Beneficio - A Coffee Processing Plant


The beneficio is a processing plant that turns ripe coffee fruit into green coffee beans. It's quite a labor intensive process and only a fraction of the stuff is deemed suitable for export. This particular plant uses the Wet Processing method, which is said to emphasize fruity and acidy notes in the final coffee.

Unloading into the receiving bay:

Small shareholders and large estates alike bring their fruit to the beneficio to be processed. They unload the cherries into a grate which allows the fruit to drop below into a receiving tank. This particular beneficio has a special receiving bay for Antigua region coffee and another for all other origins.

The processing begins:

When the tank has been filled sufficiently with ripe coffee cherries, the pumps are started and clean water is piped into the tank. Coffee cherries are carried through a drain and pumped to the first sorting method.

Floaters are removed:

The cherries pass down a trough-like tank. The bottom of the trough has a series of grates which catch cherries that fall to the bottom as they flow by. These are the good cherries. Those that float are deemed unacceptable. They are either unripe or have been damaged by the Coffee Bean Borer, or "La Broca" in Spanish. This coffee pest bores into the coffee cherries and eats a hole into one of the seeds, making the cherry lighter and filled with air - and thus, a floater.

The de-pulping process:

Coffee cherries then proceed to the de-pulping machines which use water to force the cherry through a series of small holes, thus removing the fruit from the seed inside. The mix is then agitated in an effort to further remove the fruit.


On its way to the fermentation tanks:

After the coffee seeds have been de-pulped, they head to the fermentation tanks.

The fermentation begins:

Here the fruit and seeds are left in a pile for 24-36 hours. During this time, a natural fermentation process begins and removes the sticky mucilage from the coffee seed. Care must be taken during this stage as an extended fermentation can lead to harsh off flavors know as "fermento" in the coffee. The fermenting coffee is carefully monitored and the fermentation stopped as soon as the process has completed. This point is reached when two coffee seeds squeak when rubbed together - and when the coffee seeds and fruit separate cleanly when thrown against the ground.


The drying process:

The mucilage free coffee, post-fermentation is then transferred to the patios where it is spread out and sun-dried. Workers walk through the seeds and constantly agitate them with a variety of tools. Each worker has his own unique pattern.

Machine dried:

If the weather isn't conducive to sun-drying, the coffee seeds can also be manually dried in a VERY large rotating drum. The sun is a much cheaper and more traditional method, however.


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