A truth about coffee (part 2): what does it mean to “wash coffee”?

Recently, I was talking about processing methods with a barista friend of mine when he admitted he wasn’t sure what “honey processed” meant. I then remembered all the photos and videos I’ve been stocking in my laptop for more than a year now, thinking I really should do something with them.

Even though I had read a lot about it before, the different methods to process coffee all really made sense when I saw them with my own eyes. And so I reopen my notebooks and photos with the hope this will be useful to somebody.

I’m going to try to write as simply as possible and in the most accurate way I can for those of you who have never heard about this before. I will only write about what I have seen in Costa Rica, people in different coffee growing countries do things differently.

A few months ago, I gave you some basic information about coffee and some stories about how coffee cherries are picked.

Today I’m going to talk about what happens to the beans after being picked. The idea is to explain how to go from the cherries newly picked:

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The coffee picker gathers the cherries he picked in huge bags that he carries to the weighing station. Someone is in charge of measuring the cherries he had picked that day (coffee pickers are paid by the weight) in those big boxes called “cajuela” (which is about 20 litres), here el dueño of the finca La Pira, Carlos Ureña.

To beans drying in the sun:

No more fruit, no more mucilage, just the beans drying in the sun

This is called the washed method. It is the most common way to process coffee cherries and usually the one that gives a cleaner mouthfeel. Maybe you buy your beans at your local roaster. It may be a specialty coffee roaster, I mean someone who knows exactly where the beans come from, which country, which growing region, the name of the mill it’s been processed, the name of the grower, the processing method used, the varietal of coffee, the altitude it grows at, the year it has been harvested and last but not least, the date of roast.

example:

Costa Rica, Santa Maria de Dota.

Finca La Pira (1500m), Carlos Ureña

Washed caturra, picked in January 2013

What does washing coffee mean?

The scene takes place in a “beneficio humedo”, a wet mill in English. This is one of the (many) important steps to not ruin the harvest. Once the coffee is picked, it goes through a few stages before changing from a cherry to a bean. First of all, it needs to be sorted out.

Why?

Because no matter how careful coffee pickers are (or should be), there will always be leaves or little stones or unripe berries that will sneak in but are unwelcome in your cup.

What you don’t want!

How are the cherries sorted out?

Buoyancy is the key. Everything that floats is removed in different stages. If you put the cherries in the water, the denser ones will sink whereas the leaves, wooden sticks and bad cherries will float.

What’s a bad cherry?

The unripe ones, the empty ones (some look perfectly normal, yet they might have just one empty bean inside which will make it float).

Example of things that floats: unripe cherries, small branches

At several stages during the process, the floating cherries are separated from the sinking ones (very often processed and dried for local consumption).

Side note for advanced coffee lovers about the difficulty of growing yellow catuai: as you can see in the photo below it is not easy to see the difference between a “green” unripe yellow cherry and a ripe one.

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From “green” yellow unripe cherries (bottom line) to almost ripe to ripe (furthest ones)

Instead of explaining with words, I thought I might as well share the “drawing” I made to sum things up in my notebook. It’s not detailed and then again I’m not sure that’ll help anyone but me, but you never know. Maybe you can even read French or Spanish, good luck!

On the right hand side, what basically happens in a wet mill

Remember what the inside of a cherry looks like? The most common coffee cherry has two beans inside, covered by a sticky envelope called “mucilage”, covered by the flesh of the fruit, covered by the skin.

Once the cherries are sorted out, the adventure continues. First they travel through a machine called “despulpador” that removes the pulp (the skin and the flesh of the cherry) so that only the mucilage is left around the bean. It is not as painful as it sounds.

Cherries queuing up before going further down through the “despulpador”

What the inside looks like

“What happens with the pulp and the skin then”? I hear you think. And that’s a really good question. Several options. Most farmers use it to fertilize the soil in the cafetal (coffee plantations). Sometimes, it is taken very good care of and carefully dried to make an infusion. It is called Cascara and is quite good.

Once removed from the beans, the fruit is dried and spread around the cafetal to nourish the soil.

Once they are ready, the beans carry on their journey through a sort of big wheel called a “clasificador” that will sort them out one more time. The goal is to remove the broken beans and the ones that are too small.

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A “clasificador”

Once this is done, the beans are guided through the “desmucilaginador” that will remove the mucilage.This sticky envelop plays a crucial role as it is mainly sugars and alcohols so if you leave it on the bean, it will definitely influence the flavors, which is another option but I’ll get back to it. Removing the mucilage is a very delicate step as sometimes, if the machine is not set properly, the knives can damage the beans, which will then go to the defect category.

A “desmucilaginador”

The inside of a “desmucilaginador” in a different wet mill (Afaorca)

Beans coming straight out of the desmucilagilador, ready to  start drying

Fermentation is another more traditional way to get rid of the mucilage. The beans, soaked in water, will ferment, forcing the mucilage to separate. It takes from a few hours to a few days depending on the thickness of the mucilage and the concentration of enzymes. Again, this is a delicate process as you don’t want the beans to get a nasty flavour from over-fermenting.

Remember things are different from a country to another (region to another, mill to another). In Kenya for example, the whole fermenting process happens twice and the beans are soaked one more time for an extra complexed acidity.

Once washed, the beans are finally ready to be transported from the beneficio to the drying area. You may have seen coffee drying on the floor before, either in private properties or professional mills. It works, but not optimal for best results as people walk around or even on the beans, so do dogs or chicken, and dust. To prevent that, drying beds (also called African beds as they were first used in Africa) are commonly used in the best micromills. It also helps for a more even drying process as the wind can circulate from underneath as well.

The beans need a few days (depending on the weather) to dry. We want them to contain between 9 and 11% humidity. Even if they are on beds, the mill workers need to move it every hour or so because obviously, when the sun is shining as hard as it does in the tropics, the upper layers dry faster than the bottom one. I filmed myself doing it one day, it feels nice at the beginning (even relaxing, like those tiny trays of sand that you’re supposed to move with a little rake) but it gets repetitive and hot. Yet it has to be done every day for hours…As you can see, I am no expert:

And then, when the beans are ready, it feels quite different. I’m also amazed at how coffee growers can tell if the beans are ready to be removed or not as this is such an inherent knowledge. There are also machines to double check.

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Drying beds at La Pira

Sometimes, particularly in cooperatives where mills are much bigger than this one, the beans are dried in some sort of big drying machine called a “guardiola”. Most farmers would use it as a last drying option when there is no room on beds so they need to accelerate the drying process. However, as they explained to me several times, this would affect the coffee flavours and mouthfeel, since it would be like quickly cooking meat in a microwave versus slowly cooking it on a grill.

So there, it is far from being the whole story, but I’ll get back to it, hopefully before next year!

PS: A big thank you to Carlos Ureña and his family for being so patient with my bad Spanish, answering all my questions, teaching me so much, sharing his passion, allowing me to give a not very agile hand and taking pictures of his beautiful Finca and Beneficio.

Random coffee stories from Peru and Bolivia

“- Un café, por favor

– Aqui no hay café, lo siento

– Pero el menu dice “café”

– Ah si, pero solamente en la mañana para el desayuno”

It was in the afternoon, at the market in Huaraz, Peru, where I learnt that coffee is mostly served for breakfast. This is how it works while travelling, learning by doing. Don’t get me wrong, Peruvians drink and love coffee, they all told me so. But my impression is that coca leaf tea is way more popular, and available. They drink it as a “mate” (infusion with cane sugar) all day long, or chew it. Not only the coca leaves give you energy but they also help with altitude.

(By the way, I mostly travelled from the north to the south of the Andes, so I can only speak for what I’ve experienced there. The country is huge though, and I’m sure things are different by the sea or in the jungle near the Amazon river).

Quick history fact: coca leaves have been chewed for centuries in the area (as far as Inca time). When the Spanish arrived, they forbid it, convinced that was something evil. But when grounded from their precious energizer, mine workers happened to not be as efficient. That’s why chewing coca got authorized again. I’m not going into details here, but the coca leaves belong to the core of the Peruvian/Bolivian cultures. They are in every aspects of the cultures, from the daily life to the offers to gods.

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Here’s one myth behind the origin of the leaf, found at the coca museum in Cusco.

Let me introduce you to my new coffee toy: la cafetera! This one comes from Cusco in Peru, but can be found in other countries in South America. It looks a bit like an Italian coffee maker, but doesn’t work the same way. This is a  drip coffee maker: the water is poured from the top, going through the coffee grounds, ending up in the lower part.

cafetera

Beautiful, isn’t it?

With that pot, most places prepare some kind of “coffee extract” (as they call it), mostly made to be mixed with hot milk (which is most of the time evaporated milk) or hot water, and sugar (recommended). This is called a “café pasado”.

Café con leche… or… leche con café!

In major cities, it is quite easy to find a restaurant or a café with an espresso machine. But anywhere else, this is how you will be served coffee. Bon voyage!

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This is a “leche con café”: a glass of hot milk, a jar of coffee extract so you can add as little/much coffee as you want, sugar and…mate de coca! In Huaraz, Peru.

 

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Same, at another café in Huaraz, Peru.

 

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Two coffees with milk, in Piura, Peru.

 

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A coffee with milk and the best unexpected cup of black coffee I had in a market, a well-roasted Peruvian coffee from Sandia.

 

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An old-school Bunn coffee maker in a café in La Paz, Bolivia.

 

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Hornimans tea…that kind of tea!

 

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There was a good laugh involved when we first were given “mini kraps” to eat in the bus…

 

And last but not least! Remember I told you about café Arabica in Lima? Well, there was another good surprise. After 30 hours in busses from La Paz to Lima, I finally made it to Lima airport. I had 9 hours to wait for my flight, and there was no wifi available, so the obvious solution was…to borrow Starbucks’. I went there, and fortunately, it was full. I decided to explore a bit further and there it was, the perfect cosy little café that you don’t expect to find in airports. I walk closer and guess what I see?

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“Come Audrey, come try us”

And the cherry on the cake, they have wifi! The coffee was very good, the barista and the waiters extremely nice. I had a yummy brownie and the my neighbours’ food look and smelled delicious. We talked about coffee for a while and I happily boarded the plane hours later with a sample of Peruvian coffee to brew at home, how nice! The place is called Pikeos and opened at the end of may. I warmly recommend it if you ever hang out at Lima airport.

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Beautifully roasted Peruvian coffee (unfortunately I cant’ remember where it’s from, if you’ve been to Peru you can probably understand why)

A break from instant coffee in Lima, Peru.

It was one of those greyish day when you can’t really tell if it’s 6 in the morning or in the afternoon. I had arrived in Lima early in the morning after a night spent in the bus from Huaraz. My friend Matthew and  I were walking in the streets of Miraflores, looking for a hotel room to spend the only night we had there before getting back to the Andes, this time around Cuzco. After a couple of unsuccessful attempts, we passed by a very red window where I had a glimpse of a familiar red machine with a silvery inscription on it:

I turned towards Matt and let him know, smiling: “we’re having coffee here”, following the logic that if a coffee shop owner invests in such a good (and expensive) espresso machine, he has to know what he’s doing. Matt didn’t question the glint of hope and enthusiasm in my eyes as we went in. We were straight away welcomed by two young ladies grinning happily from ear to ear.

I looked around and saw a bunch of other familiar toys and knew it was safe to ask questions about the different varietals of coffees and kinds of roasts they may be brewing.

Apparently happy that I asked, Ariana (the main barista that day) started talking about the coffee she was offering, a blend of red and yellow caturra, catimor and Typica from Satipo (in the center of Peru). Presenting us two samples of beans on the counter, she explained about the two different roasts she uses, a light to medium for the pourovers and a slightly darker one for the espresso, to lower the acidity and give more body to it. Delighted to meet such a passionate and knowledgeable barista, I ordered my favorite, a chemex, and Matt the usual cappuccino.

 We sat down in the café area and enjoyed the best coffee that I’ve had in South America so far. My chemex was as tasteful as Ariana had announced it would be and Matt (being a spoiled Australian cappuccino drinker) was delighted to have a taste of home.

The cosy café area (with books and board games) and the bar on the background

The menu, on the cover is the outside façade of the café.

Part of the coffee menu, either espresso-based drinks or alternative methods

Detail on the wall

Arabica serves coffee roasted by Biasetti, a roastery and café in a nearby neighbourhood where Ariana also roasts coffee (http://www.cafebisetti.com). The owner of the 2 places is the grandchild of an Italian coffee roaster. After spending some time in New York City, he decided to start a café in his own country where he couldn’t find the same quality. He sources the coffee directly from Peruvian coffee growers and all the informations are available to the customers.

We went there for a visit later that same day. It is a bigger café where people hang out with friends and/or laptops, it could just be in any capital city for that matter. Not as cosy in my opinion, but the coffee was excellent as well.

Biasetti café and roastery, Barranco, Lima.

La Marzocco and other brewing methods

La Marzocco and other brewing methods

Poster on a wall. Learning process.

Our coffee comes from families growing coffee from every areas of the country, in an organic way and respecting the ecosystem.
Once harvested and processed, this coffee is roasted by roast masters at Biasetti, District of Barranco, Lima.

A not too bad alternative is “café verde” in Miraflores, good coffee but not as dedicated folk.

Thanks Ariana and Anne for great coffee experiences. Make sure you visit them when in Lima, I mean, if you want a break from instant coffee.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Arabica-Espresso-Bar/30918627551?fref=ts

Viva Café

Viva café is a brand new café in barrio La California in San José and it will blow your mind in many ways.

“We’re brewing your cup of good energy”

Viva la vida!

It is a tiny cosy café, very nicely designed, where you will want to hang out for hours. The sweet Leda runs the place and makes you feel welcome straight away, together with talented barista Adrian.

Leda’s family has been working with coffee for a long time. If she has decided to open her own coffee shop today, it is to keep on with the family tradition, but also to have a direct contact with the customers. The idea is to offer the people of San José a different feel for coffee in a different café.  And it works.

Adrian wanted to be a barista in Viva café to share with people his excitement for new brewing methods (here brewing a chemex) and serve customers the best coffees available in the country.

Choosing the coffee to offer to customers is not an easy task and is a team work. First, Leda tastes many different coffees to select the few ones she loves. Then, she works tightly with her father, who also is the roaster, to find the appropriate roast profiles for each coffee. Once she has made up her mind, she is free to go directly to the farms with her dad and her barista Adrian to visit the cafetales (coffee plantations) and the micro beneficios (micromills). A journey from the seed to the cup, the dream of any roaster/barista.

“People are used to drinking washed coffee. We want to offer them the chance to taste a honey-processed or a natural coffee so they can discover something new”

In her café, Leda wants to emphasise on educating customers about the different ways of processing coffee and give them the chance to taste different types of washed, honey-processed and natural coffees. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, go ask her!

A delicious honey-processed coffee from Finca La Plaza, Tarazzu, 1900m, processed at the Santa Rosa 1900 micromill.

Your hungry stomach will be happy to have lunch or dessert, but what I very warmly recommend is the coffee. I have not been to any other café where the coffee tastes so great, and that is why this is already a popular café. Leda chooses the coffee she wants to serve in her café, it is then roasted with skills by her dad. You can enjoy it as any espresso-based drinks or brewed with a French Press or a chemex. What more would you want?

Lovely espresso

Best cappuccinos I have had in Costa Rica so far

Adresse: Barrio la California, 24-2300, San José, Costa Rica.

http://goo.gl/maps/B5rOr

Internet: yes

When: Monday-Friday, 10am-7pm (opening soon on saturdays as well)

Viva Café’s menu

Café Mundo

The entrance yard

A couple in their 30s having lunch, 3 tourists from southern Europe, probably the parents and their son, 2 men in what looked like a business meeting/lunch. It was a quiet afternoon at café Mundo.

Café Mundo is a fairly well-known fancy café/restaurant in San José. Fancy because located in barrio Otoya, a district close to the city centre but quiet, where you can still admire old colonial houses while walking around. One of them was turned into a café some 15 years ago.

Ideally located in the corner of avenida 9 and calle 15, the main reason why you should visit café Mundo is its location. Not only it is in a big beautiful house built in 1910, but there are many seats outside on the front terrace, or even more quiet, back terrace. This is actually a well kept secret in San José since it isn’t very common to find places to sit outside.

There is also a lounge bar in the basement if you want more privacy.

Adresse : Av 9 C15 200m al este del parqueo des INS, 10000 San José, Costa Rica

http://goo.gl/maps/gWa0j

When
Monday-Thrusday: 11am – 10.30pm
Friday: 11am – 12am
Saturday: 5pm – 12am

Terrace : yes

Internet : yes

El café frío

Menu selection:

Plato del dia ₡4000

Pizza ₡5500-7900

Refresco natural ₡950

Copa de vino ₡3000

Café ₡900

Capuccino ₡1200

Irish coffee ₡4200

Manhattan ₡3600

Imperial ₡1450

In the front, a large terrace, shaded to protect you from the sun and the rain. Unfortunately the wifi hardly works over there.

Possibility to spy on people passing by in the street if that’s what you fancy

Beautiful tiles on the terrace

Inside the house

What is a coffee event like in Costa Rica : la feria del café de Frailes

Better late than never, I want to write a few words about the feria del café that took place in Frailes on the 18th to 20th of January 2013. Maybe you’ve read a previous post about coffee pickers (https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2013/02/14/the-art-of-being-picky/), then you may remember the videos of dancers performing there.

For the record, here is the setting :

Well ok, this is not super accurate, but you get the idea

On the way to Frailes, the mountains are covered with coffee

What’s a feria? According to the organisation :

“It is a fair attended by coffee pickers, people working in fincas, craftsmen, retailers, neighbouring inhabitants, small and big companies devoted to produce and commercialise coffee. We share with our visitors cuppings, tastings, coffee-based recipes and a bunch of typical meals, as well as live music, folkloric dances, a “coffee picking competition”, the election of “the coffee queen” and religious ceremonies to honour the “Virgin del Perpetuo Socorro”. Our feria responds to a need for micro-companies of the area to develop socio-economically ways to salvage the identity of Costa Rican coffee, to promote the coffee from the area as one of the best in the world, to offer a privileged moment to families in a very pleasant, familial and cultural environment.”

So, concretely, what does that mean?At the fair, you could see a lot of different things, always somehow related to coffee.

Cafetal-style :

Coffee trees surrounding a traditional carreta that was used in the cafetal to store the cherries freshly picked before they were brought to a mill or a recibidor

Things you might need to take care of your cafetal

Art and craft like jewelry or chorreadors (traditional Costa Rican coffee maker) and such

Wood sculpture made by saw

Entertainment and fun activities like the coffee picking competition which was really cool (I came 8th! but I won’t say out of how many…)

En route for the coffee picking competition in a traditional carreta s’il vous plait!

The 3 winners and their beautiful trophies (I want one next year). To win, you needed to pick as much RIPE cherries as you can in 10 minutes, without green cherries, leaves or dirt.

You may wonder why are those people carrying umbrellas when it doesn’t rain? Well, when the sun shines, it is really strong here…

Group of dancers from Panama (ans if you don’t remember why, go read about the coffee pickers)

Colourful dresses, dancers from Panama as well

Musicians playing some cumbia!

Children were not forgotten, a storyteller was here to entertain them too

As you see, there was a lot of fun and interesting things going on, particularly for a “visitor” like me. But what I found particularly interesting, is the emphasis put on education by the Asociacion de cafés finos. The idea was to show people the whole “coffee tale” from seed to cup by short but spot on workshops.

1/ What does coffee cherries look like when they are unripe/ripe? What are the different ways of processing coffee and drying it? Exellent workshops by Mario. And contrary to my prejudices, many people in Costa Rica have never seen a coffee tree!

Look, smell, touch, learn!

2/ Next step, roasting! Mario then live-roasted coffee beans with a 1kg Probat roaster, explaining to curious visitors what happens during the roast and how much time and temperature matter.

Again, look, smell, touch, learn!

3/ Cuppings (coffee tastings) were organised but not just like any cupping. Before the feria, coffee growers sent samples of their coffees to the association. There, they would be tasted and scored. Specialists like Mario are called “Q graders” (Q standing for quality). They evaluate the coffee in every aspects of it : fragrance, flavours, aftertaste, acidity, body, balance, uniformity, cleanliness and sweetness. Considering all of those, they score the coffee. If the total score is above 80 points, the coffee has made it to the “specialty coffee” very private club. Each producer receive a sheet that describes precisely the sample they presented.

Coffee growers were invited to come and cup the coffee samples they sent to the association. Some of them tasted their coffee for the first time and were really proud to receive the rewarding feedback.

There is a long way from the seed to the cup

4/ Brewing! Paula from Café Sikëwa (https://www.facebook.com/Sikewa) and I were brewing coffee to present alternative ways of making coffee. People were super interested and asked us loads of questions about the whys and hows one coffee can taste so different when brewed in a chemex, clever drip, aeropress or french press.

There was also a espresso based drink corner were Mario and José from the association (http://www.scacr.com/) were interviewed to talk about coffee on tv!

What a great team!

All in all, three fantastic days gathering people from the whole area, proud to present what makes most of the economy of the region, delicious coffees exported all around the world. Not only coffee professionals, but just anyone happy and enthusiastic about learning more about a product that people may start consuming even before they can walk here. Because that is what the most popular beverage in the world is about, sharing!

C’est quoi une compétition de barista?

Si nos chemins se sont déjà croisés, je vous ai probablement saoulé parlé pendant de bien trop longues heures des évènements qui ponctuent l’année d’un barista ou autre professionnel du café. Il y en a des tas, a plus ou moins grande échelle, dont la caractéristique commune est certainement le manque de médiatisation. Si vous avez regardé les infos entre le 26 et le 30 janvier, vous avez sûrement entendu parler du Sirha (le « rendez-vous mondial restauration et hôtellerie » à Lyon), peut-être aperçu quelques toques blanches, quelques assiettes des plus appétissantes ou quelques verres à pied remplis de rouge ou de blanc. Quand est-il du petit noir ? Il était bien là, niché dans l’espace café show qui lui était dédié et avec lui tous ses adorateurs.

« Mais de quoi elle parle ? C’est quoi ces évènements ? »

Alors, concrètement, il s’agit d’un salon, avec plein de stands liés de près ou de loin au monde du café, allant des diverses marques de machines à espresso au stand du pays invité d’honneur (en l’occurrence le Guatemala cette année), en passant par le chocolat, les sirops. Bref, un lieu où l’on peut goûter, apprendre et poser plein de questions. Et puis il y a une scène, avec des projecteurs, et sous les projecteurs, un show, comme ça :

Sur cette photo, admirez Luca (votre barista champion de France 2013, soit dit en passant), en pleine présentation. Le but du jeu : chaque barista a 15 minutes pour présenter son café au jury et au public, et montrer qu’il le connait par cœur. Si Luca a gagné cette année, c’est parce qu’il a su partager ses connaissances, son enthousiasme et sa compréhension globale de tout ce qui arrive au café du moment où il pousse au moment où il est servi. Il a su décliner son café délicieux en 4 espressos, 4 cappuccinos et 4 boissons signatures où il a laissé libre court à son talent (il y a tout de même un règlement d’une trentaine de pages pour régir le tout).

Ces boissons, Luca les sert aux 4 juges sensoriels (que l’on voit debout en face de lui) qui vont évaluer leur aspect visuel et sensoriel, ainsi que son professionnalisme et sa présentation globale. De l’autre côté de la table se trouvent deux juges techniques qui vont épier les moindre faits et gestes de Luca afin d’évaluer sa façon de travailler, sa constance. Un dernier juge, et non des moindres, va coordonner toute l’équipe, c’est le juge principal. Il va faire en sorte que le protocole soit bien suivi par tous les juges. Il préside la délibération et contrôle l’objectivité des notes accordées (il goûte et évalue toutes les boissons) et que les feuilles d’évaluation sont correctement remplies avec suffisamment de commentaires clairs pour que chaque note soit justifiée.

Mais ce n’est pas tout, pendant quatre jours, il y a d’autres compétitions : celle des goûteurs de café, des latte-artistes (les dessins sur espresso avec la mousse de lait) et des mi-baristas mi-barmen qui mixent café et alcool. Le tout est organisé par la Specialty Coffee Association of Europe, plein d’infos là http://scae.com/ ou là en français http://www.scaefrance.org/.

Les résultats en images :

Changement de décor, on traverse l’Atlantique pour l’Amérique Centrale, et plus précisément le Costa Rica. Ici la compétition a eu lieu sur deux jours. Le samedi 9 février, se sont affrontés des candidats amateurs. Afin d’encourager les baristas costariciens qui ne se sentent pas forcément prêts pour la compétition nationale. L’idée d’organiser une compétition spéciale « amateurs » a été lancée l’année dernière. Encore faut-il savoir qu’il s’agit d’amateurs, car les règles et les critères d’évaluation restent les même. Cela permet donc à quiconque de se lancer et d’avoir une première expérience comme compétiteur, comme par exemple Andrès, chirurgien et barista entre deux opérations!

Le dimanche, ce fut le tour des 8 baristas professionnels de s’affronter. Voilà un résumé diffusé dans leur télé-matin :

En Europe comme en Amérique Centrale, les règles sont les mêmes, les feuilles d’évaluation aussi, la façon de juger aussi. Les différences, on ne les trouve pas sur le fond, mais bien sur la forme. La plus grande différence, c’est le choix du lieu. En France, un salon mondial de la gastronomie, au Costa Rica, un centre commercial récent ultra moderne. On passe d’un espace privé remplit de professionnels de la restauration ou d’un public intéressé ayant payé un droit d’entrée, à un public lambda venu passer quelques heures dans un temple de la surconsommation.

L’ambiance s’en ressent forcément. En France, on attend patiemment entre chaque présentation  que le jury soit prêt pour le compétiteur suivant, le maître de cérémonie comblant l’attente tant bien que mal. Au Costa Rica, on se croirait un peu dans un jeu télévisé. Entre deux compétiteurs, les deux maîtres de cérémonie posent des questions au public pour leur faire gagner des petites choses. Par exemple, « quels étaient les ingrédients utilisés pour la boisson signature du dernier compétiteur ? », « Comment s’appelle le café où il travaille? ». Le spectateur ayant la bonne réponse repart avec une tasse ou un paquet de café. Car autour de la scène sont érigés plusieurs stands, des associations promouvant le café spécialisé, aux marques de café nationales, à la banque nationale, aux chaînes de cafés telles que Spoon ou même…Mc café !

Juste après l’annonce des résultats, la nouvelle championne du Costa Rica, Auxiliadora Bonilla, qui va retrouver Luca pour les championnats du monde qui ont lieu en Australie cette année.

Cette année, j’ai eu la chance d’assister aux deux compétitions en tant que juge sensorielle. Ce fut deux expériences uniques et passionnantes par de nombreux aspects et la première fois que je jugeais dans une langue que je comprends à peu près mais maîtrise très peu. Ça a éveillé de nouveaux questionnements, surtout après la compétition française où des débats ont eu lieu suite au choix de certains compétiteurs d’utiliser l’anglais comme langue médiane.

Une fois de plus, le monde du café m’interpelle et montre à quel point café et culture sont intrinsèquement liés. Bien qu’en 2006, la compétition de barista française ait eu lieu au café Illy dans une serre de chez Truffaut en banlieue parisienne, ma première pensée (sûrement un préjugé envers ma propre culture) fut que l’élitisme bien français n’accorderait que peu de considération à une discipline si elle apparaît accessible à tous. Être barista est pourtant l’un des métiers les plus démocratiques puisque n’importe qui peut potentiellement devenir barista, pas besoin de payer une fortune pour une grande école, ni de passer 7 ans à la fac (hm hm). Alors, pour donner des lettres de noblesse au monde du café spécialisé, on l’enferme dans un espace privé de spécialistes ? Et si on organisait la compétition gare de Lyon ou aux Halles l’année prochaine ?

Le temps des cerises

Il y a quelque temps, je vous montrais à quoi ressemble le café avant qu’il lui arrive plein de choses pour qu’on puisse le consommer (piqûre de rappel au cas ou : https://audreyslangscape.wordpress.com/2012/12/26/la-verite-sur-le-cafe-version-novices-1ere-partie/).

Maintenant j’ai envie de parler de la récolte. C’est un des moments forts de l’année au Costa Rica, et celui pour lequel je voulais absolument passer du temps dans un pays producteur. Quand on reçoit le café en Europe ou ailleurs, dans le meilleur des cas on a des informations sur la région d’où provient le café, ou encore mieux sur la ferme, le producteur, la variété de café et la façon dont il a été transformé. Qu’en est-il de la récolte? Sans faire un recensement exhaustif des récolteurs du pays, j’avais envie de mettre des images derrière une tradition en perte de souffle.

Quand j’explique avec mes trois mots d’espagnol que je suis venue au Costa Rica pour apprendre plein de choses sur le café, presque tout le monde me raconte un souvenir d’enfance dans les cafetales (là où pousse le café). Je dis “presque” tout le monde, parce qu’il semblerait tout de même qu’il faille soit avoir la quarantaine bien tassée, soit avoir un membre de sa famille possédant une ferme.

En fait la récolte a toujours été une affaire de famille. Elle a lieu de décembre à février, ce qui correspond à la saison sèche (le reste de l’année étant la saison humide) et aux grandes vacances pour les écoliers, et ce dans le but d’avoir plus de main d’œuvre pour la récolte. Avant, toute la famille partait dans les plantations, parfois même dans plusieurs fermes, afin d’aider à la récolte. Même s’il y a toujours un fort aspect émotionnel lorsqu’on me compte ces souvenirs d’antan, il y a également un aspect “corvée” bien présent. Et oui, tout comme les vendanges, ce n’est pas une partie de plaisir, être en plein soleil toute la journée, piqué par les moustiques. Est-ce la raison pour laquelle plus personne ou presque ne veut participer aux récoltes?

Dans la région de Tarrazu, à juste titre célèbre pour la finesse des saveurs du café qui y pousse, avait lieu il a quelques semaines la Feria del café. Sous ses airs de fête populaire, tout un tas d’évènements ayant pour but la découverte du monde du café (car oui, c’est pas parce qu’on est dans un pays producteur qu’on est incollable sur le sujet, est-ce que tous les Français, Italiens ou autres Chiliens savent comment le vin est produit?), du producteur au consommateur. Mais ce qui a retenu mon attention, ce sont les séries de danses plus ou moins traditionnelles qui se sont déroulées chaque jour.

Prenons par exemple ce premier groupe de danseurs (désolée par avance pour la qualité médiocre de la vidéo) :

Nous avons là quelques enfants, habillés en paysans traditionnels (comme sur la photo ci-dessus). Ils ont tout l’attirail du parfait ramasseur de café, le chapeau, le panier et sa ceinture, les sacs de jute, les pelles pour planter les caféiers, tout sauf…des cerises de café! La chanson (que, par ailleurs, peu de gens connaissent, même si elle passait en boucle pendant la féria), vante le bon temps de la récolte. Même s’ils sont plutôt mignons habillés en costume traditionnel, on voit tout de suite à l’imprécision de leur geste qu’ils n’ont pas dû passer beaucoup de temps dans les cafetales justement.

Deuxième vidéo et ce n’est guère beaucoup mieux, la récolte semble être un moment clairement idéalisé pendant lequel on chatouille les arbres et où les garçons font tourner les filles.

Même chanson que dans la première vidéo, autre groupe de danseurs un peu plus âgés. Voilà ce que raconte le refrain :

“Les producteurs sont contents,

la récolte est très bonne,

comme c’est sympa de ramasser le café,

d’être dans les plantations,

parmi les papillons,

il y a 200 ans, le Costa Rica voyait naitre cette tradition de joie et d’émotion”

Je n’ai jamais entendu cette chanson pendant la récolte en tout cas…

Alors que faire? Le café pousse en abondance, mais il y a depuis longtemps trop peu de candidats pour le ramasser. Comme souvent, la seule solution est d’ouvrir les frontières à ceux qui veulent travailler. C’est alors que depuis les années 80, de nombreux Nicaraguayens et Panaméens sont arrivés au Costa Rica par le nord et par le sud, de façon permanente ou de façon saisonnière pour travailler dans les plantations de café ou de cane à sucre. Et voilà que la récolte du café redevient une affaire de famille, puisque c’est souvent en famille que l’immigration s’effectue. On reconnait les femmes du Panama grâce à leurs robes colorées, comme ces deux petites filles :

Alors pourquoi un tel manque de main d’œuvre? Pendant longtemps, c’est parce qu’il y avait bien trop de café à ramasser par rapport au nombre d’habitants. Mais la population Costaricienne s’est accrue très rapidement et maintenant, les conditions de travail difficiles, l’exode “urbain” et probablement l’aspiration à une vie plus moderne n’attire plus grand monde dans les cafetales.

Et il faut dire que si l’on veut bien faire les choses, ce n’est pas chose aisée de ramasser le café. Le problème c’est que, comme on peut le constater sur la photo, les cerises ne mûrissent généralement pas toutes en même temps, ce qui rend le ramassage mécanique quasiment impossible (encore une fois, si on veut faire les choses bien).

Là où ça se complique, c’est que même lorsque l’on ramasse une cerise bien rouge, il arrive souvent que l’envers soit jaune ou vert, donc pas mûr. Il faut donc redoubler d’attention, ce qui n’est pas évident ni très motivant lorsque l’on est payé au poids et non à l’heure. Par contre, il faut bien préciser qu’une telle attention n’est pas portée par tous les producteurs. Je parle ici de fermes relativement petites et visant une qualité de café supérieure à celle de la grande distribution.

Et une fois ramassé, qu’est-ce qu’on fait du café? Si le producteur possède son propre beneficio, la quantité de cerises ramassées est comptabilisée à différents moments de la journée, par exemple en fin de matinée et en fin d’après-midi. Pour cela, comme on voit sur la photo ci-dessous, on les met dans une grande boîte en fer appelée cajuela qui est de taille standard. Comme on mesure les plantations en manzana, la quantité de cerises ramassées possède sa propre unité de mesure, la cajuela, qui est équivalente à 20 litres.

Sur cette photo on voit Don Carlos Ureña, propriétaire passionné de la finca La Pira, qui est l’un des producteurs les plus imaginatif et inspirant que j’aie rencontré jusqu’à maintenant. Il est très attentif à la façon dont les quelques personnes qui travaillent avec lui traitent le café. Pour chaque personne, il écrit la quantité de cerises ramassées en cajuela :

Pour les fermes qui n’ont pas de beneficio, le café est emmené dans un recibidor (les petites maisons en bois le long des routes) où des camions circulent le soir afin de collecter le café déposé dans la journée. Dans le temps, des sortes de calèches en bois très colorées étaient utilisés, comme celle ci-dessous. Désormais on ne les trouve que dans les musées.

Oui, c’est moi, en route pour participer au concours de ramassage de café de la feria de Frailes. Et non, j’ai pas gagné 🙂

L’altitude, les variétés, la composition de la terre, la grande différence de température entre le jour et la nuit, l’ombre, sont autant de facteurs contribuant à la production d’un café de qualité. On oublie parfois que le ramassage est une étape essentielle car c’est une des premières étapes de sélection, on ramasse les meilleurs cerises bien mûres pour faire le meilleur café possible. Même si ça à l’air d’un détail, j’espère avoir montré que c’est un détail qui a toute son importance. Dans un monde idéal, on pourrait imaginer plus de solutions pour aider les producteurs à être encore plus pointilleux, en créant des liens plus étroit entre toutes les personnes impliquées dans la longue chaine de production du café par exemple, en donnant plus de moyens au producteurs. Si ça vous intéresse, je vous conseille d’aller faire un tour sur le site de Tim Wendelboe, torréfacteur (entre autres) norvégien, qui a mené un projet super intéressant en Colombie.

The art of being picky

Everytime I mention coffee picking in Costa Rica, it brings smiles on people’s faces. Almost everybody has childhood memories of their summer holidays spent in the cafetales (coffee plantations). I say “almost” because it seems you need to either have a relative who is a coffee farmer or be more than forty years old.

Conveniently enough, the harvest happens in the summer, summer meaning dry season, since there are actually only two seasons here, one dry (short) and one wet (most of the year). Schools close from mid-December to mid-February, originally so that kids could help out in the fincas (coffee farm).  During the cosecha (harvest), life stops and everybody is out in the cafetal picking coffee, although most of those who actually picked coffee as a child also tells me how much they hated it. They remember being in the sun all day, bitten by mosquitoes. So why are people being so emotional about it? Because it doesn’t exist anymore. I mean, I am pretty sure some kids still help out in the family finca, but it is not as common as it used to be, and there has been a shortage of coffee pickers for many years.

A few weekends ago, I attended the Feria del café in the beautiful little town of Frailes in the well-known coffee region of Tarrazu. It was a very interesting event where a lot of important coffee culture-related things happened. For example, groups of dancers from different areas of the country came to dance. There was first this group of children dressed as traditional campesinos, a person who works in the fields, and particularly in the cafetal. The setting is perfect, all the accessories are here: large hat, canasta, belt to hold it, jute bags, showels, baby coffee tree, even a wheel of a traditional carreta which was used to bring the coffee from the plantation to the beneficio (wetmill) before trucks were used. Everything but…actual real coffee cherries! The song tells about the happy time of the harvest, how nice it is to work in the cafetal together with the butterflies. No matter how cute they look, their body language (and the gesture of their hands) reveals their lack of experience as coffee pickers. (and sorry about the terrible quality and my absence of filming skills)

The second video features older kids dancing on another kind of song romanticizing even more the life of a coffee picker whose job it is to tickle the tree and dance and carry girls around.

The last video shows another group of dancers dancing on the same song than the first video, here is what the chorus says:

“The farmers are happy,

the harvest is very good,

how nice it is to pick coffee,

to be in the coffee plantation,

among the butterflies,

200 years ago Costa Rica was the place of birth of a tradition of hapiness and emotion”

So what to do? Coffee grows everywhere, but there is a lack of people willing to pick it. The obvious solution is to open the borders. Since the 80s, People from Nicaragua and Panama has come to Costa Rica to work as coffee pickers or in cane sugar plantations. And now coffee picking has begun to be a family thing again. Many Nicaraguans I met came along with their families to either spend the summer picking coffee or have been living in the country for years. The distances are not very long between Nicaragua and Panama, but Panamanian people are mostly to be found in the southern part of the country when Nicaraguans are in the center and northern part. The Panamanians also come to work with their families. They are easily recognizable by the colorful dresses of the women like those two girls at the feria:

So, what is so difficult with picking coffee? Why are (or should be) growers so picky about it? Well, first of all, just like you need ripe sweet fruits to make a good jam, you need ripe red cherries to make the best coffee, those with the highest sugar content. The thing is, on one coffee tree, on one branch, not all the cherries will ripen at the same time, which basically make mechanical harvest impossible for high quality coffee. Therefore it needs to be hand-picked.

Here you can clearly see the differences: unripe cherries together with perfectly ripe ones.

A coffee picker needs to be really careful not to pick apparently ripe cherries, but they are tricky little things. You see it red on one side, you pick it, turn it around, and it’s all yellow on the other side, which is not ok. Also, you are not supposed to pick the stalk of the cherry. A coffee picker should be careful yet he has to go fast since most of the times, they are paid by the weight of cherries picked, not by the hour.

Things you need when you pick coffee: A large hat that covers your neck, good boots not to slip (for example rubber boots that grips the ground properly, remember that coffee usually grows in the mountains so most of the time the plantation are from a little to quite steep) and a canasta, sort of basket that you tight around your hips with a sort of belt.

That said, coffee isn’t picked as meticulously is any farm. I am talking about rather small farms with a focus on high quality coffee that will be exported. This step of the coffee making is one of the first that makes a difference in the quality of the cup of coffee you will drink.

What happens when the coffee is picked? There are two options. Some farms have their own wet mill, which is a place where the cherries are processed (If you have no idea what I’m talking about I promise you will very soon). At different moments during the day (usually late in the morning and at the end of the afternoon), the cherries collected are weighed. As you can see on the photo below, the cherries are put in a big box called cajuela. Coffee has its own measuring unit (1 cajuela = 20 liters). Here you can see one of the most inspiring and creative farmer I’ve met, Don Carlos Ureña, owner of finca La Pira, inspecting the harvest.

For each person, he would write down the amount of coffee picked:

However, most of the farms don’t have a mill. They need to bring the cherries to a nearby mill. Back in the days, beautiful wooden carts like this one below were used, but nowaydays, you’ll meet plenty of trucks during the coffee picking season.

ok, don’t laugh, this is the only picture I had to show you a traditional colourful Costa Rican cart. This pic was taken at the feria del cafe right before the coffee picking competition…and yes, I competed!

Altitude, varietals, composition of the soil, cold nights and warm days, shade, are all more or less well-known secrets to produce high quality coffee. But picking the right coffee cherries is a step prior to processing that matters, a lot. It sounds easy, but it is actually a real challenge. In an ideal yet possible world, there are a few solutions that would help farmers and pickers to be more picky (sorry about the bad pun) like making people from the seed to the cup work together (in the farms, mills, roasteries and cafés). If you are interested in that matter (and you should), I suggest you watch this :

http://timwendelboe.no/2012/08/nordic-barista-cup-lectures-2/

5 daily-life-facts about a coffee growing region

1/ Wherever you go, it is gorgeous and there is coffee absolutely everywhere.

Somewhere between Santa Maria de Dota and Frailes, Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

Same road, coffee growing in the shades of banana trees and other trees.

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Hills covered by coffee trees in the shade of banana trees in one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica, Santa Maria de Dota, 1650-1800m of altitude, Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

 

2/ Between December and March, early in the morning and late in the afternoon you’ll see pickup trucks driving people around with strange hats covering the neck and rubber boots, they are coffee pickers. For some reasons I didn’t dare taking pictures of them.

3/ Along the road, every kilometre or so, you will see (most of the time) little (often wooden) huts. In Spanish they are called “recibidor” and are used to gather the coffee picked in the area.

A truck is delivering the coffee picked so far in the day in a “recibidor” belonging to the mill where the coffee will be brought later on to be processed, here in Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

Truck waiting to deliver coffee at a recibidor, Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

4/ By the end of the day, you won’t be slowed down by traffic jams but by trucks collecting the harvest of the day to bring the coffee cherries to the nearby mill where they will be processed.

A recibidor has 2 openings : the upper one where the coffee is delivered and the lower one where a truck fits underneath to receive the cherries going through a small opening. Here in San Gerardo de Rivas, Costa Rica.

Sometimes there are several openings like this one in Tarrazu, Costa Rica

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Big recibidor from a major cooperative in Tarrazu, Costa Rica.

5/ Check out the bus stops! In small villages where most of the income is made by coffee, cooperatives or mills tend to sponsor public services.

Bus stop in San Pablo de Leon Cortez, Tarrazu, Costa Rica

Another one in the same village.

Other example in Rivas, Perez Zeledon, Costa Rica.