Who In Hell Figured Out Coffee?

When you spend quite a bit of your time alone a person has to do something to pass the time. I don’t know how others spend their alone time but me, I think about strange things, most of which never make it past my cranial cavity.

One thing I’ve wondered about for years is who in hell figured out coffee? Coffee isn’t simple. In their basics certain things are simple and it’s fairly easy to figure out how they came to be. Tea is simple. Take some leaves from a plant, put them in some hot water and voilá, a tasty beverage. Wine? Somebody was really thirsty and didn’t care that the grape juice had bubbles all over the surface. They gulped it down and WHOA! Altered state of consciousness. Even the beginnings of cheese is fairly simple in its origins. Some hungry camel herder carrying milk in saddlebags made from animal skins, and possibly made from the stomach, which contains the coagulating enzyme known as rennin. Or, fermentation of the milk sugars  would cause the milk to curdle. The galloping motion of the horse or camel, acting as churning, would effectively separate the milk into curds. The result, curds and whey, provided a refreshing whey drink as well as curds, which would be drained through perforated earthenware bowls or woven reed baskets, and lightly salted to provide a tasty and nourishing meal. All accidental discoveries that were later expanded on.

But coffee isn’t simple. It’s complicated if you think about it a bit. I don’t buy that story of some Ethiopian herder saw his goats getting frisky after eating the fruits off some bushes and suddenly we had coffee. It’s a multi-step process. First you have to pick the fruit, known as “cherries.” Then  the pulp has to be removed and the bean inside has to be left out in the sun to dry. After that the husks of the beans have to be removed. Then the beans must be cooked (roasted), ground up and infused with boiling water. That’s a bunch of work. Who in hell figured that all out, anyway?

Since I’m moving to Panama there are several blogs I read on a daily basis. Richard Detrich actually grows coffee on his place and has some good posts about how he does it at http://richarddetrich.wordpress.com/ and Don Ray who authors Chiriquí Chatter http://www.chiriquichatter.net/blog/2009/10/21/rancho-gotta-coffee/ has this good story of his recent visit to a coffee plantation.

To John’s amazement, old Butch had his bell in his beak, so it couldn’t ring.

He’d sneak up on a pullet, do his job and walk on to the next one.  John was so proud of old Butch,  he entered him in the Renfrew County Fair  and he became an overnight sensation among the judges.

The result was the judges not only awarded old Butch the No Bell Piece Prize  but they also awarded him the Pulletsurprise as well. Clearly old Butch was a politician in the making. Who else but a politician could figure out how to win two of the most highly coveted awards on our planet by being the best at sneaking up on the populace and screwing them when they weren’t paying attention.


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3 responses to “Who In Hell Figured Out Coffee?

  1. Great post. There’s a couple living here in a marina whose dream was to bring green coffee from Guatemala and roast and sell it here – and to do it by sailboat. Green commerce, if you will. A storm took out their first shipment and their boat, but they’re still in business. I’m drinking some of their coffee now.

    Their story is in my blog, with photos. There’s probably even more detail in their pages now, which are linked to there.


  2. oldsalt1942

    Linda: Thanks for the comment and good luck to the Butchers in their enterprise.

    When I was down on the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, back in ’92, I was really disappointed in the quality of the coffee I was able to get there. Then I figured it out. All the good stuff was exported! What you got down there was the dregs and floor sweepings from the coffee plantations. I also knew several people who were doing the import/export thing with their boats, too, primarily fabrics and crafts, but not coffee.

    The Chiriqui Chatter post is excellent in showing the different grades of coffee that come from one plantation and very informative.

    In my travels the most consistently delicious espresso was found in Spain. After that it was Italy. I was only ever in one town in Italy. I was running an 85’ ketch based in Antibes, France for three years and my five-year, multiple-entry visa required me to leave the country every 90 days. It wasn’t a hardship, though. Just jump on the train in the morning, take the hour and a half ride over to Ventimiglia, Italy, have lunch, get my passport stamped and be back on the boat for supper. The coffee in France was fairly decent, too, but what was available down on the Rio Dulce was real crap.

    • That’s really interesting. Seems like it’s a common phenomenon. People around here gripe all the time about not being able to get decent table shrimp – a good bit of it apparently lands in NYC and so forth. The grocery stores and markets are full of frozen Chinese shrimp – thank goodness a couple of the Vietnamese and Chinese fish markets that were washed away by Ike are back in business.

      The last time I was in Appalachicola I was talking to some oystermen who said their catch was leaving, too. You could find good local oysters, but you had to have local knowledge. The time of just stopping somewhere to pick them up was over.