The sweeter the taste.... the better the coffee. Several rounds of picking occur in an annual harvest that spans usually three months. The rounds of picking correspond to the several flowerings you induced during your fertilization program. Ideally coffee cherry should be harvested at peak ripeness (fully red). Never pick coffee cherry which is not at least half or more red as these immature beans will negatively impact your cup of coffee.

I Need Help!

Pickers are generally paid around 50 cents per cherry pound to pick if you require help. A sign at the end of the driveway is a good method for free advertising. “Coffee Pickers Wanted.... 50¢ per pound”

How do I process my coffee?

Processing your coffee involves several steps. Pulping, fermenting, washing, sun drying, dry hulling, grading (optional), and roasting.

It is crucial to pulp your raw coffee cherry in the same day you pick. Harvested coffee will spoil if left unattended for longer than 12 hours and faster if exposed to heat or sun.

Pulping:

Remove the raw coffee husk from the beans and discard husk into a fertilizer pile. Pulping is done with a coffee pulper powered by hand or motor. Blair Estate will pulp your raw coffee for a nominal fee if you choose not to purchase a coffee pulper. Pulpers cost between 300 and 1200 dollars and can process between one thousand and two thousand pounds per hour. This wet milling process, as the coffee industry calls it, can also be done by hand if you’re processing only a few pounds of cherry. In general though... a healthy tree in its third year of growth will produce 20 to 60 pounds of raw coffee cherry (3-9 pounds of roasted coffee).

Fermenting:

Fermentation breaks down the mucilage that surrounds the coffee bean. This mucilage if not removed will retard the taste of your coffee and create an undesirable taste. Fermentation should be done in a wooden vat with water filled only to the top of your beans. Some farmers use no water but this will make it difficult to separate the floaters. Floaters are beans that float on water after pulped. You should remove them from your coffee as they lack the necessary density to produce a good cup of coffee. Heavier beans will sink to the bottom of the water vat. Some farmers remove floaters before pulping but you run the chance of having one good bean being discarded since there are two beans per coffee cherry with the exception of Peaberry (a single, round, very dense bean which occurs in only about 2 - 4 percent of the harvest). Plastic buckets can also be used but wood tends to hold the warmth better which is an important element in the process. This demucilaging process, as the coffee industry calls it, is best done if the temperature is around 80-90 degrees in the vat. This temperature will occur naturally when the bacteria and fungi start to decompose the mucilage. In general this fermentation takes about 12 - 16 hours and is generally done over night after pulping later in the day or early evening. A simple test to see if this fermentation process is done can be administered. Take a small handful of coffee and wash them in clean water. If the mucilage rubs off and your beans lose there slippery feel you are ready to proceed to washing.

Washing:

Empty your vat of fermented coffee onto a 1/8 inch screen framed by wood and thoroughly wash the fermented mucilage off. In a coffee mill setting a shaker table with water sprayers above would be the automated way of handling this task. Once the beans have been washed proceed to sun drying your coffee which is now called parchment. Parchment is the name used to describe the coffee bean at this stage.

Sun drying your parchment coffee:

Once again mother nature provides the best way to process your coffee. Sun drying your beans slowly allows a gentle curing process to occur. Machine dryers can be used but it simply is not as good as using the natural sun dry method. Wood decks are generally used and a pound of coffee per square foot is an accepted amount of coffee to lay out in that space. Important.... never let your beans get wet! If it looks like it is going to rain you should move them under cover or have a clear roof over head to prevent the rain from hitting them. Also Important.... beans should be raked or turned several times a day to assure even drying. In Kona early Japanese farmers concocted a scheme that used rolling roof systems called hoshidanas. These hoshidanas, or rolling roofs, could slide on and off the drying platform in times of rain and sun. The sun drying process can take different amounts of time depending on the weather. In hot and sunny periods where the beans are exposed directly to sunlight at least 10 hours a day the drying process can take only 4-5 days. In cloudy and rainy periods the process may take up to two weeks. A good test to determine whether or not your beans are fully dried is to remove the crisp brown parchment skin and bite into your bean. If the green bean appears hard and brittle between your teeth it is dry (you should be able to snap the bean in two on a clean bite). If the green bean appears soft to the bite and won’t break it needs more time to dry.

What do I do with my parchment coffee?

Coffee is best kept when stored in parchment form. The thin, dry, crisp, brown membrane surrounding the green coffee bean will actually protect your coffee from molding over time during storage. Dry storage of large quantities should occur in a dehumidified environment (a dehumidifier left on a mid way setting in a sealed, dark, wood room is perfect). Dry hulling your coffee involves removing this parchment layer. Once again a machine is used for this process. Dry hullers made locally can process 2 pounds per minute and cost around 2 thousand dollars. For the small farmer with less than one hundred pounds of dried coffee parchment we suggest a simple home method using an ordinary kitchen blender. Sharp blades can be used but if you want to prevent damage to your green beans you should dull and round the metal blades of your blender with a rasp. Pulse the parchment in the blender until the dried parchment is whisped off your beans. Remove the contents and blow away the parchment shavings. A small fan and tossing the beans in the air off a plate helps. It is important to remove all the parchment before you proceed to roasting.

What about Grading?

Grading green coffee is a process that classifies your green beans according to density and size. It also separates damaged or unwanted beans from your harvest. If you are careful picking only ripe coffee and you do a good job separating floaters before or after you pulp you will not have to really grade your coffee to produce a quality cup. In this grading process a series of screens size your best beans from large to small and a gravity table will separate your beans according to density. The machines needed to properly grade green coffee for the open market are also very expensive so only serious coffee producers should consider their use.

Finally.... am I ready to roast and drink my coffee?

Congratulations... you are now ready to roast and brew your first cup of home grown organic coffee. I suggest going on-line and purchasing a small kitchen coffee roaster. That’s right... visit E-Bay Auctions and bid on a “new” small home coffee roaster. They can generally be had for about $50 and can roast about 2-4 ounces at a time. When you operate them listen to the crackling sound of the beans to determine your desired roast. When you hear the second series of crackling you are at a medium roast coffee and the beans will look brown in color. Generally this roast takes about 4 minutes to reach. Obviously the longer you roast the darker your beans will become so experiment and find what you like in taste. I have found that this electric hot air roaster is the cleanest and most efficient way of roasting your coffee. Obviously... larger commercial roasters, both electric and gas, are available for the more serious coffee producer. When you are finished roasting it is best to let the beans sit for 12 hours which allow them to degas. Personally I find the best time to roast is in the evening in preparation for making my morning cup of coffee.

For organic fertilizer, coffee processing equipment or other advice feel free to contact me at Blair Estate Coffee: (808) 822-4495