From the plant to the cup
01.12.2007 26 °C
Coffee beans, unripe
Halfway up the steep cobbled path to La Hesperia from the village of La Esperie on the Santo Domingo highway, a small coffee plantation nestles beneath the graceful shade of some banana trees.
The banana trees produce an extraordinary 'flower' along with the fruit
The enormous leathery banana leaves wave gently above the coffee plants like the swaying ears of adult elephants protecting their young. It´s a good combination.
I had never seen coffee growing before, so I was happy when one of the daily jobs allotted after breakfast was to pick the dark red, ripe berries, bring them up to the hacienda and harvest the fresh beans inside.
Coffee beans ripening
The beans are very pale and wrapped in a thin protective membrane, or 'cascara', like the skin of a peanut once it has been shelled. The beans, in their protective layers, are left for up to a week to dry in the sun. If there´s a lot of rain, this can take longer. We picked some cocoa beans as well, which would be made into chocolate at a later stage.
When the time came to de-husk and roast the coffee beans, it was written up as one of the day´s jobs and I was quick to volunteer. What a delight! A whole morning ahead of me, hand-processing our own coffee!
The job of de-husking was fiddly and delicate. Lola, our cook and wife of Raul, the head worker on the reserve, showed me how to use an antiquated mill, or grinder; the kind of contraption I remember my grandmother using to make marmalade.
It was difficult to get the measure of - if the wings were too tight, I crushed the precious beans prematurely; if they were too loose, it was completely ineffective, allowing the beans through, still in their thin coats. I ended up finishing the job with my hands and would probably have been better off doing it this way from the outset. I blew the husks off as they came away, eventually leaving me with a bowl of fresh, pale coffee beans.
Coffee bean husks
Coffee beans, fresh
Now came the enjoyable part. I poured the beans into a dry pan and 'toasted' them for over an hour on our ancient outdoor gas stove. The aroma was divine and it was a pleasure to watch the beans slowly darkening to a familiar and unmistakeable rich shade of brown.
Every so often, Lolita would come out to check on me, as it would surely have been a shame to have the tiny but valuable crop burnt to ashes. After some seventy minutes, she pronounced the process 'termine' and the coffee 'listo'.