Yehuda Lilo could be dubbed as the actual, most interesting man in the world.
He was born and raised in Israel, educated in Kansas and now living in Bolivia as co-Founder of Apasionado Coffee. Today, his coffee farm is nestled in the Andean cloud mountains, just outside of La Paz.
I've connected with Apasionado awhile ago via Instagram, and finally got to do a little Q&A with Lilo himself! (Unfortunately not in person - but soon my friends, soon! Wouldn't a coffee farm adventure be epic?!)
But before I dive into his story and the entire story of coffee harvesting, I wanted to let you know you can actually adopt a coffee tree. When you adopt a tree, your name will be on that tree and you will get coffee shipped to your door from your tree!
And for every tree adopted, Apasionado will plant another tree to help reforest land that is currently being cleared and cut down for cocaine or "coca" production. There's a lot more goodies that come with adopting a tree that you can learn here.
I just think the entire concept is so important and it would be kind of the perfect Holiday gift for a coffee lover. Instead of naming some random star in the sky, how about you name a coffee tree and get to, you know, actually get something out of it? ;)
Alright, and now we continue with Lilo's story....
Lilo moved to the U.S. to finish his undergrad and master’s at the University of Kansas. In the 1990’s he was living in Bolivia working on several sustainable development projects. One of which was working with small farming cooperatives to sell coffee and chocolate in the U.S., Europe and Japan.
“This is how I got started in coffee, by working with these cooperatives, selling their coffee to some big names, like Seattle's Best and Starbucks. However, I was frustrated by the complexity of the coffee supply chain, which leaves so little of the profit in the country of origin,” says Lilo.
And so, he set out on a journey to fully understand the coffee science, produce the best in order to deliver the best, and to ultimately connect end consumers to coffee farmers.
My Q&A with Lilo was a bit lengthy, as he was generous with his answers and I was relentless with my questions.
So, I am breaking this post down into several parts for us A.D.D. folks (cough, cough - people such as myself).
Lilo answers my questions about the Coffee Harvest, Environmental Challenges in Today's Coffee World, Pricing, Labor, the Future of Coffee Children
We will start with Part 1: The Coffee Harvest, below!
Let’s Talk Coffee Harvest
The coffee harvest truly is one of the most complicated and laborious crops in the world. But fortunately we got Lilo here with us to break it down.
PICKY WHILE WE PICK
"Our coffee [Apasionado Coffee], high-end specialty coffee is picked by hand. On our farm we practice a multi-pass harvesting process, where pickers go tree by tree selecting only the ripe or overripe beans [coffee cherries] from each tree. Then, a week or two later, they return and pick that same tree again, and again, so that only the best beans are harvested at each pass."
THE PERFECT CHERRY
"A perfect bean should be a deep burgundy color, with no blemishes or splits in the bean. Unlike most farms, we pay our farm hands by the day, not by the amount that they pick, because we don't want them to rush the harvest and pick things that aren't ripe yet just to increase their weights. We encourage them to pick carefully, and this is then followed by a very detailed sort.
Once the coffee is brought up from the trees to the processing center, the beans are sorted into 3 grades. The first grade bean is the perfect cherry with no holes, blemishes, splits or damage and is that perfect red wine color. The second grade are those that are a little under-ripe, or those that still look good but may have a blemish or a split cherry. The third grade bean is the reject bean, the way over-ripe or under-ripe (read brown or green), or those substantially flawed in some other way. All beans are sold, they are just sold for different values and to different audiences depending on the quality."
Important to note that ONLY first grade beans are sold to Apasionado Coffee customers.
"After the coffee is sorted, it is de-pulped, which removes the cherries from the beans, and rinsed, and then the beans sit in a fermenting vat in the membranes for 12-24 hours. Following this, they are vigorously washed again and laid out on a drying table where they are sorted a second time, and dried briefly outside. This second sorting removes any impure beans that couldn’t be identified when they still had the cherries on."
LAY OUT TO DRY
"Following this second sorting, the beans are moved to elevated beds the drying room. Drying the beans in this green house, rather than in the sunlight means that the beans are dried more evenly, and this assures a better flavor. The beans are raked and shuffled every day or so to ensure even drying, and the humidity level of the beans is measured using a special device. Once the humidity reaches the right point, the beans are removed from the drying shed and bagged, in their parchment, to await transport to La Paz for roasting and shipping.
Many of these steps are almost unheard of in the coffee industry, and all of them contribute to the high quality of the coffee we produce."
Part 2: Challenges in the Coffee Industry, next on the blog.
The Coffee Nomad