Chapter XXI: PREPARING GREEN COFFEE FOR MARKET -- All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers

<<==Prev|    ==Home==   | Next==>>

Chapter XXI


Early Arabian methods of preparation—How primitive devices were replaced by modern methods—A chronological story of the development of scientific plantation machinery, and the part played by British and American inventors—The marvelous coffee package, one of the most ingenious in all nature—How coffee is harvested—Picking—Preparation by the dry and the wet methods—Pulping—Fermentation and washing—Drying—Hulling; or peeling, and polishing—Sizing, or grading—Preparation methods of different countries

La Roque[316], in his description of the ancient coffee culture, and the preparation methods as followed in Yemen, says that the berries were permitted to dry on the trees. When the outer covering began to shrivel, the trees were shaken, causing the fully matured fruits to drop upon cloths spread to receive them. They were next exposed to the sun on drying-mats, after which they were husked by means of wooden or stone rollers. The beans were given a further drying in the sun, and then were submitted to a winnowing process, for which large fans were used.

Development of Plantation Machinery

The primitive methods of the original Arab planters were generally followed by the Dutch pioneers, and later by the French, with slight modifications. As the cultivation spread, necessity for more effective methods of handling the ripened fruit mothered inventions that soon began to transform the whole aspect of the business. Probably the first notable advance was in curing, when the West Indian process, or wet method, of cleaning the berries was evolved.

About the time that Brazil began the active cultivation of coffee, William Panter was granted the first English patent on a "mill for husking coffee." This was in 1775. James Henckel followed with an English patent, granted in 1806, on a coffee drier, "an invention communicated to him by a certain foreigner." The first American to enter the lists was Nathan Reed of Belfast, Me., who in 1822 was granted a United States patent on a coffee huller. Roswell Abbey obtained a United States patent on a huller in 1825; and Zenos Bronson, of Jasper County, Ga., obtained one on another huller in 1829. In the next few years many others followed.

John Chester Lyman, in 1834, was granted an English patent on a coffee huller employing circular wooden disks, fitted with wire teeth. Isaac Adams and Thomas Ditson of Boston brought out improved hullers in 1835; and James Meacock of Kingston, Jamaica, patented in England, in 1845, a self-contained machine for pulping, dressing, and sorting coffee.

William McKinnon began, in 1840, the manufacture of coffee plantation machinery at the Spring Garden Iron Works, founded by him in 1798 in Aberdeen, Scotland. He died in 1873; but the business continues as Wm. McKinnon & Co., Ltd.

About 1850 John Walker, one of the pioneer English inventors of coffee-plantation[Pg 246] machinery, brought out in Ceylon his cylinder pulper for Arabian coffee. The pulping surface was made of copper, and was pierced with a half-moon punch that raised the cut edges into half circles.

The next twenty years witnessed some of the most notable advances in the development of machinery for plantation treatment, and served to introduce the inventions of several men whose names will ever be associated with the industry.

John Gordon & Co. began the manufacture in London of the line of plantation machinery still known around the world as "Gordon make" in 1850; and John Gordon was granted an English patent on his improved coffee pulper in 1859.

Robert Bowman Tennent obtained English (1852) and United States (1853) patents on a two-cylinder pulper.

George L. Squier began the manufacture of plantation machinery in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1857. He was active in the business until 1893, and died in 1910. The Geo. L. Squier Manufacturing Co. still continues as one of the leading American manufacturers of coffee-plantation machinery.

Marcus Mason, an American mechanical engineer in San José, Costa Rica, invented (1860) a coffee pulper and cleaner which became the foundation stone of the extensive plantation-machinery business of Marcus Mason & Co., established in 1873 at Worcester, Mass.

Walker's Original Disk Pulper, 1860 Walker's Original Disk Pulper, 1860
Much favored in Ceylon and India

John Walker was granted (1860) an English patent on a disk pulper in which the copper pulping surface was punched, or knobbed, by a blind punch that raised rows of oval knobs but did not pierce the sheet, and so left no sharp edges. During Ceylon's fifty years of coffee production, the Walker machines played an important part in the industry. They are still manufactured by Walker, Sons & Co., Ltd., of Colombo, and are sold to other producing countries.

Alexius Van Gulpen began the manufacture of a green-coffee-grading machine at Emmerich, Germany, in 1860.

Following Newell's United States patents of 1857–59, sixteen other patents were issued on various types of coffee-cleaning machines, some designed for plantation use, and some for treating the beans on arrival in the consuming countries.

Early English Coffee Peeler Early English Coffee Peeler
Largely used in India and Ceylon

James Henry Thompson, of Hoboken, and John Lidgerwood were granted, in 1864, an English patent on a coffee-hulling machine. William Van Vleek Lidgerwood, American chargé d'affaires at Rio de Janeiro, was granted an English patent on a coffee hulling and cleaning machine in 1866. The name Lidgerwood has long been familiar to coffee planters. The Lidgerwood Manufacturing Co., Ltd., has its headquarters in London, with factory in Glasgow. Branch offices are maintained at Rio de Janeiro, Campinas, and in other cities in coffee-growing countries.

Probably the name most familiar to coffee men in connection with plantation[Pg 247] methods is Guardiola. It first appears in the chronological record in 1872, when J. Guardiola, of Chocola, Guatemala, was granted several United States patents on machines for pulping and drying coffee. Since then, "Guardiola" has come to mean a definite type of rotary drying machine that—after the original patent expired—was manufactured by practically all the leading makers of plantation machinery. José Guardiola obtained additional United States patents on coffee hullers in 1886.

Group of English Cylinder Coffee-Pulping Machines Group of English Cylinder Coffee-Pulping Machines

William Van Vleek Lidgerwood, Morristown, N.J., was granted an English patent on an improved coffee pulper in 1875.

Several important cleaning and grading machinery patents were granted by the United States (1876–1878) to Henry B. Stevens, who assigned them to the Geo. L. Squier Manufacturing Co., Buffalo, N.Y. One of them was on a separator, in which the coffee beans were discharged from the hopper in a thin stream upon an endless carrier, or apron, arranged at such an inclination that the round beans would roll by force of gravity down the apron, while the flat beans would be carried to the top.

C.F. Hargreaves, of Rio de Janeiro, was granted an English patent on machinery for hulling, polishing, and separating coffee, in 1879.

The first German patent on a coffee drying apparatus was granted to Henry Scolfield, of Guatemala, in 1880.

In 1885 Evaristo Conrado Engelberg of Piracicaba, São Paulo, Brazil, invented an improved coffee huller which, three years later, was patented in the United States. The Engelberg Huller Co. of Syracuse, N.Y., was organized the same year (1888) to make and to sell Engelberg machines.

Walker Sons & Co., Ltd., began, in 1886, experimenting in Ceylon with a Liberian disk pulper that was not fully perfected until twelve years later.

Another name, that has since become almost as well known as Guardiola, appears in the record in 1891. It is that of O'Krassa. In that year R.F.E. O'Krassa of Antigua, Guatemala, was granted an English patent on a coffee pulper. Additional patents on washing, hulling, drying, and separating machines were issued to Mr. O'Krassa in England and in the United States in 1900, 1908, 1911, 1912, and 1913.

The Fried. Krupp A.G. Grusonwerk, Magdeburg-Buckau, Germany, began the manufacture of coffee plantation machines about 1892. Among others it builds coffee pulpers and hulling and polishing machines of the Anderson (Mexican) and Krull (Brazilian) types.

[Pg 248]

Additional United States patents were granted in 1895 to Marcus Mason, assignor to Marcus Mason & Co., New York, on machines for pulping and polishing coffee. Douglas Gordon assigned patents on a coffee pulper and a coffee drier to Marcus Mason & Co. in 1904–05.

The names of Jules Smout, a Swiss, and Don Roberto O'Krassa, of Guatemala, are well known to coffee planters the world over because of their combined peeling and polishing machines.

The Huntley Manufacturing Co., Silver Creek, N.Y., began in 1896 the manufacture of the Monitor line of coffee-grading-and-cleaning machines.

The Marvelous Coffee Package

It is doubtful if in all nature there is a more cunningly devised food package than the fruit of the coffee tree. It seems as if Good Mother Nature had said: "This gift of Heaven is too precious to put up in any ordinary parcel. I shall design for it a casket worthy of its divine origin. And the casket shall have an inner seal that shall safeguard it from enemies, and that shall preserve its goodness for man until the day when, transported over the deserts and across the seas, it shall be broken open to be transmuted by the fires of friendship, and made to yield up its aromatic nectar in the Great Drink of Democracy."

To this end she caused to grow from the heart of the jasmine-like flower, that first herald of its coming, a marvelous berry which, as it ripens, turns first from green to yellow, then to reddish, to deep crimson, and at last to a royal purple.

Specimens of Copper Covers for Pulper Cylinders Specimens of Copper Covers for Pulper Cylinders

1—For Arabian coffee (Coffea arabica). 2—For Liberian coffee (Coffea liberica). 3—Also for Arabian. 4—For Coffea canephora. 5—For Coffea robusta. 6—For larger Arabian, and for Coffea Maragogipe.

The coffee fruit is very like a cherry, though somewhat elongated and having in its upper end a small umbilicus. But mark with what ingenuity the package has been constructed! The outer wrapping is a thin, gossamer-like skin which encloses a soft pulp, sweetish to the taste, but of a mucilaginous consistency. This pulp in turn is wrapped about the inner-seal—called the parchment, because of its tough texture. The parchment encloses the magic bean in its last wrapping, a delicate silver-colored skin, not unlike fine spun silk or the sheerest of tissue papers. And this last wrapping is so tenacious, so true to its guardianship function, that no amount of rough treatment can dislodge it altogether; for portions of it cling to the bean even into the roasting and grinding processes.

Drying Grounds, Pulping House, and Fermentation Vats, Boa Vista. Brazil
Drying Grounds, Pulping House, and Fermentation Vats, Boa Vista. Brazil

Pulping House and Fermentation Tanks, Costa Rica
Pulping House and Fermentation Tanks, Costa Rica

[Pg 249]

Granada Unpulped Coffee Separator Granada Unpulped Coffee Separator
Shown in combination with a Guatemala coffee pulper

Coffee is said to be "in the husk," or "in the parchment," when the whole fruit is dried; and it is called "hulled coffee" when it has been deprived of its hull and peel. The matter forming the fruit, called the coffee berry, covers two thin, hard, oval seed vessels held together, one to the other, by their flat sides. These seed vessels, when broken open, contain the raw coffee beans of commerce. They are usually of a roundish oval shape, convex on the outside, flat inside, marked longitudinally in the center of the flat side with a deep incision, and wrapped in the thin pellicle known as the silver skin. When one of the two seeds aborts, the remaining one acquires a greater size, and fills the interior of the fruit, which in that case, of course, has but one cellule. This abortion is common in the arabica variety, and produces a bean formerly called gragé coffee, but now more commonly known as peaberry, or male berry.

The various coverings of the coffee beans are almost always removed on the plantations in the producing countries. Properly to prepare the raw beans, it is necessary to remove the four coverings—the outer skin, the sticky pulp, the parchment, or husk, and the closely adhering silver skin.

There are two distinct methods of treating the coffee fruits, or "cherries." One process, the one that until recent years was in general use throughout the world, and is still in many producing countries, is known as the dry method. The coffee prepared in this way is sometimes called "common," "ordinary," or "natural," to distinguish it from the product that has been cleaned by the wet or washed method. The wet method, or, as it is sometimes designated, the "West Indian process" (W.I.P.) is practised on all the large modern plantations that have a sufficient supply of water.

In the wet process, the first step is called pulping; the second is fermentation and washing; the third is drying; the fourth is hulling or peeling; and the last, sizing or grading. In the dry process, the first step is drying; the second hulling; and the last, sizing or grading.

Hand-Power Double-Disk Pulper Hand-Power Double-Disk Pulper


The coffee cherry ripens about six to seven months after the tree has flowered, or blossomed; and becomes a deep purplish-crimson color. It is then ready for picking. The ripening season varies throughout the world, according to climate and altitude. In the state of São Paulo, Brazil, the harvesting season lasts from May to September; while in Java, where three crops are produced annually, harvesting is almost a continuous process throughout the year. In Colombia the harvesting seasons are March and April, and November and December. In Guatemala the crops are gathered from October through December; in Venezuela, from November through March. In Mexico the coffee is harvested from November to January; in Haiti the harvest extends from November to March; in Arabia, from September to March;[Pg 250] in Abyssinia, from September through November. In Uganda, Africa, there are two main crops, one ripening in March and the other in September, and picking is carried on during practically every month except December and January. In India the fruit is ready for harvesting from October to January.

Tandem Coffee Pulper of English Make
Tandem Coffee Pulper of English Make
Being a combination of a Bon-Accord-Valencia pulper with a Bon-Accord repassing machine


The general practise throughout the world has been to hand-pick the fruit; although in some countries the cherries are allowed to become fully ripe on the trees, and to fall to the ground. The introduction of the wet method of preparation, indeed, has made it largely unnecessary to hand-pick crops; and the tendency seems to be away from this practise on the larger plantations. If the berries are gathered promptly after dropping, the beans are not injured, and the cost of harvesting is reduced.

The picking season is a busy time on a large plantation. All hands join in the work—men, women and children; for it must be rushed. Over-ripe berries shrink and dry up. The pickers, with baskets slung over their shoulders, walk between the rows, stripping the berries from the trees, using ladders to reach the topmost branches, and sometimes even taking immature fruit in their haste to expedite the work. About thirty pounds is considered a fair day's work under good conditions. As the baskets are filled, they are emptied at a "station" in that particular unit of the plantation; or, in some cases, directly into wagons that keep pace with the pickers. The coffee is freed as much as possible of sticks, leaves, etc., and is then conveyed to the preparation grounds.

A space of several acres is needed for the various preparation processes on the larger plantations; the plant including concrete-surfaced drying grounds, large fermentation tanks, washing vats, mills, warehouses, stables, and even machine shops. In Mexico this place is known as the beneficio.

Washed and Unwashed Coffee

Where water is plenty, the ripe coffee cherries are fed by a stream of water into a pulping machine which breaks the outer skins, permitting the pulpy matter enveloping the beans to be loosened and carried away in further washings. It is this wet separation of the sticky pulp from the beans, instead of allowing it to dry on them, to be removed later with the parchment in the hulling operation, that makes the distinction between washed and unwashed coffees. Where water is scarce the coffees are unwashed.

Either method being well done, does washing improve the strength and flavor?[Pg 251] Opinions differ. The soil, altitude, climatic influences, and cultivation methods of a country give its coffee certain distinctive drinking qualities. Washing immensely improves the appearance of the bean; it also reduces curing costs. Generally speaking, washed coffees will always command a premium over coffees dried in the pulp.

Costa Rica Vertical Coffee Washer Costa Rica Vertical Coffee Washer

Continuous Working Horizontal Coffee Washer Continuous Working Horizontal Coffee Washer

Whether coffee is washed or not, it has to be dried; and there is a kind of fermentation that goes on during washing and drying, about which coffee planters have differing ideas, just as tea planters differ over the curing of tea leaves. Careful scientific study is needed to determine how much, if any, effect this fermentation has on the ultimate cup value.

Preparation by the Dry Method

The dry method of preparing the berries is not only the older method, but is considered by some operators as providing a distinct advantage over the wet process, since berries of different degrees of ripeness can be handled at the same time. However, the success of this method is dependent largely on the continuance of clear warm weather over quite a length of time, which can not always be counted on.

In this process the berries are spread in a thin layer on open drying grounds, or barbecues, often having cement or brick surfaces. The berries are turned over several times a day in order to permit the sun and wind thoroughly to dry all portions. The sun-drying process lasts about three weeks; and after the first three days of this period, the berries must be protected from dews and rains by covering them with tarpaulins, or by raking them into heaps under cover. If the berries are not spread out, they heat, and the silver skin sticks to the coffee bean, and frequently discolors it. When thoroughly dry, the berries are stored, unless the husks (outer skin and inner parchment) are to be removed at once. Hot air, steam, and other artificial drying methods take the place of natural sun-drying on some plantations.

In the dry method, the husks are removed either by hand (threshing and[Pg 252] pounding in a mortar, on the smaller plantations) or by specially constructed machinery, known as hulling machines.

Cobán Pulper in Tachira, Venezuela Cobán Pulper in Tachira, Venezuela

The Wet Method—Pulping

The wet method of preparation is the more modern form, and is generally practised on the larger plantations that have a sufficient supply of water, and enough money to instal the quite extensive amount of machinery and equipment required. It is generally considered that washing results in a better grade of bean.

In this method the cherries are sometimes thrown into tanks full of water to soak about twenty-four hours, so as to soften the outer skins and underlying pulp to a condition that will make them easily removable by the pulping machine—the idea being to rub away the pulp by friction without crushing the beans.

Niagara Power Coffee Huller Niagara Power Coffee Huller

On the larger plantations, however, the coffee cherries are dumped into large concrete receiving tanks, from which they are carried the same day by streams of running water directly into the hoppers of the pulping machines.

At least two score of different makes of pulping machines are in use in the various coffee-growing countries. Pulpers are made in various sizes, from the small hand-operated machine to the large type driven by power; and in two general styles—cylinder, and disk.

The cylinder pulper, the latest style—suggesting a huge nutmeg-grater—consists of a rotary cylinder surrounded with a copper or brass cover punched with bulbs. These bulbs differ in shape according to the species, or variety, of coffee to be treated—arabica, liberica, robusta, canephora, or what not. The cylinder rotates against a breast with pulping edges set at an angle. The pulping is effected by the rubbing action of the copper cover against the edges, or ribs, of the breast. The cherries are subjected to a rubbing and rolling motion, in the course of which the two parchment-covered beans contained in the majority of the cherries become loosened. The pulp itself is carried by the cover and is discharged through a pulp shoot, while the pulped coffee is delivered through holes on the breast. Cylinder machines vary in capacity from 400 pounds (hand power) to 4,800 pounds (motive power) per hour.

Some cylinder pulpers are double, being equipped with rotary screens or oscillating sieves, that segregate the imperfectly pulped cherries so that they may be put through again. Pulpers are also equipped with attachments that automatically move the imperfectly pulped material over into a repassing machine for another rubbing. Others have attachments partially to crush the cherries before pulping.

The breasts in cylinder machines are usually made with removable steel ribs; but in Brazil, Nicaragua, and other countries, where, owing to the short season and scarcity of labor, the planters have to pick, simultaneously, green, ripe, and over-ripe (dry) cherries, rubber breasts are used.

[Pg 253]

McKinnon's Guardiola Coffee Drier
McKinnon's Guardiola Coffee Drier

The Squier-Guardiola Coffee Drier, With Direct-Fire Heater
The Squier-Guardiola Coffee Drier, With Direct-Fire Heater
There are numerous makes of coffee driers based upon the original invention of José Guardiola of Chocola, Guatemala. In the two illustrated above both direct-fire heat and steam heat may be utilized

[Pg 254]

The disk pulper (the earliest type, having been in use more than seventy years) is the style most generally used in the Dutch East Indies and in some parts of Mexico. The results are the same as those obtained with the cylindrical pulper. The disk machine is made with one, two, three, or four vertical iron disks, according to the capacity desired. The disks are covered on both sides with a copper plate of the same shape, and punched with blind punches. The pulping operation takes place between the rubbing action of the blind punches, or bulbs, on the copper plates and the lateral pulping bars fitted to the side cheeks. As in the cylinder pulper, the distance between the surface of the bulbs and the pulping bar may be adjusted to allow of any clearance that may be required, according to the variety of coffee to be treated.

Another American Guardiola Drier Another American Guardiola Drier

Disk pulpers vary in capacity from 1,200 pounds to 14,000 pounds of ripe cherry coffee per hour. They, too, are made in combinations employing cylindrical separators, shaking sieves, and repassing pulpers, for completing the pulping of all unpulped or partially pulped cherries.

Fermentation and Washing

The next step in the process consists in running the pulped cherries into cisterns, or fermentation tanks, filled with water, for the purpose of removing such pulp as was not removed in the pulping machine. The saccharine matter is loosened by fermentation in from twenty-four to thirty-two hours. The mass is kept stirred up for a short time; and, in general practise, the water is drawn off from above, the light pulp floating at the top being removed at the same time. The same tanks are often used for washing, but a better practise is to have separate tanks.

Some planters permit the pulped coffee to ferment in water. This is called the wet fermentation process. Others drain off the water from the tanks and conduct the fermenting operation in a semi-dry state, called the dry fermentation process.

The coffee bean, when introduced into the fermentation tanks, is enclosed in a parchment shell made slimy by its closely adhering saccharine coat. After fermentation, which not only loosens the remaining pulp but also softens the membranous covering, the beans are given a final washing, either in washing tanks or by being run through mechanical washers. The type of washing machine generally used consists of a cylindrical tub having a vertical spindle fitted with a number of stirrers, or arms, which, in rotating, stir and lift up the parchment coffee. In another type, the cylinder is horizontal; but the operation is similar.


The Smout Peeler and Polisher The Smout Peeler and Polisher

The next step in preparation is drying. The coffee, which is still "in the parchment," but is now known as washed coffee, is spread out thinly on a drying ground, as in the dry method. However, if the weather is unsuitable or can not be depended upon to remain fair for the necessary length of time, there are machines which can be used to dry the coffee satisfactorily. On some plantations, the drying is started in the open and finished by machine. The machines dry the coffee in twenty-four hours, while ten days are required by the sun.

The object of the drying machine is to dry the parchment of the coffee so that it[Pg 255] may be removed as readily as the skin on a peanut; and this object is achieved in the most approved machines by keeping a hot current of air stirring through the beans. One of the best-liked types, the Guardiola, resembles the cylinder of a coffee-roasting machine. It is made of perforated steel plates in cylinder form, and is carried on a hollow shaft through which the hot air is circulated by a pressure fan. The beans are rotated in the revolving cylinder; and as the hot air strikes the wet coffee, it creates a steam that passes out through the perforations of the cylinder. Within the cylinder are compartments equipped with winged plates, or ribs, that keep the coffee constantly stirred up to facilitate the drying process. Another favorite is the O'Krassa. It is constructed on the principle just described, but differs in detail of construction from the Guardiola, and is able to dry its contents a few hours quicker. Hot air, steam, and electric heat are all employed in the various makes of coffee driers. A temperature from 65° to 85° centigrade is maintained during the drying process.

O'Krassa's Coffee Drier Combined with Direct-Fire Heater O'Krassa's Coffee Drier Combined with Direct-Fire Heater

When thoroughly dry, the parchment can be crumbled between the fingers, and the bean within is too hard to be dented by finger nail or teeth.

Hulling, Peeling, and Polishing

The Smout Peeler and Polisher, with Cylinder Open Showing Cone The Smout Peeler and Polisher, with Cylinder Open Showing Cone

The last step in the preparation process is called hulling or peeling, both words accurately describing the purpose of the operation. Some husking machines for hulling or peeling parchment coffee are polishers as well. This work may be done on the plantation or at the port of shipment just before the coffee is shipped abroad. Sometimes the coffee is exported in parchment, and is cleaned in the country of consumption; but practically all coffee entering the United States arrives without its parchment.

Peeling machines, more accurately named hullers, work on the principle of rubbing the beans between a revolving inner cylinder and an outer covering of woven wire. Machines of this type vary in construction. Some have screw-like inner cylinders, or turbines, others having plain cone-shaped cores on which are knobs and ribs that rub the beans against one another and the outer shell. Practically all types have sieve or exhaust-fan attachments, which draw the loosened parchment and silver skin into one compartment, while the cleaned beans pass into another.

[Pg 256]

Krull Hulling Machine (German) Krull Hulling Machine (German)
Anderson Hulling Machine (German) Anderson Hulling Machine (German)
Eureka Separator and Grader (American) Eureka Separator and Grader (American)
Caracolillo (Peaberry) Separator (American) Caracolillo (Peaberry) Separator (American)
Engelberg Huller and Separator (American) Engelberg Huller and Separator (American)
The American Coffee Huller and Polisher The American Coffee Huller and Polisher

[Pg 257]

Polishers of various makes are sometimes used just to remove the silver skin and to give the beans a special polish. Some countries demand a highly polished coffee; and to supply this demand, the beans are sent through another huller having a phosphor-bronze cylinder and cone. Much Guadeloupe coffee is prepared in this way, and is known as café bonifieur from the fact that the polishing machine is called in Guadeloupe the bonifieur (improver). It is also called café de luxe. Coffee that has not received the extra polish is described as habitant; while coffee in the parchment is known as café en parché. Extra polished coffee is much in demand in the London, Hamburg, and other European markets. A favorite machine for producing this kind of coffee is the Smout combined peeler and polisher, the invention of Jules Smout, a Swiss. Don Roberto O'Krassa also has produced a highly satisfactory combined peeler and polisher.

For hulling dry cherry coffee there are several excellent makes of machines. In one style, the hulling takes place between a rotating disk and the casing of the machine. In another, it takes place between a rotary drum covered with a steel plate punched with vertical bulbs, and a chilled iron hulling-plate with pyramidal teeth cast on the plate. Both are adjustable to different varieties of coffee. In still another type of machine, the hulling takes place between steel ribs on an internal cylinder, and an adjustable knife, or hulling blade, in front of the machine.

El Monarca Coffee Classifier El Monarca Coffee Classifier

Sizing or Grading

The coffee bean is now clean, the processes described in the foregoing having removed the outer skin, the saccharine pulp, the parchment, and the silver skin. This is the end of the cleaning operations; but[Pg 258] there are two more steps to be taken before the coffee is ready for the trade of the world—sizing and hand-sorting. These two operations are of great importance; since on them depends, to a large extent, the price the coffee will bring in the market.

Old rope-drive transmission on Finca Ona. Old rope-drive transmission on Finca Ona.
Hydro-electric power plant on Finca Ona Hydro-electric power plant on Finca Ona.
Hydro-Electric Installation on a Guatemala Finca

Sizing, or grading by sizes, is done in modern commercial practise by machines that automatically separate and distribute the different beans according to size and form. In principle, the beans are carried across a series of sieves, each with perforations varying in size from the others; the beans passing through the holes of corresponding sizes. The majority of the machines are constructed to separate the beans into five or more grades, the principal grades being triage, third flats, second flats, first flats, and first and second peaberries. Some are designed to handle "elephant" and "mother" sizes. The grades have local nomenclature in the various countries.

After grading, the coffee is picked over by hand to remove the faulty and discolored beans that it is almost impossible to remove thoroughly by machine. The higher grades of coffee are often double-picked; that is, picked over twice. When this is done on a large scale, the beans are generally placed on a belt, or platform, that moves at a regulated speed before a line of women and children, who pick out the undesirable beans as they pass on the moving belt. There are small machines of this type built for one person, who operates the belt mechanism by means of a treadle.

Preparation in the Leading Countries

The foregoing description tells in general terms the story of the most approved methods of harvesting, shelling, and cleaning the coffee beans. The following paragraphs will describe those features of the processes that are peculiar to the more important large producing countries and that differ in details or in essentials from the methods just outlined.

In the Western Hemisphere

Brazil. The operation of some of the large plantations in Brazil, a number of which have more than a million trees, requires a large number and a great variety of preparation machines and equipment. Generally considered, the State of São Paulo is better equipped with approved machinery than any other commercial district in the world.

In Brazil, coffee plantations are known as fazendas, and the proprietors as fazendeiros, terms that are the equivalent of "landed estates" and "landed proprietors." Practically every fazenda in Brazil of any considerable commercial importance is equipped with the most modern of coffee-cleaning equipment. Some of the larger ones in the state of São Paulo, like the Dumont and the Schmidt estates, are provided with private railways connecting the fazendas with the main railroad line some miles away, and also have miniature railway systems running through the fazendas to move the coffee from one harvesting and cleaning operation to another. The coffee is carried in small cars that are either pushed by a laborer or are drawn by horse or mule.

[Pg 259]

Picking Coffee on a Well Kept Fazenda Picking Coffee on a Well Kept Fazenda
Manager's Residence on One of the Big São Paulo Fazendas Manager's Residence on One of the Big São Paulo Fazendas
Drying Grounds on a Modern Estate in Ribeirao Preto Drying Grounds on a Modern Estate in Ribeirao Preto
Photographs by Courtesy of J. Aron & Co.

[Pg 260]

Some of the larger fazendas cover thousands of acres, and have several millions of trees, giving the impression of an unending forest stretching far away into the horizon. Here and there are openings in which buildings appear, the largest group of structures usually consisting of those making up the cafezale, or cleaning plant. Nearby, stand the handsome "palaces" of the fazendeiros; but not so close that the coffee princes and their households will be disturbed by the almost constant rumble of machinery and the voices of the workers.

Working Coffee on Drying Flats, São Paulo Working Coffee on Drying Flats, São Paulo
Copyright by Brown & Dawson.

Brazilian fazendeiros follow the methods described in the foregoing in preparing their coffee for market, using the most modern of the equipment detailed under the story of the wet method of preparation. On most of the fazendas the machinery is operated by steam or electricity, the latter coming more and more into use each year in all parts of the coffee-growing region.

In some districts, however, far in the interior, there are still to be found small plantations where primitive methods of cleaning are even now practised. Producing but a small quantity of coffee, possibly for only local use, the cherries may be freed of their parchment by macerating the husks by hand labor in a large mortar. On still another plantation, the old-time bucket-and-beam crusher perhaps may be in use.

This consists of a beam pivoted on an upright upon which it moves freely up and down. On one end of the beam is an open bucket; and on the other, a heavy stone. Water runs into the bucket until its weight causes the stone end of the beam to rise. When the bucket reaches the ground, the water is emptied, and the stone crashes down on the coffee cherries lying in a large mortar.

Fermenting and Washing Tanks on a São Paulo Fazenda Fermenting and Washing Tanks on a São Paulo Fazenda

The workers on some of the largest Brazilian fazendas would constitute the population of a small city—more than a thousand families often finding continuous employment in cultivating, harvesting, cleaning, and transporting the coffee to market. For the most part, the workers are of Italian extraction, who have almost altogether superseded the Indian and Negro laborers of the early days. The workers[Pg 261] live on the fazendas in quarters provided by the fazendeiros, and are paid a weekly or monthly wage for their services; or they may enter upon a year's contract to cultivate the trees, receiving extra pay for picking and other work. Brazil in the past has experimented with the slave system, with government colonization, with co-operative planting, with the harvesting system, and with the share system. And some features of all these plans—except slavery, which was abolished in 1888—are still employed in various parts of the country, although the wage system predominates.

Drying Grounds on Fazenda Schmidt, the Largest in Brazil Drying Grounds on Fazenda Schmidt, the Largest in Brazil
By Courtesy of J. Aron & Co.

Brazil has six gradings for its São Paulo coffees, which are also classified as Bourbon Santos, Flat Bean Santos, and Mocha-seed Santos. Rio coffees are graded by the number of imperfections for New York, and as washed and unwashed for Havre. (See chapter XXIV.)

Colombia. Practically all the countries of the western hemisphere producing coffee in large quantities for export trade use the cleaning-and-grading machines specified in the first part of this chapter; and the installation of the equipment is increasing as its advantages become better known.

In Colombia, now (1922), next to Brazil the world's largest producer, the wet method of preparing the coffee for market is most generally followed, the drying processes often being a combination of sun and drying machines. Many plantations have their own hulling equipment; but much of the crop goes in the cherry to local commercial centers where there are establishments that make a specialty of cleaning and grading the coffee.

The Colombia coffee crop is gathered twice a year, the principal one in March and April and the smaller one in November and December, although some picking is done throughout the year. For this labor native Indian and negro women are preferred, as they are more rapid, skilful, and careful in handling the trees. Contrary to the method in Brazil, where the tree at one handling is stripped of its entire bearings, ripe and unripe fruit, here only the fully ripened fruit is picked. That necessitates going over the ground several times, as the berries progressively ripen. More time is consumed in this laborious operation, but it is believed that thereby a better crop of more uniform grade is obtained and in the aggregate with less waste of time and effort.

Colombian planters classify their coffees as café trillado (natural or sun-dried), café lavado (washed), café en pergamino (washed and dried in the parchment). They grade them as excelso (excellent), fantasia (excelso and extra), extra (extra), primera, (first), segundo (second), caracol (peaberry), monstruo (large and deformed), consumo (defective), and casilla (siftings).

[Pg 262]


[Pg 263]

Venezuela. Venezuela employs both the dry and the wet methods of preparation, producing both "washed" and "commons" and also, like Colombia, has a large part of the coffee cleaned in the trading centers of the various coffee districts. Dry, or unwashed, coffees are known as trillado (milled), and compose the bulk of the country's output. Venezuela's plantation-working forces are largely natives of Indian descent and negroes, some of them coming during harvesting season from adjoining Colombia and returning there after the picking is done. The resident workers labor under a sort of peonage system which is tacitly recognized by both employee and employer, although no laws of peonage or slavery have ever existed in Venezuela. Under this system, the laborers live in little colonies scattered over the haciendas, as the coffee plantations are called in Venezuela. Company stores keep them supplied with all their wants. Modern plantation machinery is very scarce; the ancient method of hulling coffee in a circular trough where the dried berries are crushed by heavy wooden wheels drawn by oxen, is still a common sight in Venezuela. In preparing washed coffees, some planters ferment the pulped coffee under water (wet fermentation process); while others ferment without water (dry fermentation).

This Old-Fashioned Hulling Machine Is Operated by Ox Power in Venezuela
This Old-Fashioned Hulling Machine Is Operated by Ox Power in Venezuela

The principal ports of shipments for Venezuela coffees are La Guaira, Puerto Cabello, and Maracaibo. Caracas, the capital, is five miles in an air line from the port of La Guaira; but in ascending the three thousand feet of altitude to the city the railroad twists and turns among the mountains for a distance of twenty-four miles. By rail or motor the trip is one of much charm and great beauty.

Salvador. The planters in Salvador favor the dry method of coffee preparation; and the bulk of the crop is natural, or unwashed.

Guatemala. Most Guatemalas are prepared for market by the wet method. The gathering of the crops furnishes employment for half the population. German and American settlers have introduced the latest improvements in modern plantation machinery into Guatemala.

Mexico. In Mexico coffee is harvested from November to January, and large quantities are prepared by both the dry and the wet methods, the latter being practised on the larger estates that have the necessary water supply and can afford the machinery. Here, too, one will find coffee being cleaned by the primitive hand-mortar and wind-winnowing method. Laborers are mostly half-breeds and Indians. Chinese coolies have been tried and found[Pg 264] satisfactory, and some Japanese are utilized, though not largely.

Street Car Coffee Transport in Orizaba, Mexico
Street Car Coffee Transport in Orizaba, Mexico

Haiti. In Haiti the picking season is from November to March. In recent years better attention has been paid to cultural and preparation methods; and the product is more favorably regarded commercially. Large quantities are shipped to France and Belgium; and much of that sent to the United States is reshipped to France, Belgium, and Germany, where it is sorted by hand. Both dry and wet methods are employed in Haiti.

Porto Rico. Here planters favor the wet method of coffee preparation. The crop is gathered from August to December. The coffees are graded as caracollilo (peaberry), primero (hand-picked), segundo (second grade), trillo (low grade).

Coffee on the Drying Floors in Porto Rico Coffee on the Drying Floors in Porto Rico

Nicaragua. The wet method of coffee preparation is mostly favored in Nicaragua. Many of the large plantations are worked by colonies of Americans and Germans who are competent to apply the abundant natural water power of the country to the operation of modern coffee cleaning machinery.

Costa Rica. Costa Rica was one of the first countries of the western world to use coffee cleaning machinery. Marcus Mason, an American mechanical engineer then managing an iron foundry in Costa Rica, invented three machines that would respectively peel off the husk, remove the parchment and pulp, and winnow the light refuse from the beans.

The inventor gave his original demonstration to the planters of San José in 1860, and duplicates were installed on all the large plantations. In the course of the next thirty years, Mason brought out other machines until he had developed a complete line that was largely used on coffee plantations in all parts of the world.

In the Eastern Hemisphere

Modern cleaning machinery and methods of preparation are employed to some extent in the large coffee-producing countries of the eastern hemisphere, and do not differ materially from those of the western.

Arabia. In Arabia the fruit ripens in August or September, and picking continues from then until the last fruits ripen late in the March following. The cherries, as they are picked, are left to dry in the sun on the house-top terrace or on a floor of beaten earth. When they have become partly dry, they are hulled between two small stones, one of which is stationary, while the other is worked by the hand power of two men who rotate it quickly. Further drying of the hulled berry follows. It is then put into bags of closely woven aloe fiber, lined with matting made of palm leaves. It is next sent to the local market at the foot of the mountain. There, on regular market days, the Turkish or Arabian merchants, or their representatives, buy and dispatch their purchases by camel train to Hodeida or Aden. The principal primary market in recent years has been the city of Beit-el-Fakih.

[Pg 265]

Raking Coffee on Drying Floors—Chuva District, Guatemala Raking Coffee on Drying Floors—Chuva District, Guatemala

Coffee Drying Patios, Hacienda Longa-Espana, Venezuela
Coffee Drying Patios, Hacienda Longa-Espana, Venezuela

[Pg 266]

In Aden and Hodeida the bean is submitted to further cleaning by the principal foreign export houses to whom it has come from the mountains in rather dirty condition. Indian women are the sole laborers employed in these cleaning houses. First, the coffee beans are separated from the dry empty husks by tossing the whole into the air from bamboo trays, the workers deftly permitting the husks to fly off while the beans are caught again in the tray. The beans are then surface-cleaned by passing them gently between two very primitive grindstones worked by men. A third process is the complete clearing of the bean from the silver skin, and it is then ready for the final hand picking. Women are called into service again, and they pick out the refuse husks, quaker or black, beans, green or immature beans, white beans, and broken beans, leaving the good beans to be weighed and packed for shipment. The cleaned beans are known as bun safi; the husks become kisher. Some of the poorer beans also are sold, principally to France and to Egypt. Hand-power machinery is used to a slight extent; but mostly the old-fashioned methods hold sway.

A Drying Patio on a Costa Rica Estate A Drying Patio on a Costa Rica Estate

Early Guardiola Steam Drier, "El Canida" Plantation, Costa Rica Early Guardiola Steam Drier, "El Canida" Plantation, Costa Rica
Photograph by R.C. Wilhelm.

The Yemen, or Arabian, bale, or package, is unique. It is made up of two fiber wrappers, one inside the other. The inside one is called attal or darouf. It is made from cut and plaited leaves of nakhel douin or narghil, a species of palm. The outer covering, called garair, is a sack made of woven aloe fiber. The Bedouins weave these covers and bring them to the export merchants at Aden and Hodeida. A Mocha bundle contains one, two, or four fiber packages, or bales. When the bundle contains one bale it is known as a half; when it contains two it is known as quarters; and when it contains four it is known as eighths. Arabian coffee for Boston used to be packed in quarters only; for San Francisco and New York, in quarters and eighths. The longberry Abyssinian coffees were formerly packed in quarters only. Since the World War, however, there has been a scarcity of packing materials, and packing in quarters and eighths has stopped. Now, all Mocha, as well as Harar, coffee comes in halfs. A half weighs eighty kilos, or 176 pounds, net—although a few exporters ship "halfs" of 160 pounds.

[Pg 267]


There are four processes in cleaning Mocha coffee. In order to separate the dried beans from the broken hulls these women (brought over from India) toss the beans in the air, very deftly permitting the empty hulls to fly off, and catch the coffee beans on the bamboo trays. Then the coffee is passed between two primitive grindstones, turned by men. After this grinding process the beans are separated from the crushed outside hulls and the loose silver skins. In the fourth process the Indian women pick out by hand the remaining husks, the quakers, the immature beans, the white beans and the broken beans. Being Mohammedans, their religion does not permit such little vanities as picture posing, which explains why their faces are covered and turned away from the camera.

[Pg 268]

Abyssinia. Little machinery is used in the preparation of coffee in Abyssinia; none, in preparing the coffee known as Abyssinian, which is the product of wild trees; and only in a few instances in cleaning the Harari coffee, the fruit of cultivated trees. Both classes are raised mostly by natives, who adhere to the old-time dry method of cleaning. In Harar, the coffee is sometimes hulled in a wooden mortar; but for the most part it is sent to the brokers in parchment, and cleaned by primitive hand methods after its arrival in the trading centers.

Angola. In Angola the coffee harvest begins in June, and it is often necessary for the government to lend native soldiers to the planters to aid in harvesting, as the labor supply is insufficient. After picking, the beans are dried in the sun from fourteen to forty days, depending upon the weather. After drying, they are brought to the hulling and winnowing machines. There are now about twenty-four of these machines in the Cazengo and Golungo districts, all manufactured in the United States and giving satisfactory results. They are operated by natives.

A condition adversely affecting the trade has been the low price that Angola coffee commands in European markets. The cost of production per arroba (thirty-three pounds) on the Cazengo plantations is $1.23, while Lisbon market quotations average $1.50, leaving only twenty-seven cents for railway transport to Loanda and ocean freight to Lisbon. It has been unprofitable to ship to other markets on account of the preferential export duties. A part of the product is now shipped to Hamburg, where it is known as the Cazengo brand. Next to Mocha, the Cazengo coffee is the smallest bean that is to be found in the European markets.

Cleaning and Grading Coffee by Machinery in Aden Cleaning and Grading Coffee by Machinery in Aden

Java and Sumatra. The coffee industry in Java and Sumatra, as well as in the other coffee-producing regions of the Dutch East Indies, was begun and fostered under the[Pg 269] paternal care of the Dutch government; and for that reason, machine-cleaning has always been a noteworthy factor in the marketing of these coffees. Since the government relinquished its control over the so-called government estates, European operators have maintained the standard of preparation, and have adopted new equipment as it was developed. The majority of estates producing considerable quantities of coffee use the same types of machinery as their competitors in Brazil and other western countries.

Drying Coffee in the Sun at the Custom-House, Harar, Abyssinia Drying Coffee in the Sun at the Custom-House, Harar, Abyssinia

In Java, free labor is generally employed; while on the east coast of Sumatra the work is done by contract, the workers usually being bound for three years. In both islands the laborers are mostly Javanese coolies.

Under the contract system, the worker is subject to laws that compel him to work, and prevent him from leaving the estate until the contract period expires. Under the free-labor system, the laborer works as his whims dictate. This forces the estate manager to cater to his workers, and to build up an organization that will hold together.

As an example of the working of the latter system, this outline—by John A. Fowler, United States trade commissioner—of the organization of a leading estate in Java will indicate the general practise in vogue:

The manager of this estate has had full control for twenty years and knows the "adat" (tribal customs) of his people and the individual peculiarities of the leaders. This estate has been described as having one of the most perfect estate organizations in Java. It consists of two divisions of 3,449 bouws (about 6,048 acres in all), of which 2,500 bouws are in rubber and coffee and 550 in sisal; the remainder includes rice fields, timber, nurseries, bamboo, teak, pastures, villages, roads, canals, etc.

The foreign staff is under the supervision of a general manager, and consists of the following personnel: A chief garden assistant of section 1, who has under him four section assistants and a native staff; a chief garden assistant of section 2, who has under him three section assistants, an apprentice assistant, and a native staff; a chief factory assistant, who has under him an assistant machinist, an apprentice assistant, and a native staff; and, finally, a bookkeeper. The term "garden" means the area under cultivation.

The bookkeeper, a man of mixed blood, handles all the general accounting, accumulating the reports sent in by the various assistants. The two chief garden assistants are responsible to the manager for all work outside the factory except the construction of new buildings, which is in charge of the chief factory assistant. The two divisions of the estate are subdivided into seven agricultural sections, each section being in full charge of an assistant. A section may include coffee, rubber, sisal, teak, bamboo, a coagulation station and nurseries. The assistant's duties include the supervision of road building and repairs, building repairs, transportation, paying the labor, and the supervision of section accounts.

[Pg 270]

Open-air Drying Grounds on a West Java Estate Open-air Drying Grounds on a West Java Estate
The beans are being turned by native Sudanese men and women

Interior of a Modern Coffee Factory in East Java Interior of a Modern Coffee Factory in East Java
Showing pulping machinery and fermentation tanks

[Pg 271]

The factory includes a water-power plant delivering, through an American water wheel and by cable, 250 horse-power to the main shafting, an auxiliary steam plant of 150 horse-power as a reserve, a rubber mill, a coffee mill, three sisal-stripping machines, smoke-houses, drying fields and houses for sisal, drying floors and houses for coffee, sorting rooms, blacksmith shop, machine shop, brass-fitting foundry, packing houses, warehouses, and other equipment. The factory is in charge of a first assistant, who is a machinist, with a European staff consisting of a machinist and an apprentice assistant.

The chief garden assistant is paid 350 to 400 florins, and the garden assistants start at 200 florins per month, with graduated yearly increases up to 300 florins per month (florin=$0.40). The chief factory assistant receives 300 florins, and the machinist and bookkeeper 250 florins each.

The mandoer in charge of the air and kiln drying of coffee gets 25 florins per month, and the mandoer at the coffee mill 20 florins. A woman mandoer in charge of the coffee sorters receives 0.50 florin per day and 0.01 florin each for sewing the bags. This woman supervises all the sorters, fixes their status, and inspects their work. Unskilled labor (male) receives 0.40 florin per day in the coffee sheds, and the women sorters are paid 0.50 florin per picul of 136 pounds, measured before sorting. These women are graded into three classes—those who can sort 1 picul in a day, those who can sort three-fourths of a picul, and those who can sort but one-half of a picul in a day. Some of these women become very expert in sorting, and the quality of the output of a factory is largely dependent on an ample supply of expert sorters. Many years are required to develop an adequate personnel for this department.

Coffee Transport in Java Coffee Transport in Java

[Pg 272]


The Woolworth Building, the world's loftiest office structure is 792 feet high from street to top of tower; its main section of 151 by 196 feet stretches up 386 feet, and its volume equals a total of 13,110,942 cubic feet. But a tower made of the year's supply of bags of green coffee (132 pounds each) would equal 73,649,115 cubic feet, or nearly six times the bulk of the Woolworth Building. In the same proportions it would rise 1,386 feet, with the lower section 260 by 340 feet and 670 feet high. Its dimensions would be nearly double those of the Woolworth Building in every direction. And the Eiffel Tower, reaching up 1,000 feet toward the sky would be lost in a tower made of a year's bags of coffee. Such a tower would stand 1,425 feet high on a base area of 230 feet square, the size of the Eiffel's first floor.

[Pg 273]

Chapter XXI: PREPARING GREEN COFFEE FOR MARKET -- All About Coffee, by William H. Ukers

<<==Prev|    ==Home==   | Next==>>