Over the past few years, Juan Peña has become a prominent figure in the coffee industry. Season after season, he is up for awards as a notable coffee producer, and his coffee has been on the national and world stage in the hands of competitors. It would be easy to believe that Juan has been growing coffee for many decades, but Juan began growing coffee just eleven years ago. Juan’s farm, Hacienda a Papaya, chose to diversify their crop after a disastrous rose harvest, and choosing to experiment with coffee took them down the path to become a prominent producer of Ecuadorian coffee. His rise to prominence has been multifaceted, although it’s mostly due to his scientific approach to growing and processing his coffees. Each step of harvest is well documented and adjusted from season to season. This care is evident in the cup, this Anaerobic natural Typica exudes clear terroir of Ecuador coffee, as well as complex sweetness and floral notes from processing. We made contact with Juan Peña from a conversation online, during a transition time for the coffees of Hacienda La Papaya. The formation of CafExporto has brought a level of control that Juan sought out from the outset of his coffee career, and has provided us with direct access to his meticulously processed coffees.
There are few leaps in the technique of processing coffee larger than the most recent trend of Anaerobic processing. This is oftentimes a technique of natural processing coffee, where whole cherries are fermented in a limited oxygen environment. The word Anaerobic is a catch-all term used more often than not to refer to a limited oxygen environment. Coffee cherries are subject to pre-fermentation before they are moved to a drying bed or patio. The extended fermentation often adds a winey or fruity note to the coffee. Throughout the world, we’ve seen this practiced in many ways, from adding cherries into a clean grainpro and tying the top for the night, all the way to stainless tanks with an airlock on the top to slowly let out carbon dioxide caused by the microbes at work. There are many who are working to understand and better control this process to gain clarity on what is really going on with limited oxygen fermentation.
Here’s what Juan Pena says about the Oak Barrel fermentation: “As an experimentation process 4 years ago, Hacienda La Papaya began by placing freshly harvested cherries in some containers. After understanding the fermentation processes Juan Peña was encouraged to experiment in barrels that remained with rum for 20 years. The best results are achieved with fresh cherries fermenting for 5 days in a totally closed, controlled and monitored environment. During this time, the cherries with the help of microorganisms endure some changes, absorbing all the aromas and flavors that are around them to bring them into the beans. For these changes to occur, the barrels must remain in dark rooms at temperatures below 18 ° Celsius. All this is inspected under temperature and humidity sensors that warn of any anomaly during the process. After leaving the barrels, the whole cherries go to the drying rooms for a period of 28 to 30 days.
The sensation that can be perceived in tasting are aromas, fruity and wild flavors such as passion fruit, wine, mandarin, chocolate. We understand that by using oak barre- ls we get much more complex beans that in some cases are difficult to describe. For this reason we venture to find very citrus notes, very long aftertaste flavors and a very complex body.”
This particular lot was fermented in sealed tanks for 120 hours, with the temperature monitored with probes inside the tank in order to control the microbial activity levels. Here is what Juan Pena says about their experiments:
“Working on the farm in fermentations with natural coffees of different varieties was a success. The fermentation process with natural coffees began when the cherries were left inside the polyethylene containers. Over time, environmental factors were recorded and then passed the fermented cherries to the drying rooms. In this place, factors such as humidity and temperature are contracted.
In summary, the process consists to refine the sweetness, acidity, and body of these coffees, and also add distinguished sensory notes, such as fruits, caramel, chocolate, among others. Considering that the fermentation is so complex, we are looking to find many different and potential results.”