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A U G U S T caribbean, west indies, real   estate, property, land, retiring, moving, relocating, living, working, expats, international living, overseas,   abroad, caribbean property magazine, caribpro 2 0 1 0
Issue 43
 An online magazine about investing, living, working and relocating to the Caribbean.
EDITORIAL
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Events, people in the news and  general happenings around the Caribbean Basin >>
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SUSTAINABLE LIVING
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TOURISM TREATS
Updates on Caribbean destinations tourism, events, travel, key conferences>>
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SPECIAL FEATURES
 Caribbean Destination : Anguilla Does It Their Way
 Caribbean Culture : Crops, Caribbean Style, Pt 2
 Caribbean Living : Femur Follies In Belize
 Caribbean Expat : Realizing Dreams in Nicaragua  Part 2
 Caribbean Focus  : Tourism And Travel (series)  
 Caribbean Heart : Remembering Haiti (a series)
 Caribbean Gems : The Sybarite Guide to DR Beaches, Part 3
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CARIBBEAN CULTURE: CROPS, CARIBBEAN STYLE, Pt 2
By Noah Banks


As I often mention when I write these articles, my family’s second home is in Panama now. And, after years in the UK and the States, we are really loving our life in the Latin world immensely…it is a very special community.

Panama, in particular, is a unique country in that it is Latin but it retains a of American influence due to its past, and present, affiliation with the USA. My wife and I really like that aspect of living here as it helps to transition our two teenagers who are more Americanized than anything else after living and schooling for many years in the States.

One thing that all four of us agree on day to day in Panama (well, when we are here) is that we all love the food.  I will admit that the service could sure be better, but the food is great and there is lots of international cuisine available, so we eat out quite a bit.  As I mentioned in part one of this article, there is one thing I’m very fussy about and that is my coffee. 

I delight in it at breakfast, lunch and dinner. My favorite has always been the Jamaica Blue Mountain coffee, as I really do believe it is the best coffee in the world. So I was taken aback to find that the coffee in Panama was good enough to at least merit a comparison to that of Jamaica’s wondrous bean.  

The discovery lead me to do a bit of research and as it turns out Panama, with its hundreds of different mountainous micro-climates, has been exploiting a specific niche market in the coffee industry for years. Back in 2007 Panama sold the most expensive crop of coffee in the world, Panama Esmeralda Gesha, for $125 a pound. Yikes!  Needless to say, that revelation triggered a minor study on my part (my wife is calling it an obsession) about coffee.  The study soon became this two-part article and I invite you to enjoy the conclusion of it while indulging in your own cup of morning java with a scone, toast or some fruit. 

Coffee Species

About 100 different species of coffee are known although commercially only C. Arabica or Arabica, C. canephora or Robusta and C. Liberica, a variety grown for its resistance to a fungus, are marketed globally. Both Robusta and Arabica have about 45 cultivars each and are known by a variety of different names indicating terroir; meaning growth origin, ports they were or are shipped from and the often cutesy appellations referring to their rearing plantations.
Coffee Beans
Coffees named for areas or ports include Mocha, Java, Bourbon (the island of), Santos (a port in Brazil), Harrar & Sidamo (towns in Ethiopia), Pluma Altura (a Mexican region), Blue Mountain-Wallenford/ Blue Jamaican (my favorite(, Kona (from Hawaii), Kenya, Zimbabwe and the like. These differing varieties are sold green and then usually blended by roasters and marketed under various names.  Roast names simply describe how long the bean has been roasted, at what temperature, for how long to what spectrographically, or eye detected color.

THIS EXTRACTED CAFFEINE IS SOLD TO FOOD AND DRINK MANUFACTURERS FOR ONE BILLION RED BULLS A YEAR.

Arabica, indigenous to Ethiopia, is the accepted benchmark in coffee. Beans grown at elevations over 2,000 feet, require more water, a longer growing period and, since the cherries ripen randomly are hand harvested. Robusta, indigenous to the Congo, can be, and on some moneyed plantations is, harvested by machine But of course that method is never used by the many indigenous small holders of the world.

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Robusta is the inferior coffee and thus can be grown at lower elevations with much less water and has about twice the caffeine of the Arabica bean. In either case the beans, of which there are usually two but on occasion just one, then called a peaberry, must be separated from the skin and pulp.

This process is done either wet or dry, by fermenting and with or without machine assistance – this is dependant on the resources and technology available to the harvester. Then the beans are usually aged and or air dried, sometimes called monsooning since it is supposed to reproduce a long sea voyage powered by monsoon winds around the Horn of Africa, and finally hulled to remove the parchment and sliver skin. The beans in some cases are then decaffeinated by high pressure carbon dioxide, solvent or water extraction methods and this extracted caffeine is sold to food and drink manufacturers for one billion Red Bulls a year.

The green beans are then put on the world commodity market, where they are second only to oil in trading volume, and are purchased by roasters from around the world. At first beans were either fire roasted or toasted on a rock, then pottery was employed followed by bronze or iron as time progressed.

Your monetary status and location determined the method with many a cowpoke or frontier wife simply using a skillet or the household bed warmer. Beans can be flavored after they’re roasted when their temperature decreases to about 100 degrees and the pores of the beans are still fully opened. The beans are then gas packaged whole or ground and may be blended with other types including the more expensive Arabica with the cheaper Robusta.

THE TRUE CONNOISSEUR WANTS TO ROAST, GRIND AND BREW HIS COFFEE IN THE SAME INSTANCE, BUT USUALLY MUST SETTLE FOR THE LATTER TWO.

Roasted beans double in size, change color, and their carbohydrates turn into oils and at the end of the process. Only 2% of the original bean has any transmittable flavor. The true connoisseur wants to roast, grind and brew his coffee in the same instance but usually must settle for the latter two. 

The Ethiopians call coffee Buna Qala; the tears of the sky god and they have structured and ritualized the brewing process like no other culture so let’s briefly explore the time honored method of the ritual even if we never experience it. 

The coffee beans are roasted in a shallow pan over an open flame, you’re expected to waif the smoke over your head, and inhale and offering accolades at this point, and then cooled. The beans are then placed in a mortar and pestle to be ground with the resultant “music” also being complemented.  Four pots are used in the ceremony which is accompanied by much genuflecting, ritual and incense burning.

The first pot has yesterday grounds, which are often used at the end of the ceremony to brew coffee for the ancestors, the second pot is used for the first brew, the third for the second, horse-hair filtered brew that may also have cardamom and saffron added, which is then placed into the final pot and served to the guest in his individual small cup by pouring from about two feet above the cup. I have read of butter, sugar, dates and even cream being added, although I don’t think they are that common place except for tourists.

Of course we’re confined to percolate, filter drip, French press, vacuum brew, or express our daily brew but no matter how it’s done remember that coffee oxidizes rapidly and if you are really looking for the best cup purchase fresh beans and grind them before each pot. The next best thing is to buy vacuum packed ground coffee but the moment you open the can it will begin to stale.

Soft plastic packs of fresh roasted beans must be equipped with one way valves to allow the freshly roasted beans to gas off and force any oxygen out of the bag. In fact, there a great little experiment you can perform to determine if your beans are really fresh. When you first open the bag put a few tablespoons in a sealable zip bag and squeeze out most of the air. If the bag does not inflate after an hour or so the beans aren’t gassing -meaning they were allowed to rest and stale after roasting.

NASA did this really cool trial using common house spiders. They got the arachnids loaded on benzedrine, marijuana, caffeine and a hypnotic sedative, then all of them did what they do and constructed webs ….with the coffee spiders hardly able to construct an identifiable structure, and so another myth bites the dust. The US consumes 25% of the global harvest with 75% coming from Latin America. Sadly, most of the new world Arabica growers, a small portion of the 125 million people who gain their livelihood from coffee globally, are threatened by the ever increasing production of Robusta.

In America during the first half of the 20th century making a good cup of coffee and variety of pies was considered a desirable trait in a wife. Back in the 19th century the beverage developed a Wild West persona as the ideal beverage for the dangers of the frontier, Indians and cattle drives. The ever present coffee pot near the camp fire was often called six-shooter coffee alluding to its ability to float a hand gun and any early morning dregs were used to prepare a batch of red-eyed gravy to dress the morning bacon, biscuit and beans.
Coffee Beans
Coffee plantations thrived in Latin America because of the sugar inspired slavery paradigm reflected by the statement “Brazil is coffee and coffee is the negro.”  Coffee may have been brought by the slaves as it is said that trees sprouted everywhere along the slave trails in Africa where the captured chattel spit and eliminated chewed beans as they marched shackled toward the coast for transport.

Between 1965 and 1971 the US sprayed over six million acres, that’s 18% of the land mass, of Vietnam with 12 million gallons of dioxin laden herbicide in a  campaign named Operation Ranch Hand and the unit that carried it out adopted the macabre motto “only we can prevent forest fires.” The World Bank began promoting Robusta plantations in Vietnam in 1980’s and within 10 years that country had become the second largest coffee producer in the world causing a global glut and devastating financial hardships in Arabica producing Latin America.

GENETICISTS ARE DEVELOPING COFFEE THAT CAN BE FORCE RIPENED BY CHEMICAL APPLICATION. UGH.

Now the Nestle Corporation has set it eyes on China as an even cheaper market and Vietnam will soon suffer the fate it subjected others to. Furthermore geneticists are developing coffee that can be force ripened by chemical application. Ugh. Of course the proprietary seeds, chemicals and equipment used for harvest are far beyond the economic grasp of the small local planter who produces better product but who will be the one to suffer. The only viable market for the smaller growers is the specialty and boutique segments.

Then there is tiny Panama, with its hundreds of different mountainous micro climates, happily exploiting its own little niche market. Gotta love it!

Author : Noah  Banks, Noah’s family emigrated from British Guiana to Trinidad when Noah was an infant. He eventually moved to the United Kingdom to attend university studies, graduating with a degree in education. Noah took his first trip back to Guyana at age 23 and fell in love with the unique country of rivers and welcoming people, returning to vacation annually over the past twenty years.   He and his family now split there time between Panama, Guyana and the US.

Email : Noah Banks

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I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was soon comparing the coffee in Panama to that of Jamaica….on an almost level playing field. So I did some inquiring. As it turns out Panama, with its hundreds of different mountainous micro- climates, is exploiting a specific niche market in the coffee industry, and in 2007 the most expensive crop of coffee in the world, Panama Esmeralda Gesha, sold for $125 a pound. Needless to say, that revelation piqued my interest ---> Read More
 
 
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