tirsdag 19. juni 2012

Bean there, done that. My day as a coffee miller

View of the sorting machine. At the end of the tray there are three bags, one for each grade. The tray is constantly shaking, and Ernie adjusts the angel and speed so that the best beans end at the right side (from here). Here he makes sure that the bag contains exactly 50 kg.
For a man whose guidebooks can become dogeared already before the trip has started, this feels a bit strange, but: The best experiences can come as a result that you did not check your Lonely Planet (or Rough Guides, Moon, Bradt, or whatever you prefer).

This time it came because I rather trusted local advice. The locals were wrong. Lonely Planet were right, but that I only found out later.

Thankfully. Because this mistake resulted in one of the highlights of my trip to Costa Rica.

The info papers at the language school Montaña Linda (the same papers that told about the waterfall at the property of the excentric coffee farmer Nano) also recommended a coffee plantation that does guided tours, Finca Cristina in the next village, Paraíso.

Coffee plantations are everywhere in the Orosi valley. The sketch meticulous rows of green in the hillsides, or can be seen in the deep behind bushes, banana trees and shadow trees.

But that's all you get to see. Therefore I decided to take the 07.15 bus towards  Cartago, and hailed a taxi for the last kilometers.
The beans at Finca Cristina are shadegrown. Juan prunes the trees.

The gate was closed. Three or fore dogs came running and started to bark. I could see no one else. I was on a gravel road quite far outside of town, the taxi had left, and other cars would be rare out here. Luckily, after a few minutes a woman came out.

- Do you have a tour today? I asked.

- No, she replied.

- But come in, she added, to my great relief.

Then I was introduced to Ernie Carman, an american with white Hemingway beard, cap, and as much as seven adopted street dogs constantly around. He stood by the sorting-machine, in a clamor that would have made factory workers strike.

Machines do almost everything in a modern coffee mill. One machine squeeze the pulp from the recently harvested beans and another one rinses the slime before they are washed and dried. 

When they are dry, and the farmer decide that the time and price is right, they are sorted. That's a fully automatic phase - a phase where no human hand needs to touch the beans on their way to the bag. They are sucked from the storehouse to a peeler, and from there to another machine that cleans the last remains of the shells, before they wiggle their way over the sorting machine and into one of the three bags at the end: 1. grade, 2. grade (that is run back into the machine for another sorting) and 3. grade.

Even later, and yet again when the farmer finds the time and/or the price right, the beans are burned and - sometimes, if they aren't sold whole - grinded.
"The washing board" sorts coffee by the same principle as the gold washing of old.

Ernie made sure the bags were replaced before they filled ut, put an empty one in place, and took time to show me around the factory.

Few coffee plantations have the hardware to do the full prosess like Finca Cristina does. It makes Ernie and his wife Linda get a better price for their crop. But the farm is really too small to make the investment pay.

- I bought this as a total wreck and repaired it myself, he said of the gigantic, two story sorting machine. 

- New it would cost 30.000 dollars. That's way too much. I would have to produce 50.000 bags of coffee for it to pay back. It would have taken me 50 years, he said. 

After a while, he started asking me to help with small favors. I was sent up on the planks, high under the ceiling, to shuffle beans into the sorting machine, and when the last bean had been sorted into its bag, he asked me to climb up and turn if off.

- There is a small teddy by the button, he guided.

After each bag had been filled and found to be at least 50 kilos, he stitched them. And together we piled them on the floor.
- Bring your camera and follow me, said Ernie. Then he showed me the new guest in the shed: a porcupine. - It sleeps here, he said. - And your dogs? - I think they have learned by now.

Ernie sighed.

- The first six bags, he said. The order was 150.

That is also among the best things about travelling. You can see, sometimes maybe even participate and gain an even better insight in the local culture. But at the same time you can move on, long before the new and exiting has become a daily struggle and the hard life begins.
50 kilos, a little more and never less. Ernie fills the last grams to be on the safe side.
PS! In Lonely Planet they get it right: Finca Cristina is only open on reservation. So that's the truth. It's only that sometimes it pays off to be wrong.
A deserved break. Some of the seven street dogs are around.

1 kommentar:

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