Honey Processing in Thailand

By Stuart Grant

Just finished a huge, very tiring day of coffee processing. We were up at 4am to drive the two hours to LB village to collect cherry. It turns out you can fit 2500kg on the back of a ute! Albeit with some complaints from the suspension. We arrived at 6am, so of course the cherry had been picked the day before (we think/hope). Ideally, ITDP likes to see processing of cherry within 8 hours of picking (ie. on the same day), but LB village doesn't have their own processing equipment. Again, ideally, you want all the cherries to be ripe but not overripe. Unfortunately the cherry was not all ripe, and a lot of what had been ripe was starting to ferment in the fruit. This was a complication! With honey processing, if you don't have perfectly ripe cherry, the beans can ferment on the drying beds and taint the flavour. So I became the hard task-master and insisted that we manually sorted the coffee back at the processing station in Mae Suai. It took 6 people (including me) over 4 hours to do enough for our honey processing experiment. Back-breaking, soul-destroying work, I can assure you! Hopefully, the team will implement some quality controls with the pickers so they don't have to repeat this ordeal!


We then pulped the good cherry without any water through the machine. This was to keep as much of the natural sugar on the outside of the beans as we could - the theory being that once it gets some sun, the sugar concentration will be too high to allow fermentation, and the coffee can dry safely. [EDIT: honey and sugar cane are two examples of this principle in nature - neither 0f them ferment, even though sugar is a perfect food source for almost any bacteria, because they are too concentrated.] We laid them thinly (1-2 beans in a layer) on the drying bed at 2:30pm - the hottest part of the day (32°C in the shade, 36°C in the sun). An hour later I measured the coffee as being at 27°C, which seemed good to me! At 5:30pm when the sun went down behind the banana plantation, the beans were still wet and sticky - we had hoped to get them surface-dry by sunset, but at least they had a few hours of good sun. Hopefully the weather stays hot and dry! Over the next two days we will be turning the beans every hour or two to make sure that they dry evenly and quickly. Ideally, they'll take 8-10 days to get down to 11% moisture. Then it'll be another month before they're ready to taste! Despite the set-back with poor quality cherry, I was happy with how today went. There are some higher-altitude villages coming into harvest now so it would be great if the team and repeat the experiment with some prime cherries.