Cupping Coffee: From the Rainforest to your Mug

Have you ever wondered how Arbor Day Coffees are selected and the process they undergo before being delivered to your doorstep?

We are always on the lookout for the best shade-grown coffees around the world. We visit farmers to ensure Arbor Day Coffee is shade-grown under the canopy of the rain forest and verify that sustainable farming practices are implemented. Shade-grown coffee produces a higher quality bean and results in a rich and flavorful cup. In determining if a coffee meets our quality standards, we look at a number of different factors through a method called cupping.

Coffee cupping is a process used in the industry to measure aroma, taste and overall quality of coffee beans. The first step of cupping starts with roasting the green coffee beans. In fact, before coffee is roasted it is referred to as “green coffee” because of its light green coloration. Each country and individual growing region has its own unique flavors. In order to maintain each flavor profile during our evaluation, we roast our coffee to a light roast just after first crack—a popping sound made in the roasting process when moisture is released from the coffee bean. A darker roast tends to burn out the unique origin taste profiles and doesn’t allow for good samples of coffee.

IMG_1017 (2)Once the coffee is roasted, we measure and grind the coffee into three to five cups. This helps us identify any defects and ensure consistency among each set. Then, we smell the fragrance of the dry, ground coffee and look for any hints of distinct flavors and check for freshness.




IMG_1022 (2)Next, we add water—heated between 200 and 204 degrees— and let it steep for four minutes. While it is steeping, we smell the aroma of the wet coffee, looking for any deficiencies and examining its richness.





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At four minutes, we “break the crust” of coffee grounds that have floated to the top of the cup and again, smell the aromas released by the coffee. Aromas in coffee can vary from flowery, fruity and herby to nutty, chocolaty and spicy.





IMG_1036 (2)As the coffee cools we begin the tasting process. We look for consistency in flavor, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance and sweetness. By slurping the coffee, we are able to use all of our taste buds to determine the level of sour, sweet, salty and bitter flavors opposed to simply swallowing it. We grade each category and sum the total scores to see where it falls on a 100 point scale. Coffee is determined specialty if it is graded at an 80 or higher on this scale.

After a coffee is scored and approved as meeting our flavor profiles and quality expectations, we start shipping it to the United States to begin the roasting and packaging process.

What is your preferred flavor of Arbor Day specialty coffee? Tag us in a photo with your mug.

Inside Diary of Ryan Hatt: Journey Through Peru

Last month Ryan Hatt—Business Development Manager—traveled to Peru to visit coffee farmers who harvest Arbor Day Shade-Grown Coffee. Visiting the coffee farms builds our relationships with the farmers and gives us insight to the practices and the impact it has in their life and community. The following is a recap of Ryan’s week-long trip.

DSC_0015After driving up the Andes Mountains for nearly two hours we finally reached San Ignacio, a small community sitting close to 1700 meters above sea level. The area has a reputation for sourcing some of the best coffees in Peru. We still had to a ways to go beyond San Ignacio before reaching Miguel Ojeda Rodriguez and Clementina Melendres Neyra, the farmers who produced some of the Arbor Day Shade-Grown Coffee this year. Once we arrived at the farm we learned how growing coffee for the Arbor Day Foundation has helped Miguel and Clementina’s family. Two of their six children are still living on the farm and helping their parents grow the coffee. We toured the farm and learned about the diverse array of trees they have shading the coffee including Romarillo—a species of pine tree that grows in exclusive parts of the country and takes 500 years to reach full maturity. Romarillo trees are leguminous and very beneficial to coffee because they provide nitrogen to the soil and don’t compete with the coffee for nutrients. There were also areas on the farm where rows of smaller trees stood to act as a barrier within the farm and hold soil in place so it wouldn’t wash down the mountain.

DSC_0064Our next stop was at the farm of Amaro Chasquero Jaramillo and Natalia Ocana. Their farm was quite different from the farm of Miguel and Clementina. Their trees were much younger and were growing in a formerly deforested area. The farm was recently bought from a cattle farmer who was growing coffee and young trees simultaneously to reforest the area. Parts of the farm were entirely shaded by mature trees. Amaro explained how the leaves on the tree provide nutrients to the soil and maintain moisture in the ground, supporting the coffee shrubs. He also had elevated drying beds—which allows more air to pass over the coffee beans during the drying state while also shielding it from the rain. Amaro was great about repurposing everything on the farm, such as cherry pulp. He’d use the cherry pulp from the coffee and mix it was other organic matter to build a natural fertilizer that he would use back on the coffee and on his personal vegetable garden.

DSC_0066The following day we went on a four hour journey into the Amazonas Region of Peru to a small community called Lonya Grande. We met with potential farmers who may be interested in joining our coffee integrity program. Our program stands out from others because we offer higher premiums to the farmers, a small act that can make a difference.

On our last day of visits we went to Pangoya— a small farming community to share our mission with new farmers that may show interest in harvesting our coffee. Many of them expressed enthusiasm at hearing our mission of planting trees and shared their plans to plant 100,000 trees on 1000 hectares of land that had been deforested. Many farms in the area have been affected by slash and burn practices.

These coffee trips allow us to build stronger relationships with our farmers and strengthen our trust in one another. It’s rewarding to see how harvesting coffee for the Arbor Day Foundation can leave an impact on the families involved.

What is your preferred flavor of Arbor Day Coffee? Let us know in the comments below.