Let's talk coffee (March 2015) - Ecomills

Ecomills, developed by Cenicafé in Colombia are small scale coffee processing mills that use considerably less water and generate much less waste than conventional mills - helping to lower the ecological footprint of producers.


There is a stage in coffee processing called washing. It is used to remove dirt from and sort cherries, ferment them and then to remove mucilage from around the beans. This process is critical to the flavor of the beans. Unfortunately from a resource point of view it requires a lot of water. A typical washed coffee at this stage in the process requires anywhere between 4-20 Litres per kg - depending on the exact process. The water that is used to remove mucilage from the beans, if not disposed of carefully  is harmful to watershed ecosystems causing eutrophication. Ecomills solve the problem of water useage - requiring around 1 L per kg and produce a much smaller and highly concentrated form of waste that can be used as substrate for worms - creating a good quality fertiliser. These mills also have been key to speciality coffee production in certain countries such as Costa Rica. It can never compete on volume but by using micro mills producers have been able to avoid lumping all their coffee together and creating a commodity. Instead the micro-mills have allowed control over the process - producers tweak the flavours of their coffees to serve segments of the specialised market. And as a consequence farmers have been able to capture higher prices which good for the long term viability of coffee production as some of the younger generations see benefits in becoming producers.

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