Saturday, October 31, 2009

some time last week

Here is the short version: my farm is in the Arroyon - about 35min from Los Frios on foot. I've decided to finish drying the coffee here in Los Frios on a borrowed patio for 2 reasons. 1) The tiered beds we constructed take too long to dry coffee before the next picking would demand space on the 17 raised beds we made. 2) Coffee is at a high price internally = valuable. If I leave the coffee unattended on the farm and someone comes at night to steal the coffee, "El Dominicano compra el candado despues el robo", as the saying goes -"the Dominican buys the lock only after the robbery". No one is willing to sleep down there unarmed. I'm not willing to encourage (buy a gun for the farm) people to shoot each other over my coffee.

So, on the patio of Polo, who is not a coffee farmer, he is a cock fighter, I dry my coffee.

It is technically winter so the sun only really is out with enough intensity to dry coffee from 9am to 2pm = 5hrs. So I spread my coffee thin in hope it will drop 2-3% points a day. Aiming to fully dry coffee between 12-17 days.

Things were going according to plan. All of my third picking was between 14.6 %and 13.5% which is about 1 or 2 days away from being done at 12.5% humidity. Everyday we have to spread the coffee out on the patio turn it several times then collect it. It was 2 o'clock, a few dark clouds started to blow by but they didn't seem threatening and the sun came out strong again. With the coffee so close and the weather rather predictable we took our time pushing the coffee into piles. Of the four tiny lots three were in piles.

Drop. Drop. I feel one on my back. Antonio and I lock eyes. Then we both look North East (where most of the wind comes from), it was black and we could hear a sheet of solid water running towards us. I ran to one of the ready piles and started stuffing coffee into the sack. 20 minutes later me and 10 friends were soaked to the bone. Some of the coffee damp, some of the coffee soaked. It shouldn't be too damaged if it is clear tomorrow.

I was really stuck by how many people were willing to stand out in the rain to help get the coffee out of the rain, just another sign of Dominican generosity.

-The following day the coffee that was damp wasn't too bad the coffee reaches almost 100 degrees (F) while drying on the patio and I think the heat pushed off some the water. The coffee that was wettest was actually what I'm going to sell here so I'm not too worried about its quality.

Barista Magazine: Harvest Journal

page 50.

same story different author

Tim Borrego:

He wrote a great peice with his snapshots his Finca La Paz experience.

Friday, October 30, 2009

small clean waves and a long board

I walked up to the same surf board rental place I frequent at Playa Encuentro. I didn't recognize any body yet so they offered me a long board for $25USD. Within about 20 seconds of negotiating it was $10USD. Then I told him I only had pesos, 300RD pesos. Told him I wanted to see the surf so I walked to the beach. Then I was approached, a kid who couldn't have been older than 12. How much did he say. . . I can do 200RD pesos, the young kid said. Well, I returned to the first guy who lowered his price for the 4th time to match the other offer. With the same price I decided to look at the boards and go with the better board. The first place had big boards that looked like the would take on water. The second place and shorter boards that were in better shape. So I went with the second place.

Surfing is like mowing the lawn, it is great time to think. I much prefer surfing to mowing the lawn, for the record. It was funny to think about the board rental situation as it relates to selling coffee to US importers. If a higher demanded Nicaraguan coffee has just one point better than my DR coffee for the same price. . . I know who I would buy, the Nica.

These last couple months have been a lot like surfing: hard work with real obstacles, and some absolutely beautiful moments interspersed. I'm just a beginner surfer, so my work to fun ratio is pretty low. I have work to get past the breakers and hopefully catch a good wave. I'm also a beginner coffee farmer.

The physical labor cost of rural processed coffee is absolutely beyond explanation. For example, I've had to finish my coffee drying on a patio of a friend (see the "some time last week post"). So each morning we carry the coffee 50 yards from Antonio's house to the patio to lay it out. That means close to 800lbs of parchment coffee carried over the shoulder in bags of about 70lbs. By the 3rd bag I'm usually sweating through my shirt. Turning the coffee is a nice. When it reaches 12.5% humidity, that is a beautiful moment. Then it is time to get it off the patio and haul it back to Antonio's house, again over the shoulder.

When I stop and think about the utter uncertainty of my current position: unemployed, farm obligations, big goals, kinda homeless, I feel stressed. I say homeless because I no longer have work ties to Atlanta and moving here (DR) seems like an easy out of the high cost of living in the US. I would miss my family and friends in Atlanta, but again these big goals of mine seem to set my compass elsewhere. But like Tim Borrego says in his Young Tree Coffee post, I have a certain amount of faith in what I'm doing and that is what I'm living on right now.

Tomorrow, my Dad leaves the DR and the two day beach-excursion will come to an end. I will be back on the farm for the next picking on Monday PM (11/2/09).

Till soon,

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Coffee Pioneer. Tiered Raised Beds

I felt really cool writing that I was pioneering new coffee techniques in the DR on my resume. Like most pioneers I´m lured by stories of big money, cheap labor, and busty women. And like most pioneers I only go half the story. There is no template that works in all farms. There are no silver bullet techniques. I´ve been following pictures, advice and conversations from several different people. The blanks that show up when theory becomes reality, I fill in myself. Coffee needs an amazing amount of attention, work and love to even have the chance of producing a high quality product. Am I chasing gold dust or have I struck a solid vein?

Every morning I wake at 6AM. By 7AM I´ve donned my work clothes and made an aeropress of good coffee then walked the 15min to Antonio´s house. We pick coffee, wash coffee, dry coffee and spend the majority of the day sweating and grunting. The workers (as many as 20) clock at 4PM. At 5PM we are usually done depulping the coffee and starting to put the tools away and make the 35 to 45min hike back to town. By 630PM I usually have taken my cold shower and settled into small dinner. By 9PM Los Frios is quite except for a few roosters and I´m asleep. This is not a game. It is hard work. Today is Friday and Saturday will be the same work schedule. Sunday should could very well hold the same routine.

These tiered beds aren´t drying the coffee fast enough and my nose is telling me that notes of over ferment might show up in the cupping notes. It can be hard to relax. This picking was big and expensive and now looking at the chance of losing a few hundred pounds of my coffee to improper drying, well it doesn´t feel good. On top of all this the farmers default excuse, weather, doesn´t apply becuase it has been brilliant. I guess hard times are good for me. And to be honest a steep learning curve is better because there are fewer mistakes later. There is time to make adjustments for the next picking.

I´ve found coffee to be an unforgiving and relentless teacher of patience and resolve.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Your current plans are going to succeed.

Hello friends. My current plans are to spend the next seven weeks on the farm. We have only had two pickings, and the third picking will be a couple days after I arrive. The majority of the harvest will be processed fully washed with 12 hour open ferment, but as usual I plan on doing many processing experiments: couple full natural, a few varietaions on underwater ferment and post-fermentation soak. I arrive to the DR on 10/9/09 at 8AM and return on 11/24/09.

Stay tuned for updates.