February 6, 2017

How Can Farms & Mills Work Together For Better Coffee?


It’s time to reconsider the relationship between farms and mills. All of us in the specialty industry have the same aim: high-quality coffee. Working together makes this us more likely to attain it.

We run Beneficio Buena Vista, a mill in Juayúa, El Salvador. And we invite producers to work with us on quality control, experimental processing, and training. It’s unconventional, but we believe it’s the best way to ensure quality. Read on to discover why.

Spanish Version: ¿Cómo Pueden Las Fincas y los Beneficios Trabajar Juntos por un Mejor Café?

coffee storage

Green beans stored in temperature- and humidity-controlled warehouses at Beneficio Buena Vista. Credit: Cesar Magaña

The Traditional Farm-Mill Relationship

Coffee processing is a long, multi-stage affair. It’s when the flesh of the ripe coffee cherries is removed and the seeds (“beans”) are dried so they can then be roasted. While there are many different processing methods, all of them present a risk. Too much humidity, not enough air and movement, dirty drying areas… any of these factors can damage the final flavour profile.

Traditionally, coffee mills or beneficios have served as collection centers. Devoted to processing and exporting coffee, often they don’t keep track of which farm different cherries came from. And once the producer has delivered their coffee and been paid, their role is over.

Yet the boom of specialty coffees means a new model is needed – one in which farms and mills collaborate.

Specialty Coffee Requires a Different Model

Producing high-quality coffee requires the producer to have absolute control over all the stages of cultivation: varietal selection, land preparation, sprouting, planting, growing, harvesting, and more. At all times, precautions against pollution, pests, and bad weather must be taken.

Yet farmers wishing to produce specialty coffee need to make sure their beans are processed with same level of care. Only then can they be confident of the coffee’s quality. Similarly, mills seeking to produce specialty coffee will want to work with producers to ensure good farming and harvesting practices are used.

So what does it look like when this is put into practice?

ripe coffee cherries

Coffee from Finca Limon, processed at Beneficio Buena Vista and used by Nisan Agca in the Turkey Barista Championship. Credit: Luis Figueroa

SEE ALSO: Farm, Mill, & Roastery: How Producers Can Vertically Integrate

Putting The Model Into Practice

At our mill, we agree processing practices with producers. They can then visit to check their coffee every single day. Similarly, coffee buyers can access coffee at any stage of the process. This traceability means everyone in the supply chain can be confident about the quality of the coffee.

What’s more, it means producers can access the cupping lab, participate in experiments, and even provide training – something that César Magaña of Lechuza Café takes advantage of.

Coffee farm

Beneficio Buena Vista surrounded by the Apaneca-Ilamatepec volcano range. Credit: Luis Figueroa

Experimentation & Training: The Benefits of Collaborating

César has provided training specific to how he’d like his coffees to be processed: raised beds, temperature control and daily maintenance is important to him. He has also experimented with coffee processing times at Beneficio Buena Vista.

He can do this because we are open to him choosing how his coffees are processed, but also because we allow him to visit daily. Without those visits, his only insight into how the processing impacts his coffee would come from cupping scores.

This collaboration improves the coffee’s quality – he won Best Espresso award in 2015, and his beans were used in the 2016 World Barista Championship. And as an expert in roasting coffee – he used to be a consultant for four international micro-roasters – his expertise is invaluable.

Collaboration like this is key to producing exceptional coffees. And we look forward to the industry growing even more collaborative in the years ahead.

Written in collaboration with Guadalupe Lindo of Beneficio Buena Vista.

Beneficio Buena Vista is holding an all-day event and auction, Juayúa Expedition 2: Quest for Nanolots, on Thursday 9th February. Activities include coffee cuppings, discussions of processing methods, an evening party, and more. (See our Events Calendar for more events like this.)

César Magaña and Lechuza Café kindly hosted international guests at Micro Festival El Salvador. Perfect Daily Grind is not affiliated with any of the other individuals or bodies mentioned in this article, and cannot directly endorse them.

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