Have you ever watched a street gambling card artist as they shuffle cards? “Keep your eyes on the Queen, eyes on the Queen, can you tell where she goes, can you tell where she is?” Most times during the frantic shuffling and hand movements you will lose sight of the precious Queen. It is all part of the con of course – the art of distraction. Start with a simple shuffle to lure the person in, then get more complicated. In the ruse, the onlooker loses themselves trying to focus on the hand movements and more complicated shuffle and in so doing, loses the treasured Queen.
So, change scene to here and now and you finally getting to take that break. You sit down at your favourite coffee shop, order your favourite coffee brew, receive it and at first sip are magically transported to another place. Can you tell how many sets of hands that bean has gone through to get to you? Can you trace the back the long journey your bean has traversed?
This is where my day began. At Colombo Tea and Coffee in Durban. I arrived and walked through The Factory Café which was bathed in beautiful morning sunlight, funky retro décor and people sitting sipping their coffee while either chatting or working on their laptops. A smiling barista greets me as I ask for Chad. Chad will be introducing me to the wonderful world of coffee today. Colombo and Factory Café lie side by side. You can smell them roasting the green beans lovingly selected by an expert hand while you sit on the other side at the Café and sip the liquid gold that has been extracted from those little nuggets poured into your cup in your recipe of choosing.
So where does your bean begin its journey?
Up in the coffee belt. The tropics of Cancer and Capricorn bind the worlds Coffee growing home. Your particular bean could fall into South America, Africa or Indonesia. The seed is planted and as it grows, it is placed in a container to continue growing alongside all the other bean friends. A pleasant, warm climate and decent rainfall ensure that Bean grows happily into Coffee Tree. Once planted on the farm it takes Coffee Tree 3 – 4 years to start producing fruit. Now, at its prime, little cherry fruits as red as a blush start popping up all over the branches. The fruit is then harvested by hand or on the larger, geographically flat farms; mechanically.
The coffee bean is harvested. Which meands the layers surrounding the bean need to be removed by processing either in washing and soaking in water, pulping or the natural drying process. These respectively bring out different flavours in the beans. The beans are then either mechanically dried or laid out on patios and tables and regularly raked. This in itself is a few sets of hands. Are you still counting?
After this processing, your bean is then hulled and milled. Typically after this the coffee will be graded by size and weight (who said beauty pageants aren’t alive and well?) and packaged for export to you.
Back to the here and now as you sit sipping your coffee and cream and read my amazing blog. Can you close your eyes and trace the journey back? Can you savour the full bodied flavour and picture where you bean came from? As much as I love coffee, I have to admit that I didn’t give the process too much thought until I arrived at Colombo and met Chad. I was given some coffee history and experienced different coffees from different countries to get the process started. Chad also told me that Colombo has worked with tea and coffee from around the world for over 100 years. That is a lot of Bean there, done that … (aw come on, its funny).
Next I was steered toward a beautiful looking espresso machine and the fun began in earnest. I was guided through how the grinder works and how moisture and temperature effect coffee beans once ground. A few impressive demonstrations later and it was my turn to try and replicate the process of grinding, tamping, flushing, inserting and brewing. Did I mention that this eventually ended up in me doing this while talking and counting the time down for pulling the perfect shot.
Then we progressed on to texturising milk. Now. Let me just say upfront “This is not easy”. If your local barista gets the texture right it should be like thick paint. Not too much rigidity in the foam, i.e. heavy meringue foam and a good thick creamy consistency. If your barista pulls off beautiful latte art. Well, good for you! Give that man/woman a tip. It is not easy (in fact I am sure getting fit would happen far faster than perfecting this art). Needless to say, my version of latte art was and is somewhat impressionistic.
After the day had literally flown by it was almost home time. I was treated to getting a demonstration of alternative brewing methods. I felt like I had walked into a real life version of Dexters Lab. Scales, siphons, eastern looking kettles, heating devices, and pour overs. What? I hear you say. I know right! How amazing is the world of coffee?! It is a perfect romantic blend of old and new with stories rolled up in scrolls (sorry, dramatic I am).
After all this I was a very sincerely, happily wired camper (I had so much caffeine in me I think I flew home). I met some amazing people who were really passionate about producing some amazing coffee products and sharing the coffee love and had an incredible experience that I would highly recommend. By the way, if you get an opportunity, get yourself down to The Factory Cafe. Whether it be to have some amazing food, a coffee journey, or somewhere to sit with your laptop and pull some good speed wifi.
And just to conclude … did you count the number of hands your bean went through to get to you today?
You can get details for Colombo at www.colombo.co.za should you be interested in ordering beans or learning more about coffee.