The Peak of Ripeness | Corvallis Coffee Works

The Peak of Ripeness | Corvallis Coffee Works

Maddie Bradshaw

Many avid coffee drinkers love the flavor, but are not sure where their drink comes from. From the peak of ripeness to your cup, there is a certain fermentation process that has to take place in order for coffee beans to taste delicious.  

The fermentation process starts with a plant. To gain more insight about this seemingly unknown process, BD contributor Maddie Bradshaw sat down with Rio Prince, owner of Corvallis Coffee Works here in Corvallis. “Coffee harvesting begins on different times of the year all over the world. They can overlap,” said Prince. “In some places in the tropics you can get two harvests. Brazil is one of those places, so is Columbia. When coffee gets ripe it is a fruit. And it grows in these very tight clusters of 10 or 20 little berries because that is how the flowers bloom, on little clusters on the branch.” Prince described how when these plants bloom they smell like jasmine, because these coffee plants are related to the chameleon flower. When they start to smell like jasmine is when they start to become ripe. Prince explained timing is everything. “They have to be picked in a certain amount of time. When you first start fermentation as you’re beginning the process, you don’t want it to happen. Fermentation is your enemy at this point,” Prince said.

Fermentation can sometimes be a blind process. One of the reasons for this is because the beans have to get transported to a processing station without being fermented. “That means they can’t sit in the sun for two hours or else the process is already going to get started. Because you are picking at the peak of ripeness,” Prince said. This is the most important element in making quality coffee. If the beans are picked too late or too early it can change everything, including the enzymes and the buoyancy of the beans.

Once the beans arrive at the processing station, they become fruit with a very gelatinous, sticky coating. This can become gooey and hard to work with. “You have to get the bean out of there,” Prince explained. Once this is done, the beans are then put through a washing process in which the beans are separated by density.

There are many different methods when it comes to how the beans can be fermented. “Some people will ferment the beans with the skins on and put them through a de-pulper and let them dry in the sun where they become partially fermented before they totally dry out,” says Prince. “Another process is to take all the fruit off and leave the husk on,” Prince said. “Once you ferment to get the fruit off, you have to dry it before you can put it in the bag. Then you have to let it stay in the bag before you can put it on the ship. It has to go on the ship before it reaches the other shore. Then it stays in a warehouse usually unless it’s coming directly to somewhere like my store,” he clarified.

Everything about the fermentation process is biological and chemical. That is why it is hard to be consistent. When asked about this knowledge, he elaborated on how he attended college for 12 years while simultaneously raising two kids with his wife. “You just had to dive into whatever it was,” said Prince, “Life outside of the classroom was way too hectic for me so whatever I was learning I had to dive into it in order to really understand it.” This method shows to be true for Prince.

Much like his schooling, Prince dove into the coffee business. While he was in school for those 12 years he did not work. Once he tried to get back into the workplace, employers did not want to hire him. He found himself with a passion for coffee and sought out a few friends in the business with connections.

Prince then became the owner of Corvallis Coffee Works. He gets the beans delivered straight from the ship to his store. Many of his customers are regulars who will travel to the outskirts of town, halfway to Albany, just to get his coffee. He takes pride in his regulars and treats his customers like family. His goal is to help others, not specifically to make money. “This what I’m doing. I just had to do it my way. And that’s what Coffee Works is.  It is basically figuring out how coffee works.”