Everyone likes a good cup of coffee but what about a coffee story ? Like the cocoa story I did some years ago I’m back with another. Here’s my story of Trinidad Coffee….
I am not a regular drinker of coffee, like my father-in-law who would only drink it black. People like him are the the real aficionados. They unequivocally state that instant coffee, though cheaper, could never stand next to quality freshly milled coffee, which is by the way hard to come by.
So my search for a good cup of coffee began with me visiting an estate. I must admit that I am an unlikely candidate to search for a good cup of coffee because I didn’t know anyone at the time. In retrospect, this story found me instead and being the adventure seeker, I gladly went on the journey….
I see Mr. Mikey every other Sunday when there is church service at the Community Center at Lluengo Village. I did not know much about what Mikey did, all I knew was that he had a love for parang music and playing the cuatro.
After service, one Sunday morning, Mr. Mikey approached me about learning some more chords on the cuatro since he played, but did not know the names of chords. One thing led to another as we talked; and in our conversation I found out he owned a “little cocoa estate” in the mountains of Rincon, Las Cuevas.
We spoke about living off the land and enjoying the fresh air, fruits and the peaceful environment. Next thing I knew I was talking about my post about making cocoa using a mortar and pestle using tonka bean and spices, and how I would love to do a post about making coffee the traditional way.
That struck a common chord between us and since I had to do the coffee story – that had been mulling around in my head for the past few years- I asked him if he grew coffee on his estate. Well, to my surprise, he not only grew coffee but he brewed his own as well.
A light switch went off in my mind…I swear you could see it hovering above my head saying, “Bling, bling! Idea alert, idea alert! ” lol
I was excited and wanted to visit and soon enough we planned to spend a day at the estate. A few weeks later my wife, son and I were driving on the North Coast Road to Las Cuevas to meet Mikey at his cocoa estate.
Mikey was welcoming! The short trek up to the estate hut was where I put on these boots Mikey gave me. He explained that no one should wander the estate without boots. There may be snakes lurking around. I was eager to walk around the estate, however not too eager to cross the path of any snake, especially a Mapepire or Coral Snake. Now it was time for this “cocoa panyol” to start walking lol 🙂
The Coffee Plant (Coffea arabica)
The species of coffee most produced in Trinidad was the Robusta coffee. The plant is sensitive to cold and warm conditions and so strives best in levels of high humidy and rainfall. In Trinidad, coffee estates are most found in the hilly areas, mostly cared for by small farmers. In recent years, the industry has been greatly affected by the plant-borne “diseases and pests, economic conditions and inefficient farming practices “(source).
The plant needs adequate space and ample shade to mature or strive. The right amount of sunlight is required at different stages of the coffee tree’s growth. Also, the shades used can provide additional income for the farmer while the tree matures. In the past, to provide the shade, Immortelle trees were used. You can see them towering high above the trees with their branches like wings spread out providing the necessary shade.
Processing the Coffee
Now back to the story …..
Picking the beans was tedious. Mikey had his own method of removing and capturing all the berries. He used the wide lid of an old water tank to catch and keep the berries in one place. Once the berries were picked they were processed. Most times the berries are dried in the sun for a couple of weeks before they are stored. The pulp is removed and dried with the parchment skin still on it so it is left to ferment. The pulp liquifies as the temperature rises for a week. This gives the beans flavour.
The dried beans are roasted at about 200-250 degrees F for 1 to 2 hours. The beans become brown to black in colour and brittle. During the roasting process, the beans are broken down and the thin shell or chaff (which feels like dried leaves) is removed. The remaining piece of kernel is called coffee nibs. (The nibs contain about 400 different chemicals responsible for the coffee’s flavour.)
The beans were stirred throughout the roasting process to prevent burning. The outer shell dries and cracks out. Roasting the beans should happen outside as there is a lot of smoke involved. For this reason, if you want to roast at home, you should roast no more than 1/4 lb of beans at a time.
The nibs are ground in a manual mill. Grinding brings out the flavour of the coffee. Generally, the finer the coffee is ground , the quicker it is brewed.
Now for the final step: the task of brewing coffee.
The look and smell of the roasted beans could definitely send you into a lucid state, or possibly down memory lane. For a while I also found myself on Henry Street, POS smelling the coffee roasting from Hong Wing Coffee as I walked up to Spektacular. Eventually, I found myself reflecting on the whole experience of picking the beans, processing it, and finally watching it brewing. When I tasted the brew I felt myself travel to the green hills of Rincon back to the estate where it all began.
Of course other memories rushed in around this topic of coffee, like the first time I saw a pooknee being used while brewing coffee over a wood fire. Maybe next time I’ll write about that.
…..What a trip!
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Ah gone 🙂