Hacienda Bajo Mono, Cafe Don Benjie
Region: Bajo Mono, Boquete
Variety: Geisha, Maragogype, Pacamara, Red, Orange and Pink Bourbon, SL-28, Red & Yellow Catuai, Caturra
Stefan Muller has been running Hacienda Bajo Mono for six years, having bought the farm through his father-in-law, Don Benjamin de Dianous. When purchased, the property was abandoned. Stefan and his wife have built the property from almost nothing. The coffee grows under the shade of many additional trees, including avocado, chirimoya, and orange.
Although his children do not work on the farm, they are studying marketing in university, and are slowly becoming more and more involved in that capacity. Stefan is working to create his own fertilizer, using the coffee pulp as a principal ingredient. He employs seven people year-round and has developed a robust training program to ensure the highest quality of the coffee.
Stefan believes art exists to express feelings, connect, and identify dreams.
Creativa is a group of revolutionaries set to game the change in the coffee industry by weaving it together with the profound cultural impact of the world of contemporary art.
Art is a process that invokes change. Fermentation is our ART, and the mill is our canvas. We innovate with techniques that CHANGE the way we think about coffee, and how it is processed. Do you remember the old fashioned “fully washed”? Well, so do we. And this process can make some exceptional coffees. But, at Creativa, we believe that there is so much more. So, instead, we choose to work with controlled fermentation, slowly dried coffees, and other experimental processes that truly allow these unique coffee profiles to really stand out. That is what we bring to the specialty coffee market.
Our collaborating producers bring their beautifully ripe cherries to us at our mill, and our work begins. First, we make sure the quality is there. Average Brix levels of 18° and a pH above 4.5 is what we look for. After this, we assign the different batches to one of four fermentation methods. Each one is a carefully designed canvas that sets the stage for the cherries to become what they truly are – masterpieces.
For this process, the ambient environment is crucial. We seal the cherry into plastic tanks, with no oxygen present. By creating an anaerobic environment, we allow certain bacteria and yeast to develop at a slower rate. This means we are free to experiment with different durations, in this case, an average of 24 to 72 hours. These relatively short fermentations lend a subtle vibrancy to the profile, due to the prevalence of lactic acids in the cherry.
EXTENDED STATIC CHERRY
When we allow these fermentations to sit untouched for longer periods of time, we see the profile completely change. As the pH levels drop and the acids change, more complex flavors arise, bringing a shining effervescence to the cup. It’s after 72 hours that these changes become apparent, with some batches left to ferment up to 216 hours.
In this process, we lay the coffee onto the patio in thin layers (5cm) for two days before beginning the fermentation process in plastic bags. The average temperature of our patio is 32° celsius, and this serves to reduce moisture levels to such an extent that water is not available to promote bacteriological reactions, but enough to aid enzymatic reactions within the structure of the bean. In doing so, we minimize the risk of fungal developments on the cherry in these first crucial few days. The embryo continues to transform the sugars in the endosperm into less complex sugars, and thus the coffee cherry remains “alive” for much longer. This can extend the process considerably, the longest batch of the harvest this year was three weeks.
The cherry is placed in airtight steel tanks that are lined with jackets that enable the flow of cool water, cooling the cherries without touching them. The cool temperatures of the fermentation process allow microorganisms to blossom in a controlled, consistent environment. The consistency ensures the pH level lowers slowly and the juicy, fresh fruit profile is preserved long into the ferment. The controlled fermentation can last up to weeks at a time, as we maintain a consistent average temperature of 15º celsius throughout the entire process.
Here we ferment the cherry in the very same bags they come in. It is in this way our process maintains the essence of each micro-lot. The bacteria and yeast strains are unique and vary in each batch, and by involving them in the fermentation, we let the essence of the cherry shine. We open the fermentation environment to the air and allow nature to guide the temperature – which averages at 30° celcius. In this case, we just keep an eye out to keep temperatures below 45° celsius, to prevent the cherries from overheating. We keep the fermentation times between 12 and 72 hours, because the soaring temperatures of our natural environment result in drastic changes of the cherry cell structure, and rapid embryo death, completely changing the cup profile.
After the cherries have undergone their respective processes, we set them to dry either on raised beds or our patio. Not only the largest patio in Panama but also one that carries an immensely layered and cultural story. By continuing this legacy, we honor the past while looking to the future through the lens of creativity and innovation.
Our natural environment is scorching hot around harvest time. Believe it or not, on a hot summer day, our patio can reach up to 56º Celsius. It has been a big challenge to understand how to use the high temperatures of our environment to attain our quality standards. Yet in challenging one finds reward. The high ambient temperature of our patio works to halt the fermentation processes of each coffee once it’s reached its desired pH and Brix levels, adding another layer of consistency to our methods.
It is so hot in fact, the afternoon sun threatens to dry the cherry faster on one side than the other. To prevent this uneven drying, we move the cherry every two hours. Then, before night falls, we pile the coffee into small cherry mountains and cover them to prevent any risk of rain. In the morning, we spread them out and start it all again. The cycle continues for an average of 15 days.
For the batches that are dried on raised beds, we find ideal moisture levels after about 20 days. The beds are located in a climate-controlled room, which provides the option of increasing airflow. This ingenious development came to light toward the end of our 2020 harvest, just in time to host the last of our beautiful micro-lots. We are looking forward to learning more from this drying infrastructure during our upcoming harvest….
Once our cherries reach 11% moisture level, they move from the patio and raised beds to begin the dry mill process.
We use our own dry mill facility in order to guarantee that our high-quality standards are upheld and our processing creativity shines all the way to the final cup. Our sorting equipment allows us to keep temperatures low by minimizing friction between the dried coffee and the machinery. The dried mucilage left on the cherries from our natural process is at risk of sticking when heated, which can cause a number of issues. By maintaining low temperatures, we ensure a smooth flow of coffee from start to finish.
Once the coffee is hulled, and the cherry skins are successfully removed, it is sorted by density. The dense beans pass onto the next step, while the lighter ones are separated, as they are often defective.
Next, the coffee is sorted by color. This is an additional step towards a quality export. The machine is calibrated regularly to ensure that our color specifications are met, as the creativity with our processes often imparts a reddish hue.
Then the coffee is ready for the last step. All of our coffees pass through a manual selection phase before being packaged for export. We enlist the help of the local indigenous community, the Ngäbe-Buglé, to oversee this critical process.
There’s a lot of work that goes into each batch of coffee we produce. Every single hand involved in this process is a passionate one. People who pour their passion and creativity into every detail are what moves us forward while innovating, changing, and improving along the way.
If you wish to request additional information about the processing of your microlot, such as fermentation time or type of drying, please let us know by filling this form.
We will get back to you soon with detailed information.
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