Sunday, June 1, 2014

If we're smoking, we're roasting

On a sailboat (or any boat for that matter) plying the world’s oceans, the #1 rule is self-sufficiency.  Carrying spares, duplicates of everything important, is just what we do.  My captain always says, as I pick up yet another replacement part in a marine store, that we can’t carry a spare for every system on board, but of course we need to choose which are the MOST important extra parts to carry.

The addictions we develop throughout our lives, and the means to satisfy them, are, at least on our boat, just as important as the spare parts.  Wine, beer, and coffee are the three legal addictions that we can’t seem to shake.  We don’t offer excuses, as in the whole scheme of things, these “needs” are shared with countless people throughout first world countries and as long as we don’t overindulge, no one is getting hurt.  We do what we can to make sure that we don’t run out of wine and beer (see previous post) but coffee……If I want to assure a rocky start to the day, all I need to do is run out of coffee to prevent the kick start to my captains’ morning.  

The unthinkable happened today.  I failed in my job to keep enough coffee beans or grounds on board, and when 7am rolled around, and there was no smell of a pot of coffee being brewed, I knew that there would be hell to pay.  I also knew I wasn’t going to jump out of bed, lower the dinghy, and race into town to find a packet of coffee, so I needed a backup plan.

Several years ago we met a couple in La Paz, Mexico.  They were the same people that had told us that they brewed their own beer.  We purchased an old sewing machine from them to help with a few canvas repairs, but in addition to all those other do-it-yourself projects they participated in, they also ROASTED THEIR OWN COFFEE.

Now to some of you, you probably really don’t give a shit.  To you, the capital letters on the sentence above means nothing.  This post is not written for you.  Rather, these words are meant for those that simply cannot envision the day getting started without a cup or three of the precious black stuff.  Our friends in La Paz were heading back to Canada.  They had all the tools they needed at home for their roasting pleasure, and they had double the amount of needed items on board the boat to make sure their chores for the day would get accomplished.  After we had paid them the money for the sewing machine, they said they also had a consolation prize for us.  (They must have felt bad, as that machine turned out to be only good as a tertiary anchor).  They handed us, in what can only be referred to as reverence, a popcorn popper.   We looked at them, and at each other, and back to them, thinking WTF?  “It’s for the beans”, they said, pointing to their 50 pound canvas bag of green coffee beans.  

A quick tutorial ensued, and with popper in hand we headed back to our own boat.  

Three years later, with me moving the popper back and forth from one cupboard to another, cursing the awkward room it took, it continued to languish, getting moldy and mildewy.  But meanwhile, throughout our travels in Latin America, we were also always on the hunt for green coffee beans, and managed to score a bag in Zihuatenejo,  Mexico, and another one after a tour through a coffee plantation and roasting facility in Antigua, Guatemala.  But those bags continued to gather dust and take up space, along with the popper.  Out of desperation, this morning I decided to give it a try.  

Green Goodness
Not pretty, but effective
Ground Goodness
Tools of the trade

The time in the popper determines what roast you get.  Medium, French, it was the length of time that determined how deep and dark those beans would become.  After a minute, and some smoking, and the colour of the beans going from a greyish/green colour to a dark tan, I thought, I’d better quit.  Better safe than sorry.  I ground them up, and set the pot to brewing……suffice it to say that while it wasn’t the worst cup of coffee we had ever had, it was going to win no awards.  

Another try was warranted.  I thought I had remembered our instructions, and that 2 minutes would give a deep roast, so another batch of beans was added, the popper plugged in, and away it went.  My senses were on overload; there was five-alarm type smoke in the cabin, and my nose identified the aroma as what can only be described as “Starbucks- like”.  I unplugged the popper and took a look.  A handful of dark, glossy beans awaited me.  Oily and fragrant, I could feel the caffeine starting to seep into my pores, even prior to grinding.  I confess I was slightly heady with success and the subsequent grinding, bringing forth grounds that we hadn’t seen or smelled in years and years, almost brought me to tears.  

As its part of the captain’s morning ritual, Ron nudged me aside, informing me that he would take it from there.  Not since a cup of coffee purchased at a random Starbucks in the Miraflores district of Lima, Peru, had we had such a good cup of coffee!  Making it all the more special was that we did it ourselves.
We are coming to the end of the line of countries that are known for growing coffee beans, but I told Ron that I was immediately researching where in Ecuador we could travel to, to buy our own 50 pound sack of green beans.   A trip to a coffee finca was now high on my list of travel priorities.