Cafe y Cacao

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We are in the land of coffee and chocolate! However, it can be hard to get anything other than foul tasting Nescafe and cheap brown candy in many of the places we have passed through, not at all pleasant for two coffee and chocolate addicts. These beans  certainly qualify as enigmas in Central America. Guatemala is a step up from Mexico though. Not until we reached the highlands south of Villahermosa in Mexico did we come across some Cafe Ollo, words that quickly became part of our vocabulary as we climbed towards San Cristobal, and that got us thinking about the coffee situation over here. Some of the best coffee in the world is grown locally, yet almost all is exported, the new gold for countries mired in poverty. There are many fincas pequenos in the mountains and often these small farms produce coffee that can be drunk locally. Luckily for us. And so, the place abounds in beans and in San Pedro we learned something about the process of converting the fruit of the coffee plant to that most pleasant tasting drink that allows my brain to kickstart in the morning.

It is true that coffee plants produce a sweet tasting red fruit, and from this the bean is extracted. There ware a couple of tiny outdoor fabricas is San Pedro that would buy 50kg bags of the fruit from the local smallholders and convert it into pergaunino. This was explained in detail by Juan, my spanish teacher…..en Espanol with the help of this picture. The flesh of the fruit is removed, the remainer allowed to sit and ferment for a day, then washed in water and a "bean" with a husk remains, almost like a peanut with its skin on. Once the skin is removed and the bean sits in the sun for a few days, you are left with cafe oro. This goes to the tostadero to be roasted and ground into cafe molido and is now ready to be drank. We were also lucky enough to see this process in a little cafe in San Pedro and one here in Antigua.

The small gas fired roasters produce enough coffee to sell locally and of course to provide for a cafe. We both aggreed that the coffee in San Pedro was up there with the best we had ever tasted and the small family run business process all their own coffee, from the fruit to the cup. Yesterday we stumbled on the eccentric Antonio, an ex-americano living in Antigua for quite a while and also producing small mounts of perfect coffee, his roaster churning in the background and filling the whole street with a wonderful aroma.

He told us about the zero water coffee bean, produced in small amounts in individual farms by those who can’t affort to sell to the fabrica, I guess it is the old style method, the fruit itself left to dry before the bean is somehow removed. Antonia said the coffee produced in this way was indeed the nectar of the gods, worth more that gold itself.

And so to chocolate, well I can’t say too much about that. There are plenty of cacao plantations in the warmer pacific coastal region, but we have also passed some on our travels through the mountains, the unmistakeable smell of chocolate often in the air for seconds until the wind changes. We came across a street side table in Villahermosa in Mexico selling organic chocolate (KakaoTal) from a local plantation. One nibble of this was enough to send your taste buds into ecstacy, a chocolate heaven, and needless to say the bars didn’t last long. We thought this was the start of something good, but alas, no. And so, we are left to savor the ephemeral smell of cacao, and to cycle in the hope of finding something more satisfying.

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