Project Origin raises reputations

Project Origin is introducing carbonic maceration processing to farms in countries not known for their high scoring-coffees.
Project Origin

When Sasa Sestic first introduced carbonic maceration (CM) to the global coffee community on the 2015 World Barista Championship (WBC) stage, the industry saw the value the new processing method could offer in terms of taste and coffee quality.

CM sees farmers ferment coffee in a controlled setting, allowing them to bring out complex flavours and ensure greater consistency.

What may not have been as apparent to spectators in the WBC arena, and what Sasa’s green bean trader Project Origin is focused on, is how CM can be beneficial to farmers and their communities.

“The idea of Project Origin was to not only be a green bean sourcing company, but also give back to these communities and create partnerships,” Project Origin Media and Marketing Manager Jordan Montgomery says.

“Our CM experiments are creating controlled environments which enable producers to take hold of how their coffee is developed and increase the potential of what they can do with it. They get to create a better product and earn more money from it.”

The organisation has established CM experiments in half-a-dozen farms in producing countries. Recently, Project Origin has been working at one of its farms, Finca El Arbol in Nicaragua, to improve not only the coffee of the farm but also coffee across the country as a whole.

“Not every single farmer who has a good scoring coffee will earn the right kind of money,” Jordan says. “Something that might score 85 from Nicaragua will earn a third of what the same scoring coffee from another country might earn.” 

The CM experiments at Finca El Arbol have focused on Catimor varietals, which Jordan says people tend to dismiss. He adds that the farm’s altitude is 1300 metres, which would usually mean a faster cherry ripening time, and a less complex or unique flavour profile in the coffee.

“So, we’ve got a coffee that is great for disease-resistance and production, but wouldn’t normally be considered to be high scoring,” Jordan says. “With these experiments, some of them are now scoring 91 or 92 points when a year or two earlier it was more 81 or 82.”

“Taking varietals well known for unique and exotic flavours and intensifying them is one thing, but taking more mainstream and easily grown varietals and applying these processes to them is potentially more beneficial to a wider number of producers.”

Perhaps the most notable of these experiments is the work Project Origin has done with ZB Washing Station in Masina Village, Ethiopia. CM coffees produced at this farm were used in the 2018 WBC by sixth-placed John Gordon of New Zealand and winner Agnieszka Rojewska of Poland.

Project Origin General Manager Habib Maarbani says the success of these coffees led to higher prices being paid to ZB.

“The creation of these coffees meant uniforms were purchased for workers who do sorting at the station, and [it] also funded a water well for the community in Masina Village to be constructed in 2019,” he says.

“[It also provided] plenty of exposure for this station and the coffees it is capable of producing, not just the CMs but their standard lots as well.”

Project Origin is now looking to bring this level of success to Kenya, where it has begun CM experiments at the Thagieni washing station in Nyeri. Jordan says Project Origin is impressed by the possibilities Kenyan coffee has to offer.

“Kenya’s kind of what Ethiopia has been in the past, but hasn’t been as prolific. Some really good coffee comes from there but it also has a bit of a reputation for producing inconsistent coffee.” he says.

Jordan says that while producing higher quality coffee is a benefit of the CM experiments, the end goal is to ensure the welfare of the farmers.

“Coffee is going to become a limited resource in the future with climate change,” he says. “The livelihood and lives of these people is being threatened, so we’re enabling them to create better products. Sustaining their livelihoods is of vital importance to us.” 

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