Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Part 2: Bolivia Coffee Competition - "Cupping the Mountain's Peak 2003"
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Coffee Cultivation in the Yungas

There was some trouble in the Yungas when we were there. You see, Coca production is legal in controlled areas, because the original use of the Coca leaf is to make a non-narcotic mate (chopped leaf tea). This tea is served everywhere, hotels, restaurants, in the local markets etc. But the legal coca producers union had some gripes and blocked a road that happened to be the road between the growing area of Caranavi, and Coroico. This meant that the farmers, over 200 of them that where prepared to come to the cupping, could not make it. And we could not go to tour Caranavi mills. Luckily, there is a great mill on the outskirts of Coroico, (the drying patio is above, with the 4 guys who are the managers for the co-op). To the right, Jose the co-ops manager.

Coffee is stored in colorful plastic bags after it is patio dried, and in parchment. The bags breath enough not to trap moisture. Ideally it waits in this condition for quiet for 4 weeks or more, called reposo, or rest. Then it is milled out of the parchment, looking like the green coffee seed as we know it, right before it is ready to ship to port.

To the right: the co-op had an unused old ball roaster in the corner of their warehouse. These are somewhat dangerous (they can store pressure in the roast, then decompress all at once!). That's Marcos, who owns a Panamanian coffee farm and is an expert consultant with the USAID funded MAPA project to improve coffee quality in the Yungas. There is also a clip of the ball roaster in my Bolivia 2003 Movie!

There was another ball roaster at the AndiTrade plant in La Paz. These are sometimes used to roast coffee with a coating of sugar on it ... NOT something you should do in any other roaster since sugar does little for the flavor, and has a tendency to catch fire!

Marcos shows us the germinating young coffee seedlings, which the coop plants in long layered compost beds. To the right, local children along the road, playing hide-and-go-seek from us. The rural areas where so nice, and felt incredibly friendly and safe to explore compared to other countries I have visited.

Most of the coffee is in the Caranavi area of the Yungas, about an hour from where we were. But with the road blockages, we couldn't make it there on this trip. I wanted to share some photos though of the coffee harvest in the Caranavi area. Below, ripe cherry is resorted before pulping to remove any under-ripe fruit.

Above right, ripe cherry ready to run through the hand pulper, which removes the skin. Then the coffee is ready to run through the de-muscilager or to go right into the fermentation tanks. Fermentation breaks down the fruity layer that clings to the parchment layer of the coffee. For some pictures of coffee in the various stages, see the bottom of my Coffee Cupping Reference Page.

Below right: a meeting of the cooperative farmers in the Yungas.


A young girl holding parchment coffee. Upper right; time to pick! Lower right, parchment coffee drying on the patio. Sun-drying the coffee is ideal, but sometimes mechanical drying is a necessary backup when afternoon rains threaten the patios. Raking the coffee ensures even drying. Coffee in parchment is called Oro (gold), and also Pergamino.

The Roads

As I said, Bolivia is spectacular, and one experience not to miss are the old dirt roads that cut across sheer cliffs and dizzying drop-offs. For some perspective, in the picture above, can you see the small whitish rectangle near the center? That's a small bus that seats about 25 people.

Yes, the roads are dangerous, especially for the heavily-laden coffee trucks that must travel them to get to La Paz, and then to the ports in Peru (or sometimes in Chile). If they lose their forward momentum, the brakes can't hold the weight on these steep inclines, and the driver must bail out. That is what happened last year to the coffee truck (green arrow) that fell off the road at this spot.

They say that in a period of 2 months, 45 cars went off this one road. There are many crosses such as this along the way.

To the right, another view of a 25-seater bus on a very steep section.

As I was taking pictures along this route, it was so clear that you really can't capture the drama and beauty of this are in a snapshot. Peaks look flat, valleys look shallow, nothing is as grand as it is in person.

As we neared the summit of the old road leaving Coroico, we looked back toward the town ... definitely a place I want to visit again.

La Paz: Highest City in the World

La Paz is a fascinating old city, and if the pictures make it look a little ragged and unclean, don't believe your eyes. I was impressed at how well-swept, safe (I wandered alone for hours). But I like to take pictures of the local markets and that makes the city look a little more rustic than it is. I especially wanted to get some nice pictures of the female vendors in their traditional clothes.

My favorite building on the main boulevard. We stayed at the Hotel Europa downtown, about $75 US per night, incredible place. You could walk out the front door to the shops, outdoor markets, great restaurants, etc. etc.

If you see my other coffee travel pages you know I like commercial paintings like this.

The Hotel Europa was across from the college campus, and there was a huge marching band competition in the auditorium. The bands would assemble a few blocks away and every 10 minutes, a new one would come down the street and file into the campus. The number of bands seemed endless, as if every high school, junior high, grade school and kindergarten had their own band!

I didn't come back with a great picture of this, but there in the Carneceria (Meat Shop) section of the open market there were tons of stands where chickens were serving chickens, and pigs were serving pork. It was like the ultimate endorsement: "Eat me, I taste good!? as if a chicken would know what it tastes like. Well, in the age of suspect protein content in farm feed, they ARE probably eating themselves, or worse...

To the right, a lucky photo that turned out to have some better content than expected.

To the right: some political punk rock graffiti, "Ugly, Dirty and Bad." Actually, La Paz really felt like a community, and seemed to function pretty well. I compare this to Guatemala City, or Tegucigulpa ... and others that seem a little less friendly and safe to the walking out-of-towner.

Thanks for looking! Return to the Coffee Library Page. ... or Return to our Home Page or back to PAGE 1 of the Bolivia 2003 Trip

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