• Caramelo

    This morning we roasted a batch from Chiapas, Mexico for one of our cafes and then a small batch of Guatemalan for our direct customers.  The truck and kitchen, as you can imagine, smelled like heaven.  I continue to be fascinated with these geographically close regions (though I acknowledge how varied the climates, terrains, and terroires are of each - Vast and Varied, a much better movie title than fast and furious.  Vast and Various sounds better, but lacks grammatical symmetry).  Years ago (two thousand and I feel old), I spent some time traveling around Chiapas and Oaxaca.  Visiting the Cloud forests was by far the most surreal experience of the trip (short of eating my first dried, spiced grasshopper).  High in these mountains you find yourself among what look like the mists of Puget northwest (twin peaks, snow falling on cedars), but the flora is all wrong with the vista.  The trees are these dry, reddish pines, much like east slope cascades, yet among the trees stand giant agave cousins, spiny aloe relatives that disrupt the familiar mists and pines.  Anyway, back to the coffee.  Chiapas was of particular fascination to me, as my first immersion in Mexican culture was in 1994, the year of the EZLN Zapatista uprising (I was flirting with Marxism, indigenous agendas, and  anarchy at the time), so I'd always wanted to go see the region.  Lone Pine Coffee in Bend, Oregon was the first place I "smelled" these coffees roasted well and caramelo scent was, well, memorable.  Butter, caramel, sugar, butterscotch - all underpinned by the "coffee" scent.  Caramelo is a funny, slippery Spanish word.  In some instances, it is simply the cognate - Caramel.  But I've also learned that in much of Spain, it is the generic word for sweets or candy.  It can be a generic term for sweet flavor, a name or even a nickname (apodo), but it can also refer to azúcar quemado, or caramelized sugar, part of what is happening in the roast process between light and dark roasts.  One of my favorite things to uncover in these coffees of Chiapas and Guatemala is that smell, that elusive scent, the caramel that rides atop the coffee.  I want it when I open the beans, grind them, brew them.  But most importantly, I am looking for it when I taste the coffee too.  It is elusive, but the Guatemalan beans, again and again, will hit me with that olfactory wave.  I know there is so much else to enjoy in latin american coffee, let alone global coffee, but while these are available to me, until next year's harvest, I remain obsessed.  Here's to mornings and, for some, late afternoons of wafting waves of inhaled caramelo.

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