We had a ton of cherries to process today. We decided to try out the hand-cranking machine to depulp the coffee. We realized quite quickly that the bowl was too small and we needed to make some modifications. :)
Our neighbor decided to stick around and help. Yay!!! We were going to get this done fast.
As you can see, we have a large bag of cherries to process. The bag was heavy and even though the cherries were just picked yesterday, they had a strong over-ripe cherry smell. I kept thinking of my Grannie and how she would not enjoy the smell at all. She was picky about cherry type things.
As our neighbor is helping us crank the cherries, his wife is happily watching us and glad that it is not her. :)
In comes Simon. He is the expert here and if I understood Spanish better, I am sure he was making fun of our sad setup. But, with a few modifications, he has a new setup within minutes.
Hrm, those two prongs can hold a bag....who knew?
So, my neighbors, Rick and I became useless and Simon took over and showed us how it is really done! By the way, he is really good at this.
Here is a picture of the coffee he had done a few days ago for my neighbors and it is drying now.
AND....here is ours...haha. I wonder if they would notice if I swap them out tonight. The batches are approximately the same size. Ours just needs to be washed and dried and we are days behind theirs. Maybe they would not notice. It might be funny to try.... :)
Oh...and Round #5 with the bees and my husband won today, or so he thinks. Time will tell if they really gave up on the tree as their new home or not.
Imagine our surprise to wake up to a day of sun after almost 2 weeks of nothing but rain. We were so excited to be outside and check everything out. First, we notice a new spot on our tree outside. Is it a fungus, a new mold, was it hit by lightning?
Nope, it was the first sign of the invasions today. See the close-up below.
Yep. Caterpillars. Tons of them! But, my story does not end there. We have lizards with small legs, mushrooms, blue bugs....(the flying things would not stay still for pictures, so they are not even worth mentioning here.)
Again, my story does not end here. Everything was so excited about the nice weather, they all came out at once. Including some black wasps with yellow tipped wings. It appears that they need a new home and have picked the tree with the caterpillars on it. Poor tree.....you did see the picture with all of the caterpillars, right?
This is a picture of the tree limb COVERED with wasps. It turns out that they are not aggressive, but still! And the only reason I know they are not aggressive is that Rick has tried, unsuccessfully I might add, 4 times today to make them find a new home and has not been stung once. But, he assures me that he has a new plan of attack starting in the morning...haha.
I read articles all the time about the upcoming coffee shortage they are predicting. One of the main issues is a fungus - disease called "rust." Yes, it is real and it is a problem. Do the farmers know about it and try to prevent the spread, yes, of course. Does it seem to be getting worse each year? Yes, or so the local coffee farmers tell me. Since we have owned the farm, "rust" has been a problem, so I am not sure what it was like before.
What I do know is that a hurricane came close to Panama this last week. The only ever hurricane to ever touch Panama was in 1969 until this week. Although, I am not sure if Hurricane Otto this week was technically a hurricane as it was near Panama or if it was just a storm then, but the damage it did to coffee in Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua was very bad. Rain leaves losses $5 million in agriculture products - local Panama article in Spanish. While talking to other farmers in the area, many believe they already see a 50% decrease in their crops this year from the rust and I have not heard yet how much more after the storm. I think we were fairly lucky. Our trees were very healthy to begin with and I have no doubt we will have a smaller crop than we had hoped, but nothing like many other farmers in the area.
Not all farms are the same, much like any other crop. I am glad the effort was made to keep our crops extra healthy this year. As an example of how different the farms can be, the four pictures below were taken on the same afternoon, two are from our coffee farm and two are from a random coffee farm in the area. (I put an overall picture and a picture of a single tree for each farm, to give a clearer picture.) So glad our friend, mentor and neighbor took such good care of the farm while we were still in the U.S.!
This year coffee brokers seem to be offering higher prices than they were offering last year, I assume they feared there might be shortages coming, and that was even before the storm. (Still not enough to consider a living though.) These coffee brokers go around to all of the farms and make different offers buying all or some of the cherries. They take care of the processing and even the pickers in some cases. They combine all of the beans from the farms that they work with and eventually sell it to large companies such as Starbucks. These larger companies, then mix it with beans from other countries to create their own custom blend of coffee.
With the losses from the storm and rust this year, I expect the brokers will come back again, or new brokers will start coming around trying to round up even more farms so they can make their quotas. I understand why many farmers take this route. It is guaranteed money and no effort during the harvest as far as picking, processing, roasting, packaging and then trying to find buyers. My husband and I go back and forth on how much of our crop we should sell off this year. Since this is our first year that we are selling with our own label, we have no idea how much to hold back. Time will tell if we make the right decision or not.
As every newcomer to this area that eats meat must learn, there is a learning curve. One that I am still navigating. The residents that have been here awhile do not mind laughing with me and telling me their own stories of how they where in my same situation at one time. For those that do not understand what I am talking about, I will attempt to relay some of these stories and give them the proper horror that they deserve.
Imagine you are hosting a bar-b-que and go down to Pricesmart (our version of Costco) and buy 200 hot-dogs. You have driven 1 hour there and 1 hour back, plus the time in the store to get the hot-dogs. You grill the hot-dogs and later realize that the casing on the hot-dogs were really plastic over each individual hot-dog, not an edible casing that is part of the actual hot-dog. You now have 200 burnt plastic covered meat looking things. No dinner to serve....
Or you buy what looks like a roast and put it in a crock-pot all day, 7 hours later you find out that your best knife will not even cut through it. The cows here are free roaming and have very little fat on them it turns out. The diet, type of cows, the cuts and everything else make the meat different than how I have learned to cook meat.
The packaging and labels are different at some of the local stores and we have bought packages that say "chicken" in Spanish of course and it looks like it could be chicken breasts or something similar. When we get home and un-package it, we turn the pieces over and it turns out we just purchased a package of chicken backs. I have no clue what to do with 6 chicken backs!
We are still learning and I begged my family to send me tons of seasonings for Christmas that are hard for me to find here to help me finish off all of the mistakes that we have already purchased. Crossing my fingers for Santa to come soon!!!!
In the meantime, I have not been shy about asking everyone where and what to buy next time. This week people were laughing at me while I was talking to the owner of the skating rink. I had heard she had good hot-dogs. I begged her to tell me where she buys them, what brand and if they were wrapped in plastic...haha. People were laughing and exchanging horror stories about what not-to-buy, so at least I have added a few items on my not-to-buy list as well as my to-buy list. Thankfully, my husband will attempt to eat a little of each of the meals that I make. I can tell though when he does not like it, but he is gracious enough not to say anything bad. However, he does really praise the meals that turn out descent to good. I think that is to remind me to do that again....like I don't try to do that each time. As if I don't have to eat the same meals as him or something.
Now, on to Thanksgiving! I am very thankful that my husband spent money on the imported ham at Pricesmart. We normally do not spend the money to buy meat from the States. It is just too expensive and with us just starting a business and having a ton of repairs around the farm, we just can't justify it. With all of that said, the minute that he opened that ham, it was like 2 starving kids. We were picking pieces off of it before it was on the plate. Not like the stolen pieces that I would steal during a normal Thanksgiving, this was more like like the desperate stealings from an addict that had not had a "fix" in months. Oh! It was so good! Thankfully, we could not eat it all and have saved some in the freezer for another time. Best Night Yet!!!!
People ask me all the time about the kind of things we do around here when you are not vacationing. That is such a hard question, because what we do and what we would like to find more time to do are so different. But, I will attempt to list some of things to do around here for locals.
Groups and Foundations:
There is no shortage of groups here. There are committees and groups for every topic I can think of. There are the knitters, the group that works with the handicapped, the groups that work with animals (rescuing, spaying/neutering, adopting,) the groups that work with kids, the bird watching groups, the animal conservation groups, the land conservation group, the music groups, youth sports groups, tutoring groups, people who like horses....honestly, if someone is interested in ANY topic at all, there is a group or multiple groups here that would be a good fit. There is a Rotary Club, Country Clubs, Golf Clubs, Hiking Clubs, Photography Club, Climbing Clubs...*out of breath* One of the forums shows that there are 102 groups. Granted that some of those groups are probably just discussion groups, but when you think that is off of only 1 of the forums and there are MANY forums....
The amount of various skills and knowledge in this town is astounding. I would find it hard to be bored here. All of this, plus all of the adventures offered to locals and tourists. Ziplines, waterfall hikes, hot-springs, the beaches, white-water rafting....ugh! I need way more time and energy each day!
My last post about us hand processing the coffee beans ended up with the green beans needing to be polished to look nice. Well....when I noticed this morning that I would be out of coffee if I did not either roast some today or open up a bag that was already sealed and labeled...well, I figured that this would be a good time to finish the series. It had not rained all morning yet and we have hurricane warnings for Panama right now. So, I skipped the polishing step that would make it pretty, since the coffee was just for us and it is purely a cosmetic step and went right to the roasting! :)
This is our home-roaster. This model is very common around here for people's personal roasters. There are many different models now, but I have used this one for a few years now and I like it. It will only do 9 oz. at a time, so this is not the machine for a commercial enterprise, but it is great for making a batch of fresh coffee each week or small batches for friends.
One of the keys to good coffee is the roaster. You have to start out with good coffee beans, but then you have to have someone who knows how to roast it the way you like it. Since everyone likes coffee roasted differently, it makes roasting challenging. Well, pretty impossible to please everyone, but you can get "good" roasts that most people will at least enjoy and some will even love. The picture above is what our "green" beans looked like after they had been in the roaster for 7 minutes. The roaster can be programmed to have different temperatures for a certain time length, different air flows for certain time lengths...it gets all complicated. But in the end, it takes approximately 25 minutes, it must reach 395 degrees to hit the 1st "crack" where it begins to sound like someone is snapping wooden toothpicks. This 1st crack is where roasters start paying attention to what roast they are going to perform. With a lead in of 1st crack, you have to know that there is a 2nd crack coming next. :)
The image above is from: http://cyberiancafe.com/roast and is not the actual one that I started learning from, but I pulled it off of the internet as an basic illustration of the different roasts. However, there are a multitude of other options! I also learned over the years that depending on the coffee beans you use, the rules change. Here in Panama, I can roast beans that never hit the 2nd crack, but will release oils as if they did after "resting" for 48 hours. So, it is important that the roaster is familiar with the harvest of beans they are working with to produce what the customer wants. Also, the difference between a Full City roast and a Fire Risk roast can be the difference of 1 minute, so no dozing off during roasting time. I know this too, I have had times where I was distracted and well....thankfully I had friends that liked different roasts and were gladly willing to take many of my "failed" batches off of my hands. I am not a black bean coffee drinker...never understood the whole charcoal thing, but I know many people who are.
Anyways, starting around 420 degrees the coffee begins to reach the 2nd crack. Again the sounds like toothpicks breaking can be heard. About 30 seconds into the 2nd crack, I stopped my roast. At this point, the heat on my machine was off, but the temperature rises quickly as the oils inside of the beans are released with each cracking noise that is heard.
The picture above is where the beans are released from the inside chamber onto the spinning tray below. There is a cooling fan that blows air onto the beans to cool them quickly as the tray spins around and a blade keeps readjusting the beans. This process takes another 5 minutes.
Tada! Roasted beans! They should sit and rest for a minimum of 1 hour before being packaged if this had been a commercial roast. However, if it would have been a commercial batch, it would have taken time to cull out any imperfections.
The coffee has now been ground and is ready for tomorrow! My work is done....haha....my wonderful husband just informed me there are more trees to go harvest today.
I know this post was long, but there is so much about coffee that I could go on and on. Let me know if you have any questions! I will gladly answer what I can.
Yesterday, we were out with some friends letting the kids play. So, granted we were in a kid-friendly environment and these instructions were in the boy's bathroom, placed above the urinal. Maybe they wanted to make sure that the boys are actually pushing the button, but I think step #1 would have been sufficient. And no...I did not personally see it, my husband took a picture to show me. :)
I have to say I have never seen so many steps in the girl's bathroom. I wonder if step #3 was placed there because it fit the sticker nicely or if they researched it and really felt they needed a step #3 too. As someone that used to do UX (User Experience), it makes me wonder what kind of testing went into that...haha.
Many days of drying the .96 lbs of "Parchment" phase beans and a little help with manual drying due to the lack of sun....we were ready to remove the parchment from the beans. At this point, the parchment is very hard and the bean has shrank inside. Many people use a mortar and pestle to crush the outer parchment and remove the actual bean. The picture above is after we crushed a few of them so that you could see what it starts to look like.
This next picture is what the actual coffee bean looks like. This of course still needs to dry for a little while and these beans have not been polished at all! We were doing this by hand and not by machine last night, so there was no polishing and making them pretty yet.
This is one of the small piles of parchment that we pulled away from the beans. It is strong, just like that piece of popcorn hull that gets stuck in your teeth. It is very hard and durable, hence the use of a mortar and pestle to break it open.
The good news about all of this rain is that I have time to catch up on this blog. :)
Yes, my dogs are spoiled....but to be fair...I make them work for it too. One of the issues I realized early on was that my husband was always working at the shop or somewhere around the farm and would lose track of time. I would have dinner ready or there would be a call for him and I did not know where he was. The dogs are much faster at finding him than I am, AND as a bonus, they think it is fun to find him. Unlike me, I do not think it is fun tracking him down. So, I trained them to find him and send him messages. Here are a few of the issues I had in the beginning:
1. If the message tag was too big on the collar, Dante would pull it off of Karma's collar.
2. Dante is not the reliable one, because he gets distracted too easily, but he will follow Karma's lead.
3. It took a few tries for them to realize they had to actually seek him out and he might be in different place each time, they would only go to open spots and see if they could visually see him.
4. If it is pouring down rain, they are still not 100% reliable yet.
5. While learning to seek him out as the first step, they started seeking him all of the time, even without the command....haha.
I uploaded a video (again to my Google Drive) where I send them to go send a message to Rick this morning. It took them less than 20 seconds to find him. I actually called him to see if they found him and he told me they were there sitting and getting their reward as he was talking to me. Rick does not always have his phone on him, but today he did. (Video of me sending the dogs to deliver a message.)
I had already told the dogs the command before I recorded the video. That way I could attach the message to the collar. I could not record and tie the message at the same time. So, they were ready to go and just waiting to start their mission by the time I had my cell phone ready. They love learning new tricks and maybe another day when it is not so muddy, I will video them running around finding Rick too. :)
We are still working on drying our coffee beans out, but there is not much to show right now, since it has been raining almost non-stop for the last week. This is very unusual for this time of year. The average rainfall in November is about 15 inches and we are on track to get 23 inches! Thankfully it is not cold outside, it is just very wet. We live on a sloped hill, so it is just slippery and muddy. All of this water has taken out some roads, caused a few landslides and some flooding in areas. We were actually going to go to the beach the other day when I saw a post about one of the roads to the beach was taken out, so we are making new plans.
The video link below is normally a pretty cool waterfall, but it is now a monster mix of a waterfall, landslide, danger-zone...granted, this video is a little ways from us, but it was the only cool example I had today to put on here.
The blog page does not allow me to post videos without paying more money, so I have put a video (12 seconds) on my Google Drive. Waterfall
The good news is that I have had a little time to get things done in the house this week. The bad news is that all of the water and chaos is causing the power company to work a little harder to keep everyone's power up. Our power was out for 5 hours this morning. My husband even boiled water to run through our coffee maker as a bribe to me I am sure. I am just not sure what the bribe is for yet...but I am still suspicious. :)
The other bad thing about all of this wetness is the puppies.
1. If the rain stops for awhile, they like to go play in the mud and then come in and get everything all muddy.
2. If it is still raining during potty time they do not want to go outside, they actually refuse to go outside and are good at forgetting every command they know, but great at whining and looking at me like it is my fault that it is raining...it is a huge battle of wills...thankfully I win these wars and they are becoming shorter and shorter. I can get them outside, but I cannot make them do anything once we get out there...haha.