At Westrock, we use direct trade to cultivate long-term relationships with our farmer partners. One of the many ways we are able to partner with farmers is at the washing station. A washing station is where the processing of the coffee begins and where the farmers take their coffee after it has been harvested. There, the coffee beans are separated from their surrounding fruity outer layer.
After a long day of harvesting, most farmers take their coffee to a wet mill, where they will always be paid a fair price for their coffee and be a part of a life-changing partnership.
Arriving at the Wet Mill - What to Expect
If you read our blog “Who Picked Your Cup of Coffee?,” you’ll see that coffee does not grow as the brown bean that we grind to brew, but as a cherry on a tree. This cherry is picked by the farmers and brought to a local washing station.
After a farmer has harvested their coffee, they will take it to the wet mill to have their coffee weighed, inspected, and priced based on the coffee's quality. Purchasing the coffee based on its quality is extremely important - when a farmer grows quality coffee, they deserve to be compensated for their skills.
Wet Milling - The Process
Once the coffee is purchased at a fair price, the coffee soaks in large basins of water. In Rwanda, our farmer partners use a fully-washed process. (There are other methods for removing the cherry from the bean that vary based on origin, tradition, climate, and technique.) The fully-washed soaking process allows the coffee cherry to ferment, contributing to the unique flavors of African coffees.
The coffee will soak for about 24 hours before it is pulped. This process is monitored carefully - too long or short of a soaking time will greatly affect the the taste of the beans.
What is the Pulping Process?
Once the cherries have soaked for the correct amount of time, they are sent through a pulping machine to completely separate the cherry from the bean. After removing the cherry, the bean still has its silverskin, some parchment, and layer of mucilage. (What is this?)
The coffee beans then flow from the large basins of water through canals that allow gravity to sort the coffee by weight. Higher grade coffee is more dense and will sink to the bottom of the canal. Lower grade coffee will float past the denser coffees and collect at the bottom of the canal. Wooden push brooms are used to help slough off the final layer of mucilage as the coffee is being sorted.
In the end, all that remains is the bean, the parchment, and the silverskin - the coffee is ready to be dried.
After all these steps, the coffee is still far from done. The beans must immediately start another process called dry milling. As you can see, the work of our farmer partners at origin is extensive and pertinent to each beautiful cup of coffee.