Sunday, December 12, 2010

March 22nd,2010 – Homemade Coffee

March 22nd,2010 – Homemade Coffee
Over a year living on a farm, I had not thought about roasting my own coffee. Rather, I buy vaccum packed commercial ground coffee, unlike my neighbors. If it is not of your knowledge, I live on a coffee farm, a region of the country which most of the landscape is taken by homogenous coffee plantation.
When I was a child, cow pasture was rare, and there was not diversity in the cultivation. Coffee, coffee, and coffee was all we had. After the drop of coffee prices in the international market, many farmers departed to new cultures. Some is trying fruitculture (mango, orange, atemoya, papaya), greenhouse vegetables, eucaliptus for wood or rubber tree for latex. Those less willing to work the land opted for beef cattle.
My parents own a small farm proper for egg farming, which didn’t require more than a few acres to set up the batteries and some construction to house ration factory and egg warehouse. Coffee plantation was complementary.
The chickens took up most of my parents time, since dawn to dark, seven days a week. Chickens need to be fed and given water since very early. They also stay up with artificial lighting to stimulate egg production. My parents only went to sleep after they turned off the last lamp. They had to work on the whole process, raising a day old chicks until they were discarted, and prepared their food with loud machines, mixing dry corn, oyster shells, and other ingredients I am unawared of. We had to classify eggs by putting through a machine that washed and separated eggs by size or weight. We boxed them, labeled them, and shipped them. It was a lot of work that took the contribuition of the whole family. I remember my younger sister at very young age picking up one egg in each hand to place in the right tray. Working hard and taking care of the family, my mom didn’t have time to roast coffee.
A few days ago, I invited my 8-year old daughter to go to the coffee patch with me. There are a few thousand trees just a few yards from home. I took a basin and collected about 2 pounds of plump bright red coffee cherries. It is relatively easy to do this job, as all the cherries grow along a thin branch. One single pull with the hand, we can get most of them off.
I had no idea how much fresh coffee beans we needed in order to make a pound of roasted coffee. But I chose to take a sample, in case the project didn’t work out well.
During the harvest, the coffee workers wore hats and long sleeves (which always appaled me: heavily dressed as if in winter days but worked under scorching sun). Later, I learned that they need to wear like travelers in the desert to protect from the sun. I have grown accostumed to have all climatized, specially having lived in Florida where the heater went on at night and the air conditioner worked at daytime.
Harvest time had a different feel to me. Our property, always very boring for a child, had dozens of new workers like bees around the hives. The last day of harvest, my father bought beer, soft drinks, and mortadela sandwich for everyone. I remember seeing the workers with cracked dirty hands (and without washing) eating the most loved snack.
Besides the harvest which took only a few weeks, blooming time was a gift from Nature. Coffee only allow us to breath sweet and fresh scent for a couple of days, only early in the morning. The whole tree gets covered with delicate white flowers, even more delicate and perfumed than orange blossom. In nothing, the scent of the flowers resembles the robust and earthy smell of brewing coffee.
Since I was a child, a hand cracked coffee grinder, always attached to a table or a piece of board on the wall was common to see. Even today, most of my neighbors still used them. In my house, our coffee grinder lays rusting on top an abandoned water tank just outside of my kitchen. I don’t remember have ever used it at home.
When I visited my neighbor Egnaldo to check out on his giant wood fired oven and stove, he built in a spot for coffee roasting with a little door that isolate the roaster from the person. That’s because the globe type, hand cranked roaster gets hot and excessively smoky during the process. Most people roast their beans on a wood burning stove which already has a whole to place the pots. But we never had such a stove…
My father told me that he used to roast coffee at home until my mother got sick. I remember only one time seen my father around a roaring fire on an open air, cranking a globe. It was so smoky that didn’t look worthwhile at that time. He told me that it is much sacrifice to roast coffee. He accomplished the task without any joy in it.
Provided with fresh beans, I soaked them in cold water and slipped the skin off with the help of my daughter. It was a play for her. Inside, the beans are actually split, so we get like two half moons in one cherry. They were slippery and sticky. I put them on a sieve and place them in a warm oven to dry a little. I placed it on top of the roof, for a few days, to dry them completely. My father even has an equipment that measures the moisture. No need for that.
My wise neighbor dona Rosa told me that each bean has a thick skin that needs to be taken off by pounding on a mortar. I couldn’t believe that it would take one more step. I tried to skin by using an electric food grinder. The beans came out as whole as they went it. No skin broken.
Talking to my neighbor, she told me that my father has a hand cranked machine to skin coffee beans that is attached to a table just outside of the garage. I had seen it before, but I was not aware of its use. My father helped me to take the skin off. It needs to go through a machine several times and then shaken over a colander.
Dona Rosa had given me a half sack of coffee beans to skin in our machine. It is so much labor with dark skin spread all over that my father asked me to return those beans. I took ours that were already skinned and ready to be roasted. At drying phase (on a cement patch), my father skins a few pounds of coffee to check the moisture, so he can store them in burlap sacks to be kept for months in the warehouse. My father had saved skinned coffee even though he had no intentions of using it.
While dona Rosa doesn’t return our coffee properly roasted, I took a challenge of roasting half pound, if much, of the beans I have collected. I used a stainless steel heavy bottom pot for that purpose. I planned to use cast iron one, but since it had been visited by mice, I went on with my modern cookware.
Coffee beans are oily, like many other seeds. It soon started to release that particular smell of moist raw coffee, and soon, of roasted coffee, a step before burning. When it was smoking seriously, I called my father to check on the doneness. He said “it gotta be like chocolate”. A quick look revealed a rather very very dark chocolate, black. He asked for a colander to air the beans. The pleasant but somewhat overwhelming smell of coffee smoke spread in the house. In a few minutes, I grinded the beans in my modern electric grinder any average American home has to brew some. My father warned me “this is gonna leave us up for long hours tonight”. “You can sweeten mine”.
The coffee had light body, medium color, and bold flavor. My adding brown sugar spoiled the taste. I will try pure tomorrow first thing in the morning.
I learned that fresh coffee yields about one-quarter of roasted one, in volume. I can’t tell in terms of weight.
And a cup of freshly brewed coffee yields a truckload of pleasure and well-being.

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