Matt answers your coffee roasting questions: washed vs naturals

This week Matt Hassell, Global Buyer, QC & Sample Management for Collaborative Coffee Source, and former roaster for George Howell Coffee, will answer your roast questions. Here’s a question from @AR0101:

@collaborativeCS what do you need to consider when roasting naturals vs washed coffees? #ccsQandA

— Andres Rodriguez Ruiz (@AR0101) December 10, 2017

Matt's response:

I don’t have nearly the experience roasting naturally processed coffees that I do roasting washed processed. Being in my new position, I find myself with a lot more exposure to naturally processed coffees, so I’ve been re-evaluating my approach and understanding quite a bit. Luckily, I’ve found some fantastic resources to aid in the process.

Roasting a naturally processed coffee requires a longer, slower drying phase and a longer development time. The flavor profile of these coffees is enhanced much more with longer caramelization times. A roast that is too fast, or lighter on the development spectrum may present itself as being harsh and imbalanced. Of course, this is a bit of a generalization as a natural Brazilian coffee would definitely require a different roast profile than an Ethiopian counterpart. They would be unique because of other factors (density, concentration of acids and sugars, terroir, etc.) In general, though, longer times pair with the deeper sweetness and bigger body that is characteristic of natural process coffees. In my experience, I’ve always preferred roasting naturals on a Loring over a drum roaster.

With washed process coffees, you’re able to be much more aggressive with heat application. Shorter roast times with lower-end temperatures have always been my preferred method. This is effective in highlighting the higher acidity found in these coffees. Another point to consider is that washed processed coffees often go through more sorting than naturals. Batches of beans that are more refined in terms of sizing, density, and moisture will be easier to develop homogeneously. You run less of a risk of leaving some of the beans underdeveloped.

Counter to roasting naturals on the Loring, I’ve always preferred roasting washed coffee on a drum roaster. I don’t know why either, because it doesn’t necessarily correlate to coffees that I’ve tasted from other roasters.

Matt will be answering your Twitter roast questions until Dec 12, 2017. Post your questions on Twitter to @collaborativeCS and use the hashtag #ccsQandA.

Coffee Profile: Illubabor Variety, Gesha Village Estate


Name: Gesha Village
Province: Gesha
Location: Southwest Ethiopia
Average Annual Rainfall (mm): 1150
Altitude (masl): 1900-2100m
Number of hectares: 471
Hectares cultivated: 320
Shade: Agro-forestry system with mix of indigenous shade trees
Process: Washed
Drying Method: Sun
Harvest Method: Handpicking
Main Harvest Season: November- January
Variety: Illubabor 1974
Soil: Virgin forest, brown loam soil


Illubabor 1974 is a research variety washed with a mechanical demucilager, soaked for 24-36 hours and then shade dried to 30 percent moisture content.It is then transferred to a raised African bed for further drying before it is bagged and stored for export.

Cupping Notes

Lot 252627(WHQ-JR-252627):Illubabor is a varietal which introduces us to the wonderful prospects Gesha Village has to offer beyond Gesha coffee varieties.Scoring a high of 88 points during US and European cuppings, this varietal is wild with jasmine, honey and passionfruit standing out.The body is sweet with finishes of melon and honeydew.Truly a gem from the Gesha Village estate.

The Backstory

The Gesha Village journey began back in 2007 when Adam Overton and Rachel Samuel were making a documentary about Ethiopian coffee for the Ethiopian government. It was during this project that they were first introduced to Dr. Girma, their guide through the Gera Coffee Forest near Jimma. Dr. Girma is a coffee researcher and is a wealth of information about coffee agronomy, and farm management. During the process of creating this documentary, Rachel was reintroduced to her birth country and Adam became fascinated by the rich coffee history of the birthplace of coffee.

By the end of this coffee expedition, the couple felt compelled to start their own coffee farm. They saw too much unexplored potential and opportunity in Ethiopia’s wild coffee forests to ignore. Even though the country’s coffee trade was established long ago, Ethiopia’s coffee sector as a whole is far behind newer coffee origins in terms of agricultural and processing innovations as well as terroir distinctions, which these days are two of the most important distinctions between specialty and commercial coffee. Adam and Rachel are fully utilizing this gap in the Ethiopian specialty market in establishing Gesha Village Estate.

From 2007-2010, the couple scoured the country in search for the perfect place to set up their project. One of the initial criteria was that the farm should be within close proximity to the capital city, Addis Ababa, due to practical transport considerations. More importantly, however, were other considerations:

  • Altitude: between 1800-2100 meters above sea level
  • A relatively large piece of land (over 100 hectares)
  • Old growth/primary forest
  • Established shade trees
  • Road access
  • Access to labour
  • No displacement of inhabitants

As they surveyed place after place, they drew further and further away from Addis. Finally, they found Gesha town, very close to Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, in the far western region of the country. During their reconnaissance, they found wild coffee growing within pristine forest. This coffee paradise, combined with meeting some inhabitants from the Meanit community who indigenous to the area, also drew the couple in. This was a place and people where something completely cutting-edge could happen. In autumn of 2011 the lease for the 471 hectares that now make up Gesha Village Estate was signed and soon after, Akalu, Gesha Village’s (GV) Farm Manager was hired. He, together with the newly established GV team, began doing a forest exploration where they picked wild seeds from the nearby Gori Gesha forest.

After a year in the nursery, these seeds were planted on 30 hectares and at the same time, the team began acquainting themselves with the Meanit neighbours that lived around them. This initial 30 hectares made up GV’s first “test plot” – the team wanted to ensure the cup quality was good before more coffee was planted. The first 1kg sample was sent to Adam and Rachel’s friend Willem Boot in the spring of 2012 even before they themselves had a chance to cup. Willem in turn organized a Cupping Caravan in Ethiopia where cuppers were blown away by the coffee. At this point, the GV team knew that they were onto something special.


Before getting too ahead of themselves, the team decided to visit their neighbours’ coffee farms in order to both study the morphology of more established trees, which also came from forest seeds, and also to cup their neighbours’ coffees to further understand what they were working with at GV. As exciting as cultivating forest coffee was, the team understood that planting one of any variety was risky and on the advice of Akalu and Dr. Girma, decided to plant a good portion of GV with tried and tested Ethiopian heirloom varieties released from the Jimma Argicultural Research Center (JARC). These released varieties come from various seed collection expeditions that JARC has conducted.

Wild varieties collected during expeditions are studied and researchers are looking for the following characteristics in determining which are “superior plants”: a) showing disease resistance; b) excellent cup quality; and c) good yield. Plants showing these characteristics are chosen for release and GV chose to plant a variety that originated in the highland coffee forests of Illubabor. This one showed both disease resistance and excellent cup quality.

We can say that over the course of cupping the different varieties produced on GV, these research varieties have some of the most exciting cup profiles that Gesha Village have produced. With varieties playing such an important role in quality and cup profile, it makes perfect sense that the GV team found research partners to carry out a methodical genetic study on the Gesha forest varieties. Part of that study concerns the possible connection between Panamanian geisha and coffee from the Gori Gesha Forest. You can access the study’s findings here.

The Community

Before the project started in earnest, the GV team gathered the elders and wise men from the local Meanit community in order to explain the project as well as hear out the community’s thoughts and concerns about it. Though successful as an introduction, the team understood from the beginning that a real partnership would take time and effort and one of the early challenges GV faced was finding labourers. There was a stigma against working for someone else as most people already had their own garden farms.


Over time, women began working with the farm and since they earned their own income for the first time, this early labour force attracted more and more people, eventually both women and men. Today, GV can attract up to 800 workers per day coming from 17,000 families. These workers come from 5-6 different kebeles (localities) spanning from Gesha Mountain to Gori Gesha Forest.

Now that a good relationship has been established between Gesha Village Estate and their surrounding communities, three local representatives have been appointed to liaise between the farm and its neighbouring communities.

Social Projects

Nearby to Gesha Village are three government run schools and one clinic. These are all within a short walking distance from the estate and this is significant as in rural Ethiopia, many students must walk up to three hours in order to get to school.

Gesha Village provides school supplies to students and is currently working with the clinic in order to figure out the best way to support its operation.

One other community project that the GV team is focusing its efforts on is distributing fuel efficient and cleaner burning stoves to their neighbours. Most households currently use outdated stoves that require lots of wood/fuel and burn a lot of waste particles into the atmosphere.

For the past 3 years GV has given away 25,000 coffee seedlings per year to neighbouring farmers. The team also provide agronomy training when the farmers pick up their seedlings. GV hopes to grow coffee production in the surrounding area so that local farmers can grow benefit from the innovations employed at GV.

Agricultural Projects

On the botanical side of the spectrum, the GV team planted a research plot in early 2016 that is made up various of indigenous coffee varieties. This will allow the team, including Dr. Girma, to better study varieties. The team is keen to continue partnering public/educational partners to carry out future research that will add to the knowledge they’ve already accumulated from the genetic study they worked on in 2014 with Dr. Sarada Krishnan from Denver Botanic Gardens (mentioned earlier).

In addition to coffee, GV is currently testing apple and honey cultivation. The motivation behind these two projects is mostly one of curiosity, but who knows where things will lead?


Production Projects

The GV processing facility is upgrading to a custom-made Penagos pulper, which will be installed in 2017. This pulper sorts under and overripe cherries through water pressure and will help out the manual pickers, who sometimes find it difficult to pick the different plots which are planted with different varieties and hence have different morphology.

Finally, the team is researching how to build a warehouse on-site. They have found a potential supplier but given the poor road conditions between Addis and Gesha, the logistics for getting the materials to the farm first needs to be solved.

Partnership with CCS

Team CCS is proud to have the distinct honour of being the only coffee importer in Europe and the US to be working with Gesha Village Estate. While Adam & Rachel and their team do run direct sales with roasting partners, both CCS & Gesha Village saw an opportunity to work together to further distribute Gesha Village coffees to great homes around the world.

Both projects share similar values in promoting excellent coffee while building a transparent and a partnership-based buying community, so it made sense to join forces in the effort to spread the coffee and word about the phenomenal work of Gesha Village Estate.


Colombia: A Clash of Mindsets


Remember the days when the main quality distinction among Colombian Coffee qualities was Excelso (‘export quality’) and Supremo (‘export quality’, bigger screen)? Those were the days…

Looking back just a few years in time, it is evident that the development of ‘Specialty Coffee’ as a term and as a mindset has changed how we perceive coffee, how we describe it (with flavor attributes), how we communicate about it (as product from a concrete place and person) and how it is traded (transparently).

One may take these things for granted today. As we all should.

Soon Colombia will celebrate its 10th year as member of the growing and still exclusive group of coffee producing countries that have been scrutinized and recognized by the Cup of Excellence (CoE) program. The program’s mission is to bring farmers to the forefront, by acknowledging both their existence and individually crafted products.

Up until ten years ago ‘Colombian Coffee’ had been presented to the world by a very different marketing concept. As early as in 1958, the Colombian Federacion Nacional de Cafeteros (FNC) created Juan Valdez, a marketing mascot playing the role as a personification of the Colombian Coffee Farmer. ‘He’ is not only a fictive figure, but has represented FNC’s marketing concept which, quite tellingly, has been a presentation of the entire community of Colombian coffee farmers, meant to build a collective pride as a nation of coffee famers. And it has worked well for a long time.

Juan Valdez, an FNC icon

Colombian coffee had been marketed as a brand and as a blend, made collectively by the country’s half million coffee farmers, and managed to build a worldwide reputation for its quality. It had fame and recognition and became a staple on every roaster’s menu. CoE’s concept of bringing farmers individually and personally into the light and onto the stage, which at the time was a new idea, didn’t fit perfectly well with how Colombian coffee had been marketed by the FNC in the past.

With the CoE competition in 2005, this was literally the first - and ultimate - test of what Colombian Coffee really was about. Since the average production at a coffee farm in Colombia is much less than the CoE program’s minimum submission requirement of 12 bags, farmers were allowed to form groups with coffee from up to three farms constituting a CoE competition-lot. Despite this stipulation, samples representing over 800 lots were submitted to FNC’s center in Manizales that first year, where the national CoE jury first pre-screened the samples based on technical quality and then began the comprehensive cupping/further screening and re-cupping processes of the remaining 150+ samples. Of these, the international jury were presented with 60+ of the best samples and given the task of cupping and scoring them all over again. The CoE international jury’s mandate is to screen the national jury’s selection further in order to find the very best lots (at the time those who scored an average of 84pts or more), and then ranking these top coffees, as well as describing each coffee’s attributes.

Many of the well-known personalities, new and old in the coffee trade, were on that jury, including the gracious Grand Lady of Specialty Coffee, Erna Knudsen. As a matter of fact, it was she who coined the term Specialty Coffee almost thirty years prior to this event.

CoE Colombia 2005: Specialty Coffee Pioneers Erna Knudsen cupping with Bob Fulmer

During the course of two weeks, all the samples from the submitted lots were cupped five times, but even with all that, on the final table, when ranking the top 10 coffees on the final day of the competition, samples were rejected for phenolic off-flavors, a defect that is usually related to issues with the processing of the coffee cherries. Hey, Juan Valdez, what was going on?!

In the end, the remaining top coffees were fantastic and all the farmers’ names were revealed. The winners received their standing ovations and sold their coffees at the auction at record prices. Regions and microclimates were discovered. A new era began.

Still, this was also a time for reflection on how to approach the seemingly endemic processing issue that had thrown so many coffees out of the competition.

Meanwhile, another kind of problem had been threatening the Colombian coffee tree population for a long while. Coffee Leaf Rust, La Roya, is such a long-standing phenomenon that Colombians commonly use it as a slang term for something that ‘takes with it whatever comes in its way’: La Roya se lo llevó. Coffee farmers have had to struggle with climate and climate changes that have created environments where fungi that can kill coffee trees leaves are able to flourish. The traditional ‘Colombia Varietal’, a Catimor hybrid, was designed to be Leaf Rust resistant, whereas the Caturra varietal became known to be more susceptible to it, yet many farmers have been able to work out Roya-threats proactively.

FNC map of varietals in Huila, 2010. Pre-Castillo Era: Still predominantly Caturra (green) and Colombia (yellow, a Catimor-hybrid), pockets with Typica predominantly in the north.

Coffee is a cash crop; it is handled as any other cash crop, like soy, maize, beans, bananas, etc. Coffee farming in Colombia is usually a rather non-technical enterprise, often times with little planning, thus no calculations for concrete outcomes. With little control over harvest outcome, revenue, and cost control, one becomes vulnerable to unexpected problems and market price volatilities. Coffee farming is often times a losing proposition.

Being on top of the game requires more than just will. Taking care of a farm, particularly with the ever-present risk of a Roya-attack, is labor intensive and costly. Cleaning weeds, pruning trees, fertilizing, and in order to maintain sound trees is key, particularly when there is an environmental threat lurking. A healthy tree is generally less susceptible to diseases like Roya. If proactive spraying is necessary, usually done with copper, this is an extra cost to already expensive regular operations.

One may take the chance and do nothing about disease prevention, but if the farmer wants to be proactive and doesn’t have money saved from previous harvest sales to buy the required products and pay for the labor to apply it, he can easily find himself within the hands of those money lenders, or those who sell disease prevention products on a credit basis. These suppliers can be private, sometimes a cooperative, but usually the supplier is the FNC itself. The same FNC that guarantees buying coffee at the market price, but at market price only…

One of the results of all of this is that the concept of investing in a coffee farm and keeping healthy coffee trees isn’t necessarily a viable path from an economic perspective - considering the level at which coffee is usually paid for. So when fertilizers and fungicides are needed, a vicious cycle of borrowing money before the upcoming harvest can easily develop. When you don't own the revenue for your own coffee harvest until all debt has been paid off (sometimes at exploitative high interest rates) it becomes tempting to not spend extra money on the farm.

For Colombia, as a coffee producing country, this kind of vicious cycle has been even bigger. When millions of trees lost their leaves, partly due to insufficiently attentive farming practices or plain negligence, many farms lost entire harvests, meaning Colombia as a nation lost a lot of revenue. The FNC went on the hunt for solutions!

This is when the Castillo varietal, a modern version of the Colombia (Catimor) varietal, was developed and pushed for by the FNC. Castillo was cleverly designed as 11 different types, meant to be ‘site specific’ to particular geography, environmental and climatic conditions around the country. But the FNC not only encouraged farmers to exchange the Roya-susceptible Caturras into Castillo; Castillo was made a requisite variety, meaning it became eligible for subsidies and credits from the government.

Castillo has its benefits. It can be planted more densely (higher yield per hectare), the trees are shorter (easier to access for cherry pickers), and it produces more even cherry ripening than other varietals (making the harvest season shorter). Though whether Castillo continues to be resistant to Roya, or other fungi, in the future is as yet to be seen. Coffee farming may not prove to be that simple.

The good news for Colombia is that tanking production levels and a record low of 7 million bags is now turning around. Production levels are back at 11 million bags; approximately where they were ten years ago.

In the meantime, the country has transformed itself into a ‘Castillo-origin’ making the other varietals (Caturra, Bourbon, Typica, Tabi, etc.) more difficult to find. Begging the question: How smart is this, when a growing market is asking for diversity and specialty quality?

And this is all political. Of course it is!

The (g)olden days: Colomiban farmers delivering coffee at FNC collection piont

As a nation, for which the GDP is dependent on coffee, the market price level matters.

On the other hand, Colombia’s coffee production level (volume) affects the world market and international coffee price. In any economy where a product is – to such an extent – culturally engrained, is so much part of national identity, with so many livelihoods dependent on it, it will be – and should be – a political matter. But as is any political matter in any modern society, it is – and should be – up for debate; the policymakers in power accepting of questions. As independent as the FNC is supposed to be, there is no question that it is seen as, as well as functions as, an extension of the governing institutions of the country. I get this perception. Policies need to adapt to changes occurring over time, whether they are internal or, as is very much the case with coffee, international. Today, the parties on both ends of the chain, the producers and the buyers, are interacting and communicating more transparently than ever before.*

Colombia is not merely a coffee supplier; the ‘market’ is not merely asking for supply.

For one, the ‘market’ is divided into at least three coffee segments:

- Commodity coffee (sold at NYC with a differential);

- Certified coffee (sold with a premium);

- Specialty Coffee (sold at a negotiated price based on quality assessments, including cup attributes).

With this backdrop and based on recent visits, my next article will look into what is happening in the field of Specialty Coffee in Colombia right now.

Locally Grown, Home Roasted, Hand Brewed by Omar Viveros, Colombian Specialty Coffee producer, Pitalito 2014

As an important aside, the Cup of Excellence program celebrates its 100th competition this fall. Susie Spindler, the program’s director for many years has chosen to step down, thus we should take a moment to reflect on her formidable and significant contribution; building CoE’s credibility by holding firmly to it’s protocol, which has helped to define Specialty Coffee as we know it today. CoE, under Susie’s tenure, has helped create an understanding of the individual origins it has been present in since the program’s inception in Brazil, 1999.

Looking back at a hundreds of years of coffee history, this understanding has developed a long way in a very short time. Thank You Susie!

- Robert W

*In the case of Specialty Coffee we are seeing a drive toward taking charge of the production by ‘designing quality’ for specific markets. With so many Colombian farms being re-planted with the Castillo Varietal, the question becomes if the Country is able to meet the demand of an increasingly growing Specialty Coffee market.