December 13, 2016

Washed vs Honey: Specialty Coffee Processing in Cameroon


In Cameroon, a group of small-scale farmers is collaborating to process specialty-grade coffee. Their name is Cameroon Boyo.

Based in the Boyo region in the Northwest of Cameroon, their aim is to overcome poverty by treating farmers as “co-professionals” in the supply chain.

Matti Foncha, the founder of Cameroon Boyo, is speaking today at PDG Micro Festival El Salvador about their success (watch it live on Facebook). And in this Q&A, he tells us about the Cameroon coffee industry.

Spanish Version: Lavado vs Honey,  Procesamiento del Café de Especialidad en Camerún

Matti Foncha El Salvador

What varietals will you find in Cameroon?

There are two main varietals of Arabica coffee grown in Cameroon: Jamaica (Typica) and Java. The Java varietal is a recent introduction known for its higher yield and resistance to coffee berry disease.

Most of the coffee exported by large-scale exporters is commercial grade. However, Cameroon Boyo coffee is exclusively specialty.

Matti Foncha

Matti Foncha of Cameroon Boyo. Credit: Emile Foncha

What about processing methods?

Until very recently, the only post-harvest process used here in Cameroon for Arabica coffee was the wet process. Either the producing farmers would process it (farmer-washed) or a centralized wet mill (centrally/fully washed) would. But the Cameroon Boyo initiative has also recently introduced a third option: micro wash stations.

Farmer-washed is the most common processing method: coffee is pulped, fermented, washed and dried at the farmer’s facility. The dried parchment is then sold or sent to dry mills for export processing.

Centrally/fully washed coffee comes from large regional stations that receive harvested cherries and carry out the wet milling – pulping, fermenting, washing, and drying – as well as the dry milling. There are only a handful of these centralized wet mills or washing stations, and only a small percentage of Cameroon’s Arabica coffee exports comes from them.

Coffee beans

Honey process. Credit: Cameroon Boyo

Can you tell us more about the Cameroon Boyo micro wash stations?

These are small local wet mills where groups of farmers can collectively process their coffee. It’s a collaborative structure in which the farmers are co-professionals.

While the exported volume from these micro wash stations is currently not significant, their popularity among farmers and projected growth indicate that they will very soon be the process of choice. They are most suited to conditions in Cameroon and can deliver the best value for money to farmers.

In the last couple of years, the Cameroon Boyo initiative has also extended to the cherry drying and honey processing of coffee from select farmers. These are the highest grades of specialty coffee exported from Cameroon, and though also insignificant in volume, they present attractive options for specialty farmers.

Cameroon Boyo

The Cameroon Boyo team at Atlanta in 2015. Credit: Cameroon Boyo 

SEE ALSO: Interview: Is a Direct Trade Collective the Best Model for Small Farmers?

Why is the wet process common?

Because the fermentation and washing removes all the mucilaginous matter around the coffee beans, allowing them to quickly dry out in the sun to dry parchment. Properly dried parchment can be easily stored and transported to distant dry mills without damage or loss of quality.

Why not the dry process? Because the slow and lengthy drying of whole coffee cherries or mucilage-covered parchment leaves the cherries susceptible to undesired fermentation. It can even cause rot, which leads to unpleasant notes in the final roasted coffee.

However, when special care is taken to keep the harvested fruit from fermenting and becoming mouldy, the resulting beans will have a sweet, fruity profile.

Coffee beans

The result: sweet, fruity coffee. Credit: Cameroon Boyo

Can you tell me about the producers in Cameroon?

Most of the Arabica coffee farmers are elderly men with limited formal education. However, a growing number of new farmers are growing coffee. The higher remuneration our farmers enjoy from being co-professionals in a collaborative trading structure is also attracting higher educated youth.

Women are also growing in number. Cameroon Boyo initiatives require participating farmers to grow other food crops along with their coffee, as well as to follow professional guidelines for the care and processing of their coffee. Since women have traditionally been the food crop farmers in the Arabica coffee region of Cameroon, they represent the bigger number of new farmers joining our initiatives.

Do you think coffee production in Cameroon is sustainable?

Coffee production has been declining for over 20 years despite government efforts. In fact, the Cameroon Boyo collaborative trade process is the only approach that’s growing. It promises to ensure the sustained return of younger generations to coffee farming.  

Want to know more about Cameroon Boyo? Watch Matti Foncha discuss their work at PDG Micro Festival El Salvador.

With thanks to Matti Foncha of Cameroon Boyo. Feature photo credit: Emile Foncha

Perfect Daily Grind

Want to take part in more discussions like this? We’re going to Brazil for Micro Coffee Festival 2017! Learn more or buy your ticket here!