As the methods for the cultivation, harvesting and consumption of coffee have changed over the years, so too have the technologies used in its production.
As producers face the management of consumer demand alongside challenges such as climate change, some companies are facing these challenges and planning for the future through development of new tools and technologies. We spoke to the team from Pinhalense to learn more.
YOU’VE BEEN IN OPERATION FOR NEARLY 70 YEARS. HOW HAVE THE TECHNOLOGIES, TOOLS, AND MACHINERY USED IN COFFEE PRODUCTION CHANGED OVER THIS TIME?
Coffee processing has changed substantially in these 70 years and, as a result, different coffee products have been made available to consumers. Many if not most of these products have derived from the introduction of new technologies and machines.
Pinhalense had a key role in the creation and dissemination of the pulped natural system and the respective machinery to produce honey coffees. It was also Pinhalense that modernized rotary driers, after adopting them to dry naturals and making the SRE the state-of-the-art machine to mechanically simulate the sun drying of parchment and cherry coffees.
Changes went however beyond post-harvesting and into export processing, with high- yield CON and DEPOS hullers, upward flow PFA size graders designed for coffee and patented by Pinhalense, and coffee-specific MVF gravity separators, not to mention modern digital systems for blending, weighing (SMARTBAG and SMARTSAC) and sampling coffee and the partial or full automation of coffee mills. It is important to mention that not only machines changed but also the way they are brought together, i.e., milling layouts and flows that now have to cope with a greater diversity of both incoming raw-materials and finished products to be delivered to clients.
P&A and Pinhalense like to state that 50% of the success of a coffee processing operation depends on the machines themselves and another 50% on country-and- region-specific mill design and flows. These are items that depend greatly on prior experience and supply to understand and respond to local conditions, something that the two companies master and that support their world leadership in the field.
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO ESTABLISH PROPER INFRASTRUCTURE FOR COFFEE PRODUCTION?
Proper processing infrastructure is critical to retain coffee quality no matter the conditions of the incoming products and the users’ demands. Also, it must be designed to cope with harvesting peaks and the need to process coffee quickly before shipment to retain coffee quality. This shows again the interplay between machines and mill design.
It is not unusual for coffee quality to be lost because of smaller than needed processing capacity, specially at the drying stage, that is the most time consuming and expensive of all operations. Weather conditions are becoming ever less reliable as a result of climate change and growers are finding that Pinhalense’s SRE drying systems are more reliable quality-wise than sun drying. The introduction of CSP digital drying control systems has added to this reliability and improved the ability to simulate sun drying.
Dry milling for exports is another infrastructure area where Pinhalense excels. Flexibility in design adds much to efficiency and product customization, irrespectively of the size of the mill.
A challenge that Pinhalense has overcome is to design dry milling facilities that can deliver the “world blends” used by large coffee-shop chains and single-serve brands as well as the micro-lots required by the specialty coffee sector. Sustainability, noise reduction and dust control included, is also gaining importance.
HOW CAN USING MACHINERY IN COFFEE GROWING, HARVESTING, PROCESSING, AND DRYING ASSIST IN MAINTAINING COFFEE QUALITY?
One typical example is coffee cherry separation. Irrespectively of the best intentions to have 100% ripe cherries picked, reality today is that in most countries, including those that produce top quality specialty coffees, what arrives at the wet mill is a mix of cherries that must be separated according to their stages of maturation. The objective is to use ripe cherries only for the high-quality products.
Pinhalense has been a pioneer in this field with the invention and patenting of the water-saving LSC mechanical syphons that eliminate impurities and stones and separates floaters (partially dry and dry cherries) and sinkers (unripe and ripe cherries). Another Pinhalense break-through was the introduction of the unripe cherry separators used today in the ECO SUPER pulpers to complete the separation started at the siphons. Not only ripe cherries are separated but cherries at other stages of maturation can be submitted to further processing that Pinhalense devised to get the most out of them, quality and price wise.
Drying separately products arriving at different stages of maturation is critical to maintain quality and to maximize sales prices. That is why Pinhalense has recently pioneered coffee drying of separate batches in the same machine with the introduction of divided drum driers SRE in several sizes.
DO YOU SEEK INSIGHT FROM PRODUCERS WHEN CREATING OR IMPROVING YOUR PRODUCTS? IF SO, CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW?
Insight from producers, specially tendencies in both harvesting and qualities to be supplied, are critical inputs for Pinhalense to improve its line of products and to develop new machines.
This was exactly the case behind the development of the pulped natural / honey process that happened in response to the request of three different coffee growers in South Minas Gerais who were experimenting with the system in small, almost lab scale and needed machinery to move to commercial scale. The response was by means of a combination of pulpers with unripe cherry separators and mucilage removers that have today become the third generation ECO SUPER and DMPE, respectively.
The recent evolution in the line of SRE rotary driers has also occurred in response to producers’ needs: smaller lots of different qualities, greater reliance on mechanical drying, simulation of sun drying, and full control of the process. Pinhalense’s response has been divided drum driers, overhead pre-driers placed above the drying drum, and digital drying control systems (CSP) that allow the monitoring of drying temperatures and moisture levels to avoid over-heating and excessive drying. This is impossible to do in sun drying.
IN YOUR OPINION, WILL MACHINERY PLAY AN EVEN MORE IMPORTANT ROLE IN COFFEE PRODUCTION IN THE COMING YEARS?
Climate change, lack of labor for harvesting and the need for new coffee products at the consumers’ end will make the role of coffee processing and machinery even more important. The examples above have already shown how this has been happening and, it should be added here, it will be intensified in the future.
The increase in both R&D and the speed of new product launching at Pinhalense in recent years bear witness to a process that has already started, is in full force now, and will grow in the future. Separation of incoming recently picked coffee cherries and mechanical drying of coffee will increase much in coming years as will the degree of product separation and customization in dry milling to supply a wide range of products, from world blends to micro-lots, and including commercial coffees that account for the largest share of the market.
This means a greater reliance on machinery, existing and to be developed, not only to deliver the qualities required but also to increase the efficiency of processing and to lower its costs.