A letter from YAV Lisa Hermann in Peru
May 16, 2011
On Sunday evening my host dad Paco saw me staring at the empty coffee jar on the table. He asked me if I wanted to roast some beans and grind my own coffee so there would be some more. I asked how long it would take and did we have everything we needed. It was of ocurse Sunday evening and I had to work the next day. He replied ¨30 minutes, no more!¨ So I agreed and we set to work. All we needed was a wooden spoon, the coffee beans, a beat up metal pot, a gas stove, and a meal grinder (which was used yesterday to grind corn for humitas).
Now, I have been living in Ayacucho, Perù for around 9 months now and I can safely say that this valley colonial city is most certainly more famous for its corn and potatoes, rather than its coffee. Until I met Paco and went to their house I thought all Peruvian coffee came from the jungle. Well pretty much it does!! The thing is, geographically speaking, the departament of Ayacucho (kind of like our states) has a little smidgen of jungle on its eastern boarder where the Apurimac River is located. The rest is soaring Andes Mountains. The jungle area is known as the VRAE or Valle de Riò Apurimac. This is where Paco secures his unroasted coffee beans. He tells me they are of the escencia variety. I am not totally sure what that means. He said they are not quite as as well known as the cafè from the high jungle of Perù which is north of Ayacucho in Junìn.
A couple of things I learned from roasting my own coffee Sunday evening are these; your hands are still going to smell like coffee even after you wash them, face it. Next, is that we (in english) say roasting, but in spanish it is toasting, roasting is for meat. Then there is the ever wonderful asking of ¨Hey Paco! Are these frijoles de cafè ready yet?¨ Here in Perù, as Paco says, ¨Cafè es cafè, what is this frijole business?¨ as he chuckles. So Sunday evening, I guarded a small beat up metal pot on a stove and I stirred and moved those beans to my hearts content, and until I thought my arm would fall off. That is when they were done. ¨You have to keep them moving or they will burn. We want them to be the color of gold, which in the case of cafè is brown (not black),¨ Paco said. Then we sat across from one another at the table and removed the skins. This is no less tedious than herding cats, but we got the job done.
The next day for an after lunch conversation, I brewed up a pot of the good stuff. Paco came up the stairs and said ¨WOW! Lisa the aroma of our cafè is really strong, I smelled it as soon as I came in the house.¨ JACKPOT! The taste as we drank it and talked about culture, politics, and theology (all the things you should probably avoid) was incredible, and a sheer delight to consume. So heres to a cafè adventure in the land of corn and potatoes.