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From Colombia with Flavor: Anaerobic Fermentation Coffee Review

My first experience with direct trade coffee and anaerobic fermentation. Special thanks to Those Coffee People and Fairfield University!

A few weeks ago I received an email from a student at Fairfield University. Essentially this student was inviting me to participate in a direct-trade simulation where I would purchase a 64# bag of specialty coffee for roughly $50. Normally coffee like that would cost close to $400, so you can understand why this concept seemed a little too good to be true. Thankfully, the group was only interested in meeting at first in order to outline the entire process as well as connect with everyone who will be involved.

I love the idea of having direct trade coffee available. There are many benefits to purchasing coffee directly from the farmers:

  1. Fewer middlemen to take their slice. This hypothetically keeps the prices down while allowing the farmers to retain more of the profits from the sales.

  2. Coffee and connections go hand in hand. If you have access to someone, build and nurture that relationship.

  3. Coffee is always better with a story connected to it. How cool is it to be able to say, "I'm friends with the guys who harvested this coffee?"

Their vision is to make direct trade coffee more accessible to smaller roasters like me. The challenges of direct trade are extensive:

  1. Import/Export obstacles, enough that someone wanting only one bag will be laughed out of the country.

  2. Communication, there's no guarantee that the transaction will be honored. If you're working with the farmer directly, there's always the risk that they'll take your money and run. Unless you go down there yourself, which is impossible for a little guy like me, you really never know what to expect.

  3. Quality control, once again, unless you go down there and check the bags yourself, you have no idea what the quality will be for the coffee you're purchasing.

  4. Zero Accountability, if there's an issue with your order, there's not much you'll be able to do about it.

I was sold for the opportunity! Not only for the discounted coffee, nor for the direct-trade opportunity, but to be part of ongoing research to improve the field. I placed my order on April 9th and it arrived April 12th, FedEx wasn't kidding around!

Sample Roasting: Light, Medium and Dark.

My initial impression was this coffee was going to be nothing short of the most unusual coffee I've ever worked with. I generally work with wash process coffees and have only recently gotten into regular natural process. This was my first encounter with anaerobic fermentation.

The beans themselves had a brown tint to them, not as dark as a decaf, but you could tell it was a different process. They smelled strongly fermented, almost like kombucha that's been left unrefrigerated for about 3 days.

I knew they would be delicate to roast, so I exercised caution not to leave them in too long and to cool them quickly. There was slight tipping on a couple of beans, but not enough to compromise anything. I'm aware that with this process it's frowned upon to go too dark, but I made a dark roast samples anyway.

What I wasn't prepared for was the amount of chaff coming off the beans. I only did a total of 24oz, but the amount of chaff I cleaned up was worse than a day where I do 10 pounds! Upon discovering this it made sense since the beans are left unwashed from the cherry membrane. One thing for sure, it was quite the show!

Brewing Methods: Pour over, Cold Brew and Espresso

As per my research procedure, I always like to try all of the different methods at the different roasting levels. There are a few exceptions, like I'm not ready to try espresso at a light roast. I've done it as light as a medium, but I can't bring myself to go completely light for espresso just yet.

The reason is so I can make the proper recommendations for each kind of coffee. If someone comes in or looks online looking for a good espresso, it's helpful for the customer to have my recommendation, "Good for espresso" displayed. If I'm not interested in a certain roast levels, I just won't offer it. It's not that I won't do it ever, you'll just need to order a custom roast if that's the case.

So for this coffee I prepared each as a pour over and cold brew, but only the dark roast as espresso.

Time for Testing!

As I've done in the past for getting feedback on potential purchases, I brought in my core customers.

When everyone arrived, I prepared each hot coffee and printed out evaluation sheets. The sheets score as follows:

  1. Not interested

  2. Mediocre

  3. Decent, but not exciting

  4. Try at a different roasting level

  5. Excellent!

The 4th option was sort of moot considering we were only evaluating one coffee, but all the different levels. We tasted each roast level on the different brewing methods rather than all of the same methods.

The Final Score: Categorized by roasting levels, then brewing method.

Light Roast

  • Pourover- 5

  • Cold brew- 3

  • Espresso- N/A

General remarks: Vibrant fruitiness, pleasant tea/ wine tannin mouthfeel, fruit came out as hot coffee cooled. Cold brew had notes of toasted almonds with strong fruit notes. Overall a very pleasant fruity coffee.

Medium Roast

  • Pourover- 4.5

  • Cold brew- 5

  • Espresso- N/A

General remarks: Toned down slightly from the light roast, tannin mouthfeel stronger than light roast. Cold brew was an incredible burst of fruit, chocolate and toasted almonds! Overall, everything you would expect in a good Colombian coffee.

Dark Roast

  • Pourover- 3

  • Cold brew- 3

  • Espresso- 4.5

General remarks: Much like Samson after his haircut, this coffee at a dark roast became as any other coffee out there. As a regular coffee, it was decent, but you lose all of the brilliant characteristics of the special fermentation process. Even as a cold brew it didn't bring out any new flavor note or balance anything out. The espresso, however, was surprisingly tasty with a beautiful crema and balanced flavor profile. The fruitiness sort of shone back through in the espresso, but not enough to justify offering it as a dark roast.


This is undeniably a special coffee. Not only is it interesting with the flavor profiles, but everything surrounding it has been an adventure. I will be offering it at the local farmers markets this summer by the bag and hot as a light roast.

To learn more about Those Coffee People, you can visit their website.

As always, thank you so much for your continued support and business!

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