School was fine, but uneventful, except for the volcanic rumblings that keep interrupting my thinking. Fuego is constantly blowing its top and according to another student, tours are stopping in the next couple of weeks on neighbouring Aquatenango because Fuego has become so active. I think I am far enough away that I won't get too burned!
So, what finer place than Guatemala to tour a coffee farm? Coffee is not indigenous to Central America but was brought here by the Spanish in 1524 from Ethiopia. There are 2 kinds: arabica and robust. Arabica has 2% caffeine and robust has 4%. Arabic is smoother, robust is more bitter. The most popular around the world is arabica but its root system is very weak and worms attack the plant via the roots. So, to combat this problem, arabica plants are graphed onto robust roots-
The thicker part on the stem is the paraffin wax that is used to hold the graph together.
These plants are 3 months old-
These are a year and a half and have yet to be planted in the fields. This is not an organic farm as they do use chemicals to kill bugs etc.
Coffee plants flower in May and June and from November to March seeds mature and are ready to be picked. Three to four hundred people pick by hand. A picker earns 1.5 quetzales/pound which is 27 cents. A good picker can pick 100 pounds/day = $27 which is great dinero here. Notice the white flowers-
Which yield the red fruit-
The most red seeds are picked, then put in a water separator. The best and most heavy beans sink and the chaff and those diseased float so are discarded-
Once separated, they are put into bins depending on their size-
They are laid out in the sun for 2 weeks, but brought in every night in case of rain. The moisture must evaporate-
Dried beans taste like grass-
Once dried, they are put into huskers that beat off the outside shell. The shell is used as compost-
There are 5 grades of beans. The best are exported and the worst are for sale here in Guatemala. Specialty Grade, or number 1 is almost perfect, with no more than 5 full defects in 300 grams. It must have at least one distinctive attribute in the body, flavor, aroma or acidity. Those 4 criteria are how coffee is judged. The worst grade, called off grade coffee, has more than 86 defects in 300 grams so it's easy to see the differences.
The final stage takes place here where workers hand pick out the chaff and poor beans that the machines have missed-
Then, the beans are roasted at 215 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes for medium roast. Once roasted, the beans are stored in silos for 24 hours to allow CO2 to leave. After 24 hours the beans are packaged-
The result is a deliciously smooth espresso-
The gaseous water is first used to cleanse the palate and if one wants, to cleanse a second time once the espresso has been drank.
70 beans are ground for 1 cup (5 ounces) of coffee. 1.5 teaspoons are used/cup. Using a French press, there are 40 mg of caffeine/cup. Using a drip, there are 70 mg. This is because the water is in longer contact with the water using a drip machine. This company used to sell unroasted beans to Starbucks but that stopped a couple of years ago.
I bought 2 bags at 12 ounces of the number 1 grade for $10 each.
Philadelfia is a big company, run by the fourth generation of the family. They provide shuttles out to the farm from downtown Antigua. While waiting for the shuttle, I struck up a conversation with an American in his late 60s. He told me he had been travelling for 43 years, that he had made enough money in 4 years to 'retire' and that he was into 'economic development'. We spent about 3 hours together, talking about a variety of things - the fact that Arizona, where he has a home in Fountain Hills to be exact, was the only state during the election to not approve, by 4%, the use of marijuana. I told him about the plants I was growing as a high school student that my Mom faithfully watered while I was at university until my Aunt informed her they were pot plants. :( So, when we were leaving the farm, he told me that he had been a drug kingpin in marijuana and had made his fortune. He sold to only one man who did all of the distributing. He had numerous greenhouses throughout the state of Arizona and camouflaged them as aloe vera growing operations. He never owned a gun but had quite a few guard dogs. He only did this for 4 years, by then having made enough money to retire and has been travelling for at least 6 months every year since then. He said the statue of limitations is 7 years so he's well past that so can never be tried in court. It was very interesting listening to his stories.
Looking forward to a sunny day tomorrow!