Friday, September 26, 2014

Three beans from Nicaragua.

It used to be that no trip to the tropics was complete without a visit to the market and walking away with a few cordobas, quetzals, or limpiras worth of unroasted green coffee beans. I got the idea for doing this after chatting with the head roaster at the venerable Salt Lake Roasting Co. and seeing how easy the process could be duplicated at home. Once I had the beans (getting them through customs could be interesting – Is it a food? A vegetable? Plant matter?) all it took was a few minutes per handful in a stainless steel pot on an open stove. (Outside – always outside. As your neighborhood will soon find out, coffee roasting creates a lot of smoke.)

I really got to see how easy the process was after visiting Ethiopia, where I sat through a month’s worth of “coffee ceremonies” – after dinner, a girl makes a small fire on the kitchen floor (literally) and roasts a handful of beans in a hammered tin pot, then grinds them and makes coffee using a handheld drip system. Good stuff.

Green beans from the market were usually of erratic quality. The impression I got was that the bean sellers were not the bean harvesters – they were likely aggregators pulling together beans from a number of producers, or getting the non-exportable excess from a higher-quality farm. It was always impossible to determine the precise pedigree of the bean other than they were “local”. One exception to market quality was in Sulawesi, where the beans I saw in markets were about as pretty, plump, and uniform as green coffee beans can get.

Nicaragua has a coffee culture – probably more so than what I’ve found in places like Guatemala or Honduras – but the coffee quality is overall lower than what I found in adjacent nations. A lot of that has to do with topography – Nicaragua has a lot of mountains but they are relatively low elevation. That also is a fact that means the nation will lose its coffee crop much quicker to global warming than nearby nations with higher peaks – in Guatemala, for instance, as the temps warm, the trees can to a certain extent be moved up the mountains.

Nicaraguans like coffee, but they also like it weak – so weak that children drink it, and more than once I had to convince a waiter that no, our 2-year old did not need coffee to wash down his pancakes. For a couple of reasons I did not come home from Nicaragua with green beans, but after getting some tips from locals in Granada I did bring back several bags of locally roasted beans. I doubt these will show up at Albertson’s any time soon, but in case you are interested …

1. Café Premium Segovia ($3.70/400g – nearly 15 ounces)

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This pre-ground bean was the cheapest of the lot, and my least favorite. The roast was medium to dark; in the espresso machine it yielded no crème. The taste was floral and bright and somewhat acidic – similar to what I’ve tasted from Rwanda – but not to my liking.

2. Casa del Café ($6.75/400g)

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Case del Café is a local chain of coffee shops – their hacienda-style café just off the main square in Granada is a grand setting. These whole beans were the priciest of the bunch but not the best. Despite being a medium roast the grinds are a few shades of brown too light by my reckoning. In the espresso machine you get a decent crème, and the flavor is full but feels dialed back – as though there’s another 20 percent of the flavor that’s not showing up.

3. Café Las Flores ($5.75/454g)

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This medium-roast whole bean was the winner of the three by far, and a great deal compared both to other Nica coffees and what you find at home. It ground a consistent dark brown, and in the espresso machine it yielded a gorgeous thick crème. The taste was expansive and smooth. This was the one I wish I’d filled my suitcase with.

Hey – why is Guevara celebrated but not Sandino?

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American troops with Sandino’s battle flag:

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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Radiance vs. ordinary light.

Reach for it.

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(Fourth of July Lake, White Cloud Mountains.)

We are down to not months, not weeks, but days. This is not the time to get lazy and complacent, folks.

A week ago Kintla was swimmable, but doubt it now.

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My guess is same goes for Bowman.

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Due to decisions we’ve made, it’s unlikely we’ll ever live in a big house, buy a fancy new car, or eat at swanky restaurants when we’re not being treated. On the other hand, every weekend we can go out and recreate in one of the world’s great landscapes.

Keeping it real, part A: Bowman Lake.

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Keeping it real, part B: Stanley Lake.

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Keeping it real, and clean, part C: Sawtooth Mountains.

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Keeping it real, part D: Ovando.

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Keeping it real, final installment: Whitefish Lake State Park.

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Keeping it sweet in Ovando.

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Red Meadow Lake, Whitefish Mountains.

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Some new snow along the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route, Whitefish Mountains.

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Whitefish Trails with the baby.

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Whitefish Trails on my lonesome.

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Back to Polebridge.

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Back along the North Fork.

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An end-of-summer paddle in Bowman.

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An end-of-summer paddle in Stanley.

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An end-of-summer wheel dip in Redfish.

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Hiking toward Sawtooth Lake.

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Biking toward fall.

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