Hotel: Farm Lodge Country House Hotel
Since 2000 Farm Lodge has been producing their own home produce. This is served to guests at the breakfast and dinner table as well as surpluses used to supply the local market. We produce our own coffee too - which you can read about below.
Breakfast favourites include eggs from our own free range hens and honey from our 3 bee hives. Fruits grown include rhubarb, bananas, figs (which we poach and make jam from), grapes, medlars, guavas and loquats. The latter can be stewed and turned into jams.
We produce lamb and an assortment of vegetables including lettuce, cabbage, potatoes, leaks, spinach, parsnips, pumpkin and capsicums.
We also produce our own herbs including rosemary, mint, parsley, garlic chives and chilis.
Coffee was first introduced to the Island of St Helena by the East India Company in 1734. The original strain came from Ethiopia via the Yemen and is known as Green Tipped Bourbon Yemini Arabica.
There are two basic types of coffee. The best quality is Arabica, the other being Robusta which is used for poorer quality ground and instant coffees.
Of the Arabicas the finest are purported to be Blue Mountain from Jamaica, Cona from Hawaii and the little known St Helena coffee. The latter won many medals in London, Brussels, Paris and New York during the early 1800’s.
Even Napoleon himself said how he enjoyed its fine flavour during his incarceration on the island.
Due to St Helena’s remoteness, the coffee still holds its original pedigree as the island is too far from any mainland for the coffee to have been cross-pollinated by bees from other lands. Above left is a young tree flowering.
The seed was planted at Farm Lodge many years ago and still retains its original flavour. For germination it is planted flat side down half an inch below the surface in well drained rich soil. It prefers to be shaded whilst it is young.
The soldier is the first stage of the young tree. The tap root goes down into the soil and the bean rises atop the stem containing the first leaves. This gives it the appearance of a soldier wearing a helmet.
The butterfly is the next progression. The bean casing falls off and the first two leaves appear. These are round and give the allusion of a green butterfly.
Two pointed leaves appear next; these are the true coffee leaves and are the shape of the leaves for the rest of the life of the tree.
Pruning takes place after the first year at about knee high. The main stem is cut off just above the second or third branching. This encourages two suckers to shoot. These will eventually produce a tree with two main trunks, thus gives a better shaped tree which is shorter wider and is more fruitful than a single trunk.
Flowering takes place during February, March and April which are the drier months on the Island.
The picture on the right shows the “spikes” about to open. The flower lasts only a matter of a day or so. Having been fertilised, the “pinhead beans” form and swell gently during the wetter winter months of June, July and August.
The actual beans are inside a fleshy covering called a cherry. As the weather gets warmer so the cherries start to change colour from green to yellow, orange and then red.
The ripening of the cherries from flowering takes nine months.
Stumping is done when the trees are about 8 years old and 7 feet high, the main stems are cut off at and the process starts again. We have some trees that are over 30 years old and still bearing fruit.
Picking the beans only occurs when they are a deep “fire-engine” red colour; this is in order to obtain the maximum flavour and sweetness.
At this stage there are about 350 different flavour molecules in the bean. They are only at this peak of ripeness for about 3 days after which they turn black, so each tree has to be picked usually twice a week. This starts in October/November and continues until February/March.
The pruning and stumping of the trees has to be done as soon as picking is finished and before the next flowering cycle starts again.
Processing is by the wet method which consists of hulling, fermenting and then drying.
Hulling must be done within 24 hours of picking to avoid the bean going sour.
We use a manual machine to remove the cherry flesh from the bean. (a loss of 30% of the picked weight)
The discarded flesh is used for mulching the trees.
The beans are immediately covered in water and the “floaters” are rejected. The remaining beans are left to ferment in a bucket, covered with a few inches of water.
Fermentation of the bean takes about 5 days in water and removes the sweet and slimy mucilage which turns into a weak alcoholic solution.
At this stage the bean itself is nearly 40% water and this needs to be reduced to 10% or 11% during a period of drying.
Drying the bean starts with a minimum of 24 hours direct sunshine (3 days). Further drying takes place in racks for between 6 and 10 weeks depending on weather conditions, i.e. sunshine and humidity. The aim of reaching 10 or 11 per cent moisture content of the bean is critical for roasting. 12% water content of the bean is too wet and the bean will steam rather than roast and 9% water content is too dry and the bean will cook too fast and may catch fire!
Husking and polishing is done by machine. The dry parchment (husk) is first removed to reveal the bean still covered in the fine onion skin. This skin is then removed in the polishing machine to reveal a shiny bluish/green bean.
Grading has to be done to ensure that each batch of beans to be roasted is of a consistent size, mass and surface area in order to produce a uniform roast. To sort the overall size of the green beans they are put through four sieves with perforated bases. The holes are of four different sizes and when the beans are sieved through they are separated in 4 grades i.e. 18, 16, 14 and 12.
Each size or grade is then checked for shape, splits and damage. Whilst growing on the tree some cherries contain only one bean which is round and known as a peaberry. The majority of cherries contain two beans (twins) which are hemispherical, (often seen in cafes). Some cherries contain three beans (triplets) which are segmented. Although all these beans are of the same “grade” (see above) they will have a different surface area to mass ratio and consequently will roast at different speeds. This entails checking each bean by hand and separating the pea-berry, hemispherical and segmented into 3 groups.
The fourth and last group is all the split, chipped and discoloured beans. These last ones are discarded as there is no way of ensuring a uniform roast which means if they are under roasted they will be sour and over-roasted will be bitter (burnt) thus causing mixed tastes making the whole batch of coffee unpalatable
Roasting is done in a semi-commercial drum roaster. The drum takes two pounds of raw coffee per roast. It is heated by a set of gas jets in the centre, around which the drum is constructed. As the drum rotates this ensures that the beans keep moving, around and above the heat of the burners. We usually keep this at 480.Deg F. (250 deg C). After approx 7 minutes the beans will make a loud cracking sound. This is the inside of the bean expanding due to the heat and bursting the shell of the bean, rather like puffed wheat or popcorn. At the same time, the flavour molecules are changing due to the heat and the beans are now beginning to smell like coffee. The crack lasts about a minute by which time the beans are now pale brown in colour and is a very light roast. After another minute (total 9 mins) the beans are beginning to be mid brown and are a light roast. At nine and a half minutes the colour is a bit darker and it is a medium roast. Another 20 seconds and they are rich browns and a medium/high roast. At this stage, we drop the beans out of the drum and onto the cooling tray which has cold air forced through it. This ensures the beans stop cooking and cool quickly. If the beans are left roasting, at 10 mins the oil starts to come out of the bean. They are on a high roast. A few seconds more and they are liable to catch fire.
We find that a med/high roast suit our coffee best but we can of course, roast to the wishes of the customer. As can be seen from the above, the roasting is critical and if all the beans are of a consistent size, shape and moisture-content they will roast at a uniform speed which is the reason for the care taken during the processing stages.
Grinding is done with a genuine old Victorian double-helix-cone hand grinder. The two plates are ridged and the roasted bean is gently crushed between them producing a naturally cool grind. The coarseness of the grind is achieved by setting of a grub screw which varies the distance between the two plates. A coarse grind is used for percolators and espressos, a medium one for cafétiers and filters and a fine grind for Turkish. The modern blade type grinder is very quick and efficient but by its cutting action warms the grounds and releases the flavour prematurely.
Stumping takes place between cropping and flowering on trees over 7 feet high or in poor condition. These are either fully or half stumped which entails sawing one or all off the main trunks about a foot from the ground leaving at least one branch with leaves on the remaining stump. This branch is called a mamma and allows the tree to breathe until new suckers appear. Trees are usually stumped every five years and can be stumped several times over a period of some 40 years.
Pruning is generally done around February although any suckers are removed and over foliating pruned throughout the year
Feeding is done after harvesting and we use our own organic compost produced on the farm.
Watering is rarely required except in very dry periods when we give each tree about 2 pints each twice a week.
Pests are not a problem to coffee. The only parasite is the Mediterranean fruit fly which lays its eggs in the flesh of the cherry and has no effect on the bean as this is hulled off after picking.
Notes: Calculation of moisture content. In order to check the moisture content, we put a sample of 1 kilo of beans into a moderate oven for 24 hours until all the moisture is gone and the bean is completely dry. On re-weighing, the sample should now weigh 900 grams i.e. a moisture loss of 10%. The sample is discarded.
The above only applies to our processing at Farm Lodge and does not represent any other growers' methods.