Sunday, February 17, 2008

in the coffee forest

in-between my bouts with extreme bad luck this year, i managed to venture off deep into the cafetales to enroll kids in our school with the teachers. a couple of kids from our school who we visited, also live in a house at the center of a coffee finca, so i was able to get some really good pictures of what it´s like after the coffee pickers have finished cutting coffee for the day and have brought it back to the finca to sort and bag up. a coffee finca is basically just a piece of property where there are any number of coffee trees. the owner of that land normally has an ¨mandador¨or ¨colono¨ - someone who lives in a house in the center of the land and maintains the place for the owner. this central area is usually where all the people who are employed to cut the coffee from that particular finca congregate at the end of the day to gather all the coffee that was picked and to work out how much money they are owed for that day´s pickings. anyway, i´ll just let the pictures do the talking.

here is jonathan, one of the kids at my school in front of a beautiful, full coffee tree, ready to be picked.

here´s a photo of all the people gathered at the centro de la finca, kind of waiting around to get their day´s pickings tallied up.

notice the women that wear pants AND skirts...this is just because they are dressing for the climate out in the forest. early in the morning it´s cold, cold, cold...but as soon as the sun is risen it starts getting hot, so they just get rid of the pants and wear the skirts, changing back to the same pants/skirt ensemble when the sun starts to go down.

a basket full of coffee spread out and ready to sort. the red fruit is good, the green ones need to be separated as they´re not ¨maduro¨(ripe) yet. red is good. green is bad. the basket in the photo is what people take out into the forest with them. there is a colorful strap that gets attached and they wear the basket in front of them, with the strap around their waist to keep it secure.

most of the coffee in this area is café bourbon, which is signified by the deep red or gold color when the fruit is ripe. there are two other types: paca y colombiano, but the majority of the type that is grown in this area is the bourbon.

one of the girls who was out cutting coffee all day is now in front of her basket, ready to sort.

sorting the coffee

after all the coffee has been sorted, it gets bagged into ¨sacos¨ (sacks), which are 150 pounds each. each 25 pounds is called an ¨arroba¨ and for each arroba cut, a worker can earn anywhere from .70 to $1.50. after it is bagged it then gets taken to a ¨beneficio.¨ the owner of the coffee (usually the finca owner) sells it to the beneficio for a certain price. sometimes the finca owner doesn´t sell the coffee immediately because he or she is waiting for a better price. the owner checks the international coffee prices every day, and when he or she feels they are going to get a good price for their coffee, they then take their truckloads of coffee to the beneficio. the owner then takes the money they made from the sale of the coffee and uses it, usually very little of it, to pay the workers who cut the coffee. the workers get paid every 15 days, and usually work for a few different fincas in the area as work for one finca only lasts for one to two weeks, depending on the size of the finca and how many other workers there are.

ater the coffee is sold to the beneficio, the beneficio then prepares it for export. preparation starts with getting the bean out. what we call coffee ¨beans¨ in the states, are actually called the ¨semilla,¨ or seed, here. they are a yellow, nutty color. to get the bean out, the coffee is mashed up with machines, de-shelled and de-pulped which extracts the bean. around december through february there is this weird smell around the area and it´s the smell of all the pulp that´s being extracted from all the coffee. after the bean is extracted, then it needs to washed to get rid of any of the remaining pulp that is stuck to the bean. then the beans need to be dried. this is normally done under the sun (la pega del sol). the beans are laid out on big concrete slabs and after about one week in the sun, they are sufficiently dried. all the pulp and shell that has been taken from the beans is then used as abono orgánico (organic fertilizer) for the coffee fincas, helping the existing and new coffee trees grow and produce good coffee for the next year´s crop.

here is a picture of beans being dried, however this is a totally different process than the one i explained above. this coffee is being dried but with the shell still on. this is what individual families usually do. they take the green coffee that has been sorted from the ripe red coffee and sidestep the de-shelling and de-pulping process that is done by the machines in the big beneficiaries. they lay the green coffee out, and after it is dried it turns black like this. then they take this to the molino (where women take their corn to be made into masa, or dough, to make tortillas) and put the dried coffee through the molino. then when it comes out, the dried shells have been separated from the bean. the coffee bean is super, super hard so it doesn´t get ground up when it is put through the molino. then, the coffee is taken home and it is roasted on a comal (a flat, round, clay disk that women use to cook tortillas on....this is a traditional cooking tool that can be traced back for centuries throughout latin america). after they are roasted, they are then taken back to the molino and put through a second time, and this time they are ground up into coffee grounds. because they have been roasted, they lose their durability and are easier to break, which is why they are able to be ground the second time, but not the first. this process is used for the green coffee, but also for families who have a bit of land themselves and want to have some coffee for their own use. for example, antonio´s family has a bit of land with about 50 coffee trees and his dad cuts that coffee and sells some of it to the beneficio, but they also save some for their family.

in the case of the coffee that has been dried at the beneficio, the beans are not roasted there as well. the beneficio sells the unroasted coffee beans to international coffee companies and the roasting is done there.

so that´s the story of coffee, as i´ve seen and been told.

(i just have to mention here that as i was typing this blog entry at the ciber cafe, i looked over at what i thought was a large dog that had entered the place, when in reality, it was a goat. ??????????????? seriously. it is now chasing around this little kid, who is apparently from the family that owns it. WHERE AM I??????)