Fresh coffee: a burning need

IMGP1803_474-80cropThe last 3 weeks has been back to basics. Working in one of the less inhabited parts of central Africa, hot water, cold drinks and other luxuries of life have been just a memory. Pat woke each morning from dreams of cheese; Tim of fine red wine. I missed my Treeton Estate wines but often I dreamt of fresh vegetables. 

With a couple of bottle of warm Bulima lager at the end of the day, we were doing OK.

Then we ran out of fresh coffee.

Tim is an addict and I learnt in Boston that life is too short for bad coffee. We were down to an instant powder that had nothing to distinguish it except the guy on the can reaching ecstacy by drinking his morning mug. We failed to find excitement.

Then inspiration. At altitude and close to the equator, don’t they grow the stuff in places like this?

We were introduced us to a grower, and with prices at $2.50 per kilo for green beans, it was time to experiment. Wikipedia taught us the basics; Mathius, our cook, offered some experience.

His first batch was superb and we voted for a 2-3 day ‘aging’ to develop the best flavour. Then it was my turn. I was shown the process: a light tamp in the dolly-pot mortar to break the husk, a gentle flip in a basket to separate the broken husk onto the breeze, a careful removal of unbroken beans and then into a hot dry frying pan over an open fire.

The beans slowly darkened as I carefully stirred the pan to avoid burning. After ten minutes and with the first gentle aroma, I felt the job must be close. Oils sizzled out of the beans and began to darken the pan. Then disaster. The pan took on a life of its own and nothing I could do would stop the flames. Eventually extinguished, I had created the darkest of dark roasts with a strong front palate, back palate and nose of charcoal.


I retreated from the fire and handed the pan back. After dinner, Mathius brought in a tin of the finest local Arabica, freshly roast and ground. I gave my thanks and promised to try again. Can it really be that difficult?

John Simmonds