For the next half an hour Mauricio filled us in on what makes good coffee, where it’s grown, and why coffee culture here in Bolivia has been so lacking. After his brief lecture we watched a short film about his family’s coffee farm in Guatemala, it made me proud to be learning more about all of the hard work that goes into every bean that makes up a bag of specialty coffee.
We were all quite thirsty by the time the film was over, and couldn't wait to get downstairs and start tasting. Him and his team are perfectionists, with various tools measuring everything from the temperature and volume of the water to the amount of beans before and after they are ground. Everything must be exact when striving for that perfect cup. We were treated to three different beans, each coming from high altitudes and all named for the mountains from which they came. I had never before really been able to distinguish different notes in different beans, but each of these had a unique personality and it was possible to tell them apart quite easily.
After our tasting we watched them roast a batch of beans. These were going to receive the most delicate of roasts, one that just barely toasts them, and stops the roasting immediately after the first “crack”. Sounding like popcorn, this is the point at which super heated water vapor escapes the beans, and signifies that they are ready to be pulled. We learned that you can only use this light of a roast on the highest quality of beans as any variance would be readily noticeable, and any flaw would show itself prominently. If the beans are allowed to continue roasting there is a second crack that happens when the CO2 escapes, this results in a much darker roast where the beans will be almost black, this can hide imperfections and poor quality and ensure an even tone, but also covers the character of high quality coffee beans.
Our visit was eye opening, coffee really is a labor of love and as the second largest commodity in the world, this is sometimes easy to overlook. It is always inspiring to be around someone who has such a passion for their trade, and Mauricio was no exception. We left only slightly jittery and more ready than ever for our days of volunteering at Yehuda’s coffee farm next week.