Archive for May, 2007

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Its a Preti good life!

28/05/2007

I wake up in the morning of my own accord and my stomach is speaking to me in ways that mean I am in for an episode… A quick dash to the toilet and about half an hour latter I try to join in with Edgar and Arturro’s boys for some early morning soccer. My stomach seems to be the one that’s doing all the kicking so I decide to lay down again. I’m blaming the still warm, fresh un-pasteurized cheese that we had the night before but who knows?

 

A few hours latter I get up to Edgar packing the car and wanting to leave we are heading towards his beach house that’s on the black sand beaches on the west coast of Guatemala. The house is built in a private estate with huge walls surrounding the complex and 2 armed guards at both entry points.

 

 

As Edgar drives me past the tennis courts, man made water features and past huge homes till we arrive at his pink house. Its massive with 4 bedrooms, 3 with 4 beds and 1 master room and living quarters for the maids. Out the back there is a huge pool with a spa attached, a huge dinning area with bar, table and ceiling fans. The roof of the terrace is made of pine leaves, this is going to be nice. Back inside is a spacious kitchen that’s open to the dinning/ living room.

 

 

After getting changed into swimmers we take the very short drive to the beach, the black sand is a novelty and bloody hot from the sun. I meet his family and over a beer his father tells me about the family history.

 

Edgar Preti Snr tells me how his grandfather was an opera singer who escaped Italy’s depression in 1904 and came to Guatemala to buy the coffee plantation. He was a man of great importance at the time and owned vast lands, that were eventually sold off or even lost to gambling. Imagine what it would have been like to catch a boat that would take many weeks to arrive in such a rugged country.

 

That night we drank, swam and smoked cigars till late in the night, his family is very energetic and and were more then happy to practice their English with me. The next day is just a day of relaxation so beach, pool, beers and racing along the beach on the two 4 wheelers. What a great way to start my Guatemalan adventure.

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Guatemala 5/4/07

14/05/2007

After a short flight I am about to go through customs wondering if any hassles will arise. Of course not, in true casual central American style they barely even look at my documents as they wave me through.

I pick up my bags and start walking through the throngs of people waiting to pick up loved ones. I am outside of the airport till I see Edgar, phew, I was starting to think of other options. Over dinner Edgar tells me that tomorrow is business as he orders a bottle of vodka to compliment our Mexican food…

5am 6/4/07

View of Guatemala from Edgars unit at 5am

Eep he was not joking when he said we´ve gotta get up early tomorrow! We pack his car and start the two and half hour drive east of Guatemala city towards Oriente in Oratario, Santa Rossa.

Edgars farm has been in his family now for a touch over 80 years. They grow tow varietals, Caturra and Catuahi, the farms is called El Silencio www.fincaelsilencio.com .

Quick Facts

Farms Area = 440 Manzanas

Coffee is grown on 270 Manzanas

Altitude at highest point is 1305m

Fica population 218

Has a school and a certified nurse

Is wet processed

naturally dried on patio’s or on wooded driels

70% of water used is recycled

They breed Tilpa fish for the villagers

villagers to grow corn on land

There is a rough drive down to the farm house and after we un load the 4×4 we meet Arturro Portillo who is to escort us around the farm. I don´t really think much of this until he pulls his shot gun out and slings it over his shoulder. I ask Edgar, whats the gun for, to which he replies, “just in case”.

Arturro has worked and lived on the farm now for 24 years and is 2nd in charge of running it. He has 10 kids of which 8 are boys and are absolutely fanatical about soccer. I have never seen so many kids belonging to the one person, its amaizing to think about the logistics. he had his first kid at the age of 18 and has had one almost every year since, imagine the cost of having that many kids in a western country like the states or even Australia… I don’t wanna!

This farm is huge and steep so we use the 4×4 to get around, slowly.

Its not harvest time so the trees look void of everything other then their lush green leaves, its also at the end of the dry season so the country side is no where near as lush as the farm I farm I went to in Nicaragua. We did find some trees that were already starting to blossom, letting off such a sweet bouquet. I could of stopped and smelt the flowers for an age, it was fantastic.

We push on

Edgar is stopping to take photos of for his father of all la Poda (where they cut aging trees back down to their stumps so they can re grow and be plentiful). The track was starting to get steeper so a shift into low gear is required. The 4×4 was starting to get sloppy as the tires fill with mud from the heavy rains the night before. We corner and impossibly the road gets steeper and its now that we start to loose footing. The car start to loose ground and defeated Edgar decides to stop about a hundred meters down from the top, so we walk.

The walk is just what I felt like and we are accompanied along the way by giant blue tropical butterflies and a warm Guatemalan breeze. We get to the top and already we were dripping with sweat from the heat and the humidity. When the steep climb finally falls away to reveal the finca with its bowl like cradle, that seems like the lands is nurturing the homestead as if it were a new born. The homestead is a good 400m below in altitude and at least 4 kilometers away.

Above from top to bottom: 1)Just a nice view 2) the hut without zoom 3)with 3x zoom 4) with 11x zoom

I want to just sit here and soak it up, have the sun burn my skin and like it used to back in Oz , hear the silence talk to me and let the seasonally affected depression melt away! With the world at our feet Edgar and Arturro press on. They want to show me the planned runway that Arturro with no Engineering degree, has skillfully carved into the mountaintop.

It time turns to 11 and already I am exhausted so we decide to head back for a rest, siesta and some lunch. At about two o’clock we check out the rest of the farm so he can show me where they grow corn and Bamboo, of which they have big plans for, but would not go into detail. On the record that is…

When we return to the homestead where I am greeted by seven of Arturro’s boys on the patios till the sun goes down. I remember thinking how good it was to be outdoors and not worried about the weather and doing something that is almost like an universal language, and even better its for free!

That night we go back up to El Cielo this time Edgar defeats nature and gets the Toyota land cruiser up the mountain. Two guards, Edgar and myself light a fire and watch the stars grow accompanied by the rhythmic pulse of the glow bugs, till the rain comes. We are in radio contact with the guards below and for the fun of it we get them to fire of a couple of buck shots so we could hear the night fill with their roar.

After a quick dash down to the bottom, so we don’t get stuck up the top because of the rains. We settle down for the night, sitting on the porch drinking more vodka, to the tune of the frogs echoing calls through the night.

This is a great time to catch up on some writing and, oh yeah, and finally get to shoot of a couple rounds from Arturro’s gun. Fully loaded with buck 9’s the number being a reference to the amount of pellets in the cartridge. After which Edgar tells me to sleep tight tonight as we now have three armed guards surrounding the homestead, but don’t be surprised if a cock wakes you up in the morning… I go to sleep with one eye open hoping he is referring to the fighting roosters they breed on the farm.

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Chicago the last of my last goodbyes…

10/05/2007

Sorry for being so behind in my blog, its been really hard to sit still in front of a computer of late, so this is what I was thinking back on the.

5/4/07

Well that is it then I have said my last of my last goodbyes to Maria and that means that I have officially left Dublin behind. Sitting yet in another airport reflecting on times gone by. I can´t help but feel a little empty and I´d be lying if I said that I was not a touch sad. I wonder how long I will remember Dublin and my life as it was when I was there. A quick thanks to Maria for looking after me whilst I was staying in Chicago, I had a blast and I hope to see you again one day soon.

Chicago, O’hare again with security!

After being grilled about my travel plans you think that I would be more organised. Once again, I think just to bite my nose off to spite my face I am less then prepared for the flight. I had no access to a printer though I did not really look to hard to find one. I thought that I would be smart and write down all the flights details in my diary for proof of flights… Not good enough!

The guy at the check in, bumped me forward to an 11am flight a full 1.15 hours ahead of my original flight time, nice of him after the grilling he gave me. I head to security to get scanned and the rest but the line is huge, there is no way I was going to get through in time. So to the disgust of the other passengers I jump the ques and explain to the officer my situation, no problem they let me though.

Jacket off, shoes off, wallet and phone in the tray, I present my passport and ticket to the guard who then tells me that I have been flagged for extra security. “Why”!! I cry aloud as I fall to my knees… Not really though.

So over to an over-sized guard and with a booming voice he asks me to face the wall and stand on a pair of feet shaped spots on the ground. I hear the snap of rubber gloves and I start to pray that he be gentle as I´m only little. I then get a very thorough pat down that leaves me feeling slightly, like I want to shower in the fetal position tonight! Then my back pack with all my belongings in it gets a good going through as well. My pack and shoes get swiped and tested, even though I have nothing to hide I am still getting nervous.

Obviously I get waved through and I am wondering if this is because of the trouble at Shannon airport in Ireland.

So new beginnings ahead, I wonder if Edgar will be at the airport to pick me up in Guatemala city when I arrive…

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Intelligentsia 3123 Broadway St Chicago

08/05/2007

1/4/07 Sunday 3pm.

I don´t know why but i thought that this cafe was going to be a lot smaller then it actually is. Apon entry I see a line of people waiting to get there coffee and teas. The place is buzzing and feels inviting with a smattering of chairs, tables, bar stools, lounges with coffee tables up the back.

I bypass the line and head straight up to the retail counter and I notice that they have roasted coffee in glass displays embedded into the counter. My first thought is that the beans looked old and tired but I didn´t think twice about it as its all too common to see display beans looking defeated. I’m looking around at the selection and I notice a La Minita! I have had this coffee before at Estate Coffee through a clover that Klaus made me, and I am excited to get to try it again.

I ask for the coffee and the guy who is serving me kinda laughs saying that those coffees are over ten years old and are not available anymore… Bugger! I am now feeling like one of those stupid customers that I am always gripe about (on the inside of course) as he points to the large coffee menu right in front of me. I blurt out, “Kenya please, half a pound unground”.

After paying for the beans I head to the line and order my usual, an espresso and a traditional wet cappuccino (thanks Stephen for the ordering tip) and take it to a shared table.

The espresso was clean with good body and chocolate notes but not much tobacco like I overheard one of the staff describe it as. Then the cap, it was fairly dry and this time I was getting a bit of a smokey flavour cutting through the milk, it was good at best but only because I did not get a wet cap like I had ordered.

After letting the caffeine buzz subside a bit, about 45 mins latter I ordered another wet, trad cap and this one was a lot better, really smooth and clean though the temp could of been a little hotter. But after not having any coffee for a day or so it was great to get my fix by the leaders in the industry. I´m yet to be disappointed @ Intelligentsia and as its only 15mins away from Maria’s, I go back time and time again.

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Chicago, Intelligentsia

03/05/2007

Feeling tired and hungover from being out with Janice the night before I gather my clothes up and get the subway to the central bus station, then onwards to the airport destined for Chicago!

I am really looking forward to this part of the trip as I get to see my good friend Maria, who too, I used to work with at Bewley´s. Though she used to work in the Italian restaurant out the back called Cafe Bar Deli. Also I get to spend some time with the kids from Intelligentsia to do some cupping.

My Flight is delayed by an hour and I have no means to get in touch with maria, who is going to pick me up from the airport. I am flying with Continental and the plane is tiny so I am on edge as it jumps and bumps its way through the sky. Finally the plane lands and I go to the baggage claim to pick up my guitar and bags. I am looking around for Maria and I can´t see her anywhere, I am really not sure where the waiting aria is so I kinda just start walking around without purpose.

After about ten mins I decide I better call her and I head to a phone thats down stairs. I put all my bags down so I can get some change out of my pocket to call, but for some reason her mobile is not on. Great! I decide I should head upstairs to the pickup/ drop off area outside, but soon relise that I have left my Gorilla coffee back at the phone. So I turn around too walk back and low and behold who do I find?

 This is actuall a bigger chance then first thought, as Maria had been driving around the four terminals to see if I would just wait out side for her. After an hour of doing so she thought she would just chance it and pulled into any car park to just see if she could find me… So fate would have it that we saw each other straight away! Finally, after only a half hour car ride I get to see her pad that she has been telling me all about.

Makes you all warm and fuzzy don´t it!

I had a quick meeting with Doug Zell the CEO of Intelligentsia the next day for reasons that I am not a liberty to disclose, sounds bigger then it actually is. I got the chance to meet EJ who looks after quality control for Doug and he invited me to do a cupping the next day. Though he says that he has to get through a mountainous pile of Flor Azul sample bags to categorise.

Intelligentsia Fulton Street 30/3/07 10.30am

After thinking that I would be smart and catch a bus to Intelligentsia instead of the L. I was soon to realise that the massive bus driver did not understand when I asked if he went to Fulton street. As he, after only  ten minuets told me this was my stop, when yesterday by the train it took an hour. I look at the street sign and it says Fullerton st instead. I´m starting to wonder if Maria is right when she told me that I mumble, though I am sure its just my Aussie accent, surely!

So after spending $12 US on a taxi I arrived to spend a magical day in the cupping room with EJ Dawson and Jeff who does the buying for the company. To me this is “kind of a big deal” to quote Ron Bergondy and I have to say I was quite nervous. This could have been a little premature, because as soon as I walk in I see the Flor Azul sample bags still piled up on the cupping table. I see EJ frantically testing the beans for moister and putting the samples next to his computer so he can log them. With out even looking up he says sorry man we are going to have to do the cupping in the afternoon around 3ish, can you come back? I don´t really have anything that I want to do today so I offer to help with the coding and with a huge sigh of relief he gladly accepts and puts me to work.

The Job

To weigh 175 grams put them into the moister reader get a reading, label it, then reseal the bag so EJ could log the farmers name, farm size and other details into his computer. 130 times! I must love coffee to be doing this when I´m on holidays!

Flor Azul

Is one of Intelligentsia´s relationship buying programs they have running in Nicaragua. Doug tells me that normally these coffees would be milled together already and they had to pay a sum of money up front so they could get them to hold off on this process, so Intelli could cup and score them. Then the coffees could be bought at a higher price then the average C price.

At around 3.30pm EJ and I finally get through the pile of green coffees and Jeff peruses the final print out. To which he was pleasantly surprised with how consistent the moisture readings were. He was nervous that the readings would be hugely varied as Intelli had bought new solar drying equipment and moisture readers for the farmers, but was unable to get back to Nicaragua to make sure that the farmers were using the equipment correctly. Jeff mused at how resourceful the farmers are and they most likely used the age old bite test to see how moisture would be in the beans.

Panama Cupping 3.30pm

EJ had enlisted the help from Greg a keen barista that came 4th in the regional´s to set up the cupping for us. With 6 coffees all coded we got on the way. EJ gave me a cupping sheet so I could score the coffees but maybe out of intimidation, I opted not too,  I wanted to just enjoy my first Panama cupping experience. These coffees were unlike any coffees that I have had before. So lively and acidic they were setting my taste buds alight to the point were I had to stop myself from contorting my face like I had just sucked on a lemon with each spoon full!

For me it was like biting into a green apple for the first time, everytime, I was getting whipped! Now, thats not to say that I did not like the coffees I was actually really enjoying this new experience. Even though I was not scoring I was happy that the coffee I enjoyed the most was the one that scored the highest.

So good, so good!

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Gimme Cafe www.gimmecoffee.com

01/05/2007

Gimme Cafe 26/3/07 5.30pm

Is cool!

The bar is set up is really impressive and even better still its quiet with hardly anyone in the cafe, which is unusual I´m told. Booths are set up along the left side of the cafe as you enter and a long mirror with a bar on the other. The booths stop to give space to retail shelving so we have to be tempted by the offerings before we make it to the till. 

We order at the till then only have to make a few steps to the side to watch John make the coffees. I love the bar as its in the shape of a square that sits in the back left side of the cafe. The bar is really open and its easy to see whats going on back there, conversation must flow.

John, I would have to say is the best barista I´ve had the pleasure of been served by in New York thus far! His latte art is very consistent and beautiful also his espresso was made perfectly. I am astounded to hear that he has only been with the cafe for 6 months and had to take a huge pay cut from the restaurant game to be a barista. I´m reminded of Bella Zudor from Bewley´s who only after 2 months was putting Stephen Morrisseys and my latte art to shame, though we had Bella pinned in the espresso department, hey Stephen?

We talk for a while when the young girl who took our money (forget her name, sorry) chimes in saying that she is not allowed on the espresso machine yet but loves the industry that we are in. They have had a lot of international visitors of late and its really inspired them both.

There was talk of a few of the New York cafes getting together on days off to play volley ball, at least I think that’s what they said. I remember thinking that would be a great way to break any annoying barista pretentiousness, but for some reason it had not eventuated. I hope that the cafes get together and do that, it would be a great way to meet other like minded people.

Janice and I don´t really stay for long as we are starving and Janice wanted to take me out to Brooklyns restaurant week, were many great food haunts had a set three course meal for 20 bucks.

We first go out to a really cool wine bar along the way, which I will try and find out the name of before heading out to a great dinner. We meet up with her friend who is breaking into the comedy world and we laugh our way to the restaurant!

Janice did not let me pay for the meal and I am forever in her debt as she was a lot of fun and I hope that we get to stay in touch!

Thanks Janice!!!!!