Anaerobic Fermentation has been a major buzzword in the coffee industry in recent years. Originally a process reserved for extremely high end coffee used in Barista Competitions, you may have seen the label appearing on roaster's retail coffee bags more often. The process and its place in coffee production is contended by industry professionals from origin to the consumer level - all that to ask, are coffees featuring Anaerobic Fermentation any good?
Traditionally, coffee producers are reliant on the natural microbes and yeasts in the environment where the coffee is grown and processed. Much to the excitement (or in some cases, chagrin) of coffee enthusiasts around the world, producers are now borrowing methods from other industries, experimenting with ‘controlled’ methods of fermentation.
All coffee’s ferment naturally to some degree during processing; when producers use the word ‘Anaerobic’ it means they have intentionally fermented the coffee in a zero oxygen environment (usually in stainless steel tanks, in some cases underwater). Fermenting coffees in this way restricts the number of active microbes to those that can survive without oxygen, reducing the diversity of the organic compounds created during fermentation. The theory is that this method results in a coffee with immediately identifiable, unique and highly expressed tasting notes.
There is some contention in the industry about whether coffees making use of controlled methods of fermentation go against the very thing that makes them unique - their terroir. In some cases, extra ingredients (cinnamon sticks, oranges, etc) are added to the tanks to impart flavours on the coffee that naturally would not have been present. The concern being that these ‘novelty coffees’ may begin appearing in specialty coffee, an industry where the natural elements of the coffee’s origin have long been the focus - moving away from tasting the coffee’s terroir or varietal, to being inundated with artificial flavours.
The general consensus on Anaerobic Fermentation and other methods of controlled fermentation at this point in time is that as long as the processing method highlights the natural flavours unique to the coffee, doesn’t impart anything artificial on the end product, AND produces a damn good cup of coffee - it’s all good in the hood.
We’ll leave the science talk to the experts. Below are a number of links to Podcasts, Articles, and Videos that go more in-depth, sharing a number of unique perspectives from those who have experience working with and producing Anaerobic coffees. Go as far down the rabbit hole as you wish, friend.
Coffee with April - Let’s Start a Discussion about Anaerobic Processed Coffee
Great overview about Anaerobic Fermentation, why it’s popular, and some of the issues that present with this unique processing method
Making Coffee with Lucia Solis
Episode #14 - George Howell on Cup of Excellence, Coffee Pricing and Craftsmanship
Episode #18 - Anaerobic Fermentation: Building our Coffee Vocabulary
Lucia makes a number of points about why the industry needs to be more intentional about the verbiage used to discuss and describe coffee processing methods.
Barista Hustle #Cinnamongate
Coffee additives and industry attitudes - We want to taste terroir and origin, not additives.
Cropster Article & Video
Long form discussion featuring roasters & producers around the world.