Co-fermented or Infused Coffees

Co-fermented or Infused Coffees

In our Spring newsletter, we announced that our latest special release is a co-fermented washed coffee from producer Rodrigo Sánchez Valencia of finca Monteblanco in Huila, Colombia. However, what is a "co-fermented" or "infused" coffee and what makes it special? Given this is our first year offering such a coffee, we thought we would provide a bit of an introduction as well as our perspective on what makes these coffees so unique.

Co-Fermented vs Infused vs Flavoured

As noted in the Perfect Daily Grind's article "Infused vs. co-fermented coffee: Is there a difference?", the above terms can sometimes be used interchangeably to describe a coffee that has interacted with additional elements (such as yeasts, bacteria, fruit, artificial flavours, etc.) to create unique flavour profiles, but this is a point of contention for many.

Rodrigo, for example, prefers the term "co-fermented" as he feels it more accurately describes the natural processes involved, while terms like "infused" can imply artificial additives and flavours.  The process of co-fermentation is described in Ally Coffee's producer insights post "Infused and Co-Fermented Coffees", and involves either adding ingredients (such as fruit or sweeteners like molasses) to the mother culture used in fermentation prior to processing the coffee or by adding the ingredients directly into the fermentation vessel along with the coffee during its fermentation. 

In the case of our latest special release, the coffee was co-fermented with a mother culture that was created using microorganisms like lactobacillus and saccharomyces cerevisiae that were derived from Rodrigo’s Purple Caturra coffee cherries. In addition, a portion of this culture was fed with sugar, molasses, and concentrated melon juice, which both contributes to the flavour profile of the coffee and helps bring the culture’s sugar content to a level that matches the degrees Brix of the coffee. 

Rodrigo Sanchez (L) and Elkin Guzman (R) in the fermentation area of Finca La LomaRodrigo Sanchez (L) and Elkin Guzman (R) in the fermentation area of Rodrigo's Finca La Loma in Huila, Colombia - Photo credit: Ally Open

The Benefits of Co-Fermented Coffees

There are many reasons producers are choosing to experiment with co-fermentation, including:

  • Consistency - With things like climate change impacting various stages of coffee production from the time of flowering to harvesting, the consistency of lots can vary year-to-year. Innovative processes like co-fermentation can provide a way of creating a consistent product each year by providing variables producers can have more control over
  • Increased Value - Processes such as co-fermentation can increase the desirable qualities of coffees, which can result in better scoring coffees and higher returns to producers
  • New flavour profiles - Prior to experimenting with co-fermentation, Rodrigo learned how other industries (like the beer and wine industries) use microorganisms to create new flavour profiles. Like those industries, new processing techniques for coffee have the potential to create completely new experiences that would not be otherwise possible

Despite the many benefits of co-fermentation, there are those in the specialty coffee industry that are hesitant to give these coffees a chance. In the Perfect Daily Grind's article, Vicente Mejia, founder of Clearpath Coffee, notes that some "...argue that it doesn’t meet their standards of authenticity."

However, like with other processes in the past, it is likely only a matter of time before co-fermented coffees are more widely accepted and become more commonplace. It was not long ago that even natural and honey processes were considered less desirable by some in the coffee industry, despite a strong appetite for such coffees in the market.

It is also important to keep in mind that innovative techniques like co-fermentation require incredible skill and knowledge to perform well and consistently. It is not simply a matter of throwing ingredients in a tank with some coffee and hoping for the best. It is a complex process involving living organisms that must be carefully managed in order to create the desired result. Like any complex process that requires considerable skill, it should be recognized and rewarded when it creates value for producers and consumers alike.

If you're still not sure about co-fermented coffees, try it for yourself! :)