All cosy on Kosie!

Where do mountains get their names? You’d think from people who have been around for years and years right? Well it’s rarely the case. Pretty much half way between Sydney and Melbourne, about 3 hours away from Canberra, are the Snowy Mountains. It’s the only place in Australia where you can go skiing in winter and escape the worst of the heat in the summer. For thousands of years, the Snowy Mountains were visited by Aboriginal people. They call its highest ‘peak’ Jagungal, meaning ‘table top mountain’, which describes the area quite well. But on the 15th of February 1840, Paul Edmond Strzelecki, a Polish explorer, made it to the summit and decided to call this mountain Kosciuszko as it reminded him of a hill in Krakow where another Polish man named Kosciuszko was buried. The name got adopted and Mount Kosciuszko actually is the highest ‘peak’ of Australia, despite its modest 2228 masl. As you may know, Australians love to shorten words. You won’t hear ‘Tasmania’ but ‘Tassie’, ‘Australian’ but ‘aussie’, ‘barbecue’ but ‘barbie’, thus Kosciuszko is usually refered to as ‘Kosie’ by locals.

A few years ago, I decided to boycott new year’s eve parties as they usually suck and I rarely get to be around my loved ones anyway. I then decided to dedicate the last and first day of each year doing what I actually love doing (better late then never) and that makes me feel good about myself: climbing whatever peak is around me. After Costa Rica and France, Australia was a natural choice since I just spent 2014 in Sydney.

Being the highest summit in Australia, Kosciuszko is considered part of the 7 summits. But as it looks more like a gentle hill and is by far the easiest of the 7 summits to get to, Puncak Jaya in the Papua province of Indonesia steals its fame with its proper 4884masl.

We took a bus to Canberra (a strange deserted city at that time of the year) then hitchhiked to Charlotte’s pass where we camped the first night. I’ll be honest, we took it super easy and we did in 3 days the walk people usually do in a day so we spent more time relaxing and reading than challenging ourselves. I think that’s the good thing about the Snowy Mountains. The day after, we took our time, made coffee and walked to the Blue Lake, hiked towards Kosciuszko, slept at its foot, had wine and cheese for dinner on New year’s eve. We went to sleep way before midnight so we could get up early enough (4.30 am, you read it right) to walk up to admire the first sunrise of the year on top of Australia. It was truly magical…

Happy New Year 2015! I hope you get whatever makes you happy.

We are now about to leave for new adventures in New Zealand and I’m overexcited to visit those landscapes I’ve been dreaming of visiting as long as I can remember…

_1250971

Surrounding landscape, large valley and gentle hills

_1250889

Ages ago, those mountains were shaped by glaciers

_1250966

My favorite part of camping, waking completely alone in the middle of nowhere…

P1250958

…and have a delicious coffee!

_1250901

4.30 am, leaving the tent…

sunrise

Here comes the sun on Mount Kosciuszko

P1250948

At that precise moment I was the highest person in Australia! You can’t see but I always get very emotional…

mattaudrey

Matt and me in the sunrise light…It wasn’t really cold but super windy up there.

P1250951

The summit of Kosciuszko is so unimpressive you need a sign to make sure it’s the right hill…

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!

A truth about coffee (for beginners) – part 1

When people ask me about my job, I often have to explain what it is about (particularly in France where it is still quite unknown, but not only). Almost every time, someone asks me “So what do you advise me to make good coffee at home?” I have many answers in mind to that question, but to begin with, I usually say that coffee actually is a fresh product and not something you can drink within a year after you buy it in the grocery store.

This mean two things. The first one, which I’m going to talk about in this post, is that coffee actually comes from a fruit picked during just a few months in the year (well, it also depends on different variables like countries, varietals, altitude of growth). The second one, which I’ll talk about in another post, is that the roasting part is essential. In Costa Rica, the high time of the year to pick coffee goes from December to February. Without going too much in details (for now), here is what happen, summarized and illustrated by pictures because it is by giving knowledge that you change the world! If people would know more about everything that happens to the coffee before they get to drink it at home or at their local shop, I am pretty sure it would have an influence on the quality of coffee from the seed. Everything is connected, and talking to coffee producers here makes me even more convinced about it.

So where do the brown powder you use to make coffee come from? No big surprise, coffee grows on a coffee tree! It is actually a shrub not a tree, often growing in the shade of other bigger trees (often fruit trees like banana trees in Costa Rica). On this shrub, the fruits are called coffee cherries, since they look like cherries. To sum up, the higher the coffee grows the better.

There are many types of coffee plants, but only two of them are used to make coffee: Coffea canephora (robusta is one sort) and coffea Arabica. Costa Rica is known for a reason for the quality of its coffee. It is (in theory) legally forbidden to grow robusta species here since it is coffee of a much lower quality (it means it is more bitter and has less delicate flavours than Arabica varietals, it also contains more caffeine). Then again, researches are being held about those facts). Everything I say here concerns the Arabica type and I took all the photos in Costa Rica in the Tarrazu province.

Here is a small field of young coffee shrubs. Since the best coffee usually grows quite high up, it usually is in beautiful areas in the mountains (but not only).

 This is what a coffee plantation usually looks like in Tarrazu, Costa Rica (here in an organic plantation). You can see a banana tree on the left hand side (yes right, the one with bananas hanging), surrounded by lemon trees, clementine trees or guava trees.

Just like wine, there are several coffee varietals that won’t taste the same and can be really different (the taste also depends on a few variables like altitude, the composition of the soil, the climate and the way it is roasted and brewed).

The green coffee cherries you can see on the photo are not ready to be picked because obviously they are not ripe. Most of the varietals are red when ripe, but they can also be yellow like you see in the middle. To make quality coffee, just like to make a good jam, you should only use ripe cherries, which is often a challenge, but I’ll get back to it.

_1160924

 Here are two coffee cherries, a yellow one and a red one. Those are two different varietals, one is a yellow catuai, the other one a caturra. In Costa Rica, both varietals are often mixed in the plantation.

_1170172

Here is what you see when you open a coffee cherry in two.  There are most of the times two beans in a cherry, facing each other. As you can see, it is inside the fruit flesh and the skin.

_1160926

The fruit is not really good when eaten raw, it is quite bitter and not super sweet, but it does smell really good to me, something like a sweet flower smell and a red berry.

If you squeeze the cherry, the beans will come out. Usually there are two against each other, more rarely three like on the right hand side of the picture. When the beans are taken out of the cherry, they are covered by a sticky layer that is usually removed.

P1160936

To remove the gluey layer, the beans are washed to prevent fermentation. Well, obviously, not this way. But I’ll get back to it more in details; it’s more complicated than that, there are other options.

_1160929

Once they’ve been washed, look at the difference: on the left side, the beans look quite smooth, whereas on the right hand side, they still look more shiny, don’t they?

Anyway, at this point, the beans are still not quite ready to be roasted because they are too humid (around 20 to 24). They need to be dried, and that is a very important step (again, I’ll get back to it later) but to sum up, one option is to spread them  on the floor to let them dry in the sun and the wind until the humidity goes down to 9,5 to 10,5%. At that point, the green coffee is imprisoned inside a thin dry layer like a shell called parchment that will be removed before roasting. But we’ll talk about this later.

That’s all for today, I hope you found this as interesting and fun as I do. Please please please let me know if you have any question or remark!

And keep in mind that if you drink a really good cup of coffee, that is the result of a long process involving many expert individuals, taking important decisions at decisive steps. That’s the reason why I am spending time in a producing country, to think more in terms of “savoir faire” like we say in French, which literally means “know do”, sort of like skills,  than processes like we usually talk about in the coffee world. But again, I’ll get back to it!