As some of you know, coffee is not just an addiction with me. It’s a passion. Some years back, while searching the Interwebs for a better coffee, I discovered that it was possible to buy green beans and roast them at home. I did, and never looked back.
I’ve learned that freshly roasted and ground coffee has a significantly different taste. What do I mean by “freshly”? Ground coffee begins to oxidize immediately. I’m talking about minutes here. I haven’t conducted any personal tests, but I’d guess that within thirty minutes to an hour, it’s already stale.
As far as roasting, the roasted beans often peak in flavor after resting for a day or two. After that, they start to go downhill. Five to seven days later, they’re almost finished. The flavor has changed to that bitter, tasteless, acid and acrid stuff that we’ve all come to know from almost every coffee we’ve ever had.
What makes a great coffee? First, the beans have to be picked only when they are ripe. They are then processed naturally to remove the outer fruit. The fruit is called a cherry because at the peak of ripeness, it’s dark red.
Deena and I had a good laugh at Starbucks (to which we are often forced while driving solely because of their ubiquity on the road) the other day. They put up this poster of their coffee farm. Notice that the coffee fruit are all different shades including even unripe green cherries. THAT is the very first reason that Starbucks coffee sucks! They don’t even bother buying ripe coffee because they can buy garbage beans (while exploiting foreign workers) for less than one dollar a pound. Yes, they do make obscene profit by selling their horrible beans for more than fifteen dollars per pound. Want to make a difference? Try buying FTO, or Fair Trade Organic coffee. It may not be any better than Starbucks, but at least you’re not exploiting poor people and encouraging the use of harmful chemicals in the world.
After a coffee is roasted, it’s best if used before maybe seven to ten days. Of course, that’s impossible unless you’re roasting small batches yourself. Or you live next to a micro-roaster. On the road, Deena and I are ever watchful for great coffee shops. A great coffee shop is one that not only has a good source of freshly roasted beans, but also has a great barista. (Making a really good espresso is another story/blog entirely!)
The whole point of the above back story is that while we’re traveling, we are always on the lookout for a great coffee. In Costa Rica, many of the drip coffees, espressos and lattes were fine. The best latte and espresso however, were at La Casa del Café in Jaco, Puntarenas.
We were not expecting a small town like Jaco to have a micro-roaster. This coffee shop not only had a roasting machine in the back shed, but also had not one, but two of the better baristas we’ve encountered so far in our travels. Our first day, we met Oscar who made us a couple of incredible capuccinos. We talked for a while about coffee and roasting, and he invited us to come over the next day to watch him roast.
The next day we met with Juan, the owner of La Casa del Café, and Oscar who had fired up the roaster for a couple of batches. It turns out that Juan had purchased a small coffee plantation in the Tarrazú area some years before. He had no intention of making a business out of it, but, well, sometimes those things happen with hobbies, don’t they?
The Tarrazú beans that they were roasting were consistent ripe cherries collected from one or two small farms. The greens were beautiful, almost translucent on the outside. The Tarrazú region is at an altitude of over 4000 feet. Because of the high altitude, the beans are concentrated and compact. In the industry, they’re called Strictly Hard Bean or sometimes Strictly High Grown.
When prepared as a pour-over (drip), the Tarrazú has a bright acidity with a little bit of spice and a wonderful cocoa undertone. Can you tell I’m really missing this amazing coffee?
Juan also was the one who recommended that we spend a little time in Monteverde on our way north. We’re glad he did. If you find yourself in Jaco, stop in for a great coffee and say hello.