Did you know that coffee beans can be manipulated at their fermentation stage to produce a wild new range of flavour profiles?

You’re about to get schooled.

Fermentation plays a huge role in the average home kitchen. In the world of beverages, you hear of fermentation in kombuchas, tepaches, wines, and beers. Gourmet coffee makers have been exploring fermentation in coffee, giving connoisseurs several unique offerings to add to their collections. 

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It’s part of the process

Fermentation is a natural part of the coffee-making process. The coffee cherry is a fruit, and it is the seed that is used to make coffee. This seed is covered with mucilage that contains a lot of sugars. Once harvested, the fermentation process begins naturally, and these sugars are consumed by yeast and bacteria. There are three main methods of coffee processing that help with the fermentation process – natural, washed, and sun-dried. Each of these methods works on getting the seed from the cherry in different ways and can have an impact on the final coffee profile.

The interesting thing about coffee processing is that it offers multiple levels at which innovation can take place. Ashish D’Abreo, founder partner, Maverick & Farmer Coffee, explains, “Innovation can come in at the cultivation stage, mapping the crop to sunlight and shade available being just one of them. During harvesting, some techniques can be used to create flavours based on the colour of the cherries harvested. Innovation can also happen during fermentation, drying, bagging, and roasting. All these are stages at which you can play with flavours that the Asian or international market has not tasted so far”.

The experimentative coffee community

“The trend of the experimentative coffee-loving community has been that of using different strains of yeast/bacteria, mediums besides water for soaking the beans, to help the bean imbibe different flavours and produce more complex tasting notes to the same coffee,” feels Tapaswini Purnesh, director of marketing & promotions, Classic Coffee.

Currently, it’s all about the yeasts and bacteria and what they can bring out in a coffee bean. Different yeasts create varied flavours when they react with the sugars in the cherries and the mucilage. Coffee makers can decide on the number of hours these cherries are to ferment, how much of sunlight they are dried in, how long they are aged and much more – all in a bid to extract new flavours. The resultant flavours are not in-your-face but rather are nuanced. Most brands provide you with tasting notes to better understand your cup and appreciate the craft that goes into making them.

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Orange juice fermented coffee

“Orange juice fermented coffee does not equal orange juice flavoured coffee. In the cupping of this variant, we found a cherry wine and mild spices flavour profile. In [one variant], the lactic acid bacteria was introduced in the initial fermentation process and then further processed with the honey-sundried method resulting in unique flavonoids,” explains D’Abreo. He adds that the time frame a coffee-maker gets from harvest to create a product is short, and making something unique is quite fulfilling.

Whisky barrel-aged coffee

“One of our most loved fermented coffees at Classic Coffees (Harley Estate, Saklespur), has been our whisky barrel-aged coffee. We allow the beans to ferment inside whisky barrels anywhere from 35 days to 60 days, along with yeast made in-house. The moisture content inside the barrel is what aids in the fermentation process and gives the coffee a strong heady whisky aroma and imparts flavours of Irish cream, green apple, and flavours of tropical fruits. We have an exclusive partnership with Amrut distilleries for these barrels. In fact, we have customers who have told us that this varietal smells like whisky and tastes like coffee,” explains Purnesh.

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The anaerobic fermentation method

A new on the coffee block in India is Savorworks, launched in April 2020, with Fruit Bombs – a coffee that has been created with the unconventional anaerobic fermentation method. This is a method where coffee is fermented in a sealed environment for a pre-determined time-frame. “Coffee is dried as whole fruit and then transferred into food-grade tanks. Oxygen is sucked out of tanks, and they are made to sit for 48 hours (the traditional time frame is 12-36 hours in this method, but it can vary). Every creator has his vocabulary when it comes to flavour profiles,” explains Baninder Singh, founder, Savorworks. 

The brand recently launched the Pinanas, a coffee with pineapple fermentation. Beans are dried, fermented for 72 hours, and pineapple fruit added during the fermentation. The coffee soaks in the aromas and tasting notes of pineapple, giving you a hint of acidity and the flavours of tropical fruits, jams, and roasted coconut.

This article first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India.

Ruth Dsouza Prabhu

Ruth is an independent journalist based in Bangalore. Always in pursuit of the next story that interests her, loves her food and drink, bookworm and a sucker for sunsets and airplane journeys.