The Depulper Overhaul.

Early Saturday morning, the Liga Masiva team walked the half-hour to meet our farmer-partners in Jarabacoa. The farmers, as usual, arrived early. Martin was there, and Rómulo, and they stood chatting in the morning fog. Soon, Carlos pulled up on his motorcycle, only the slightest bit wobbly from the giant, rusty, hand-cranked coffee depulper tied to the back. One by one, the other farmers arrived, gently carrying by donkey, hand, or motorcycle these bulky 50-pound machines that were up to 45 years old. As we waited for the last farmer to arrive, the others stood over their machines, chatting about different aspects of them. The mood was excited, and proud. These contraptions so crucial to the farmers’ livelihoods were about to get a complete overhaul.

Why? In analyzing the latest Liga Masiva coffee import, we noticed most of the damaged beans resulted from depulping: removing the fleshy fruit from the coffee bean.  Our farmers do this process on their farms with a despulpadora (see Martin with his below).  If there are issues with the despulpadora, the coffee that goes through it gets damaged.  That one moment negates the care the farmer took in the months and years before harvest, and means those beans can’t be used.

So… how do we fix it?

Collaboratively with the farmers, we decided on a mutual investment.  The farmers bring their depulpers down from the mountain (on a motor, on a mule, etc… no easy trick with an awkward machine that weighs 50 lbs!) We hire a repairman to diagnose each depulper. And together we get the parts repaired or replaced.  Finally, we collaborate on a system for using, cleaning, and maintaining the depulper so it doesn’t damage beans in the future.

The result was… a flurry of collaboration!  Farmers, the repairman, and us shouted out questions and answers:  How do you keep metal from going into the depulper and damaging it? Put magnets near where the coffee goes in!  How to make sure that the guayo (metal casing that removes the pulp) doesn’t degrade? Wash clean each time!  How to check the calibration of the machine? Insert a certain kind of leaf behind the pechera and it should go in easily (but not too easily)!

It’s important for our farmers to use these best practices, but they’re often hard to remember – especially in the midst of a hectic harvest. To make it easier, we’re creating a visual guide of the steps, ensuring our farmer partners have the information they need and that we have fewer damaged beans next year.  That means more money for farmers, better coffee for you… and a more sustainable, direct, and just trade system.

Tastes good.