Story and photos by Angie Sutton
For some of us, coffee is a morning ritual, a must-have first thing, dependence to get the day going. Perhaps it is thought more of as a chemical means to quickly inject caffeine to jump start the morning. But in reality, it is a food, a crop grown on a tree and one of the most in-demand commodities worldwide.
My husband and I recently made the journey to see coffee grown on a plantation in the Caribbean and completed it by taking a local class on brewing techniques.
On a recent trip to Puerto Rico, we journeyed a couple of hours into the central mountain range, ending a winding and scenic drive on the Panoramic Route to Hacienda Pomarrosa (The Golden Roseapple Farm). The operation sits at 1,000 meters above sea level near the tallest mountain on the island, Cerro Punta, at 1,338 meters. The tour costs $20 per person and includes homemade pastry and of course coffee. It started at 11 a.m. and went past 1 p.m. The tour begins with proprietor Kurt, a native of Germany, discussing the history of coffee and intertwining his own story and love of coffee. After the 30 minute introduction, Kurt’s son, Sebastian, takes over by leading the group on a tour of the farm and processing facility.
During the tour of the farm and processing facility, you learn that beverage giant Coca Cola owns a strong majority of the islands coffee operations and labels, but CafÃ© Pomarrosa is privately owned and operates from tree to packaging while offering modest shipping charges to order their product. Because of the soil, Kurt grows mostly arabica beans (often referred to as cherries). The cherries are harvested by hand from September to December, and only the ripest, reddest cherries are plucked. Laborers make a minimum of $7 per hour, which is extremely high compared to other countries that grow coffee. This is one of the reasons an 8-ounce bag of their roasted beans costs $18 to $20.
CafÃ© Pomarrosa also takes pride in quality. All of their beans are processed on the farm in small batches. Their newer technology uses little water and is therefore environmentally friendly. The coffee does rest in a water bath for 8 hours after peeling and is then sent to the drier in a silo. Sun drying is not possible in the mountains because of humidity and daily showers than can degrade the quality. After 24 hours the beans are sent to the warehouse for storage until they are ready for roasting followed by immediate packaging and shipping.
Because of the weather, Pomarrosa is expecting a short harvest this coming year, which makes it difficult to keep up with the high demand for their product.
At the conclusion of the tour, Sebastian grinds and brews cappuccino for each of the visitors and offers more opportunity to ask questions. We purchased a couple bags of coffee to bring home and try on our own.
Once returning home, I participated in a coffee brewing class at a local specialty coffee store with Manhattan’s Arrow Coffee Co. Nearby Kansas City is a top market for specialty coffee shops, and the Midwest is home to one of the most consistently recognized top roasters at PT’s Coffee Roasting Co. in Topeka, Kansas.
Arrow Coffee Co., is not just a specialty coffee store, but a third wave provider, meaning they are focused on providing the finest artisanal coffee through strong direct trade with coffee farmers. Arrow believes in a minimal roast to showcase the efforts of what the farmer has done to provide the flavors of their coffee. A common misconception in the coffee world is that lighter roasted coffee actually provides more caffeine than darker roasted coffee.
The coffee brewing class at Arrow was a bargain price of $15 per person and taught two basic home brewing techniques, including pour-over with the V60 machine as well as pressed brewing with the Aeropress. Both option involve using a electric kettle to heat water to 205 degrees Fahrenheit. This is just below boiling temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit, which can scald the coffee and decrease quality.
The class ended with the option of staying past the 90 minute time-frame for cupping. The cupping experience is a technique that brewers use to determine the quality, fragrance and aroma of the beans.
Fragrance are the flavors from the dry beans while aroma comes from the flavors once the beans are wet. Often times coffee can have different fragrance from aroma.
Cupping begins by putting dry beans in a glass. A glass of sparkling nearby can help cleanse your palette between samplings. We utilized a chart called “coffee taster’s flavor wheel” to help find descriptions for the fragrance we were smelling. From fruity to earthy or spicy to sweet, there are many descriptors to help attach exact words to the fragrance. I immediately smelled maple syrup upon taking in the first fragrance from our sample.
Next, you fill the glass to the top with 205 degree Farenheight water and wait three minutes. A crust forms on the top and you will use a spoon to break the crust as you push away from you. Keeping your nose close to the cup, you try to smell for the first aromas after the crust is broken. Stir a couple times and continue searching for the right aroma. I found an earthy/leafy aroma this time.
After waiting for five more minutes, you can use your spoon and slurp and loudly and obnoxiously as possible to cover your palette with the first taste of the coffee. If you sample again in two more minutes, that flavor may change once again.
For me, coffee is a daily necessity that is sometimes enjoyed but mostly taken for granted. When I have the time to do all that is necessary to soak up the experience of quality coffee I find myself deeply relaxed and feeling a bit social, because of the nature of great shops like Arrow Coffee Co. With five kids, a full-time job and little else in-between, I don’t get to have those experiences often, so it is nice when they are able to happen.