He is sufficiently convinced of the feasibility of his project that he and Gaskell are working to organize a Santa Barbara coffee growers association with several other farmers who have planted or committed to planting coffee trees.
It has taken Ruskey several years to acquire the equipment and start developing the expertise to properly process his crop. He uses what is called the wet process: The cherries are harvested by hand and soaked in water for about 24 hours, during which fermentation removes the thin layer of flesh from around the seeds. These are spread out on drying racks for 10 days to three weeks, depending on weather conditions. A thin layer called parchment is ground off the seed, which is then roasted.
As for any pioneer of new crops, Ruskey still has a considerable learning curve ahead of him. A sample of his coffee smelled divine, like most coffee, to this reporter. But Chris Owens, a coffee expert at Intelligentsia's Pasadena cafe, was not impressed by it in a formal cupping last Tuesday. The beans were of variable maturity, and the flavor was largely masked by crude roasting, he said. "I'd like to see it in its green state and taste it at a light roast to get a fair opinion of the coffee."
Such problems are solvable, Ruskey says.
"We're slowly investing in the post-harvest infrastructure," he says. "Half the game's post-harvest, but before we were concentrating more on the actual production side of things."