Morning Ambrosia

by Dennis Peterson

Coffee – just seeing the word elicits symptoms of Pavlov’s dog. The aroma teases. Releasing the beans or grounds from their air-tight container assaults the senses, grinding the beans if that is on your preparation path fills the room with aerosol dust that lingers in the air. You move with practiced quickness wasting no time nor effort to start the brew. An eternity later the steady drip in the pot falls to a trickle and you can wait no longer. Pulling the pot from the brewer releases a few hissing drops onto the warmer but you give it little heed. Steam rises from your cup and you quickly add what you take with your coffee and you draw in a noisy slurping swallow as you return to your breakfast table. Now you are ready for the day. Oh what you miss, K-Cup users!

But most of us miss even more. Ever wonder where coffee comes from, or how it’s grown and processed before you fill your bag at the market? Let’s find out. Coffee, according to some experts, originated in Ethiopia and quickly spread around the world. Coffee is a seed found in a pulpy fruit that grows on rather drab looking trees. The farmed trees have long slender branches that burgeon all along their length with white blossoms sometimes multiple times per year. The trees like shade and a warm climate. Well drained soil and adequate water, and long sunny days complete the need. In Hawaii coffee is grown on the slopes of the mountains at an elevation between 800′ and 1200′ above sea level. It is hardy enough to survive and produce elsewhere but that seems to be the sweet spot.

When I lived in Puget Sound I found I could raise coffee trees in my yard provided I brought them inside in the fall, returning them outdoors in late spring. I had eight trees, all brought home from Kona, Hawaii. They don’t produce until age 6 years or so, and when they do they produce two crops per year. The fruit grows in sets called cherries, green at first and later they become red and ready to pick.

Green Coffee Cherries

Green Coffee Cherries

It will be 8 weeks before they’re ready to pick. They don’t all ripen at the same time as seen in the next two images.

Cherries ripening at the end of summer

Cherries ripening at the end of summer

The very reddest are ready to harvest while green cherries are still weeks away.

Cherry clusters ready to harvest

Cherry clusters ready to harvest

Fresh picked coffee cherries

Fresh picked coffee cherries

This is what the cherries look like right after picking. The pulp is moist and sticky and they need to be sorted for quality. Sorting amounts to washing them in clean water and throwing out those that float. If they don’t sink toss them out.

Removing the pulp can be a messy process. You can let them soak until the pulp comes away easily, or use any method you think of to remove the pulp and mucus that surrounds the bean pair. I often use paper towels to remove the mucus because they’re very slippery and will pop out of your hands without something to grip them. After the pulp and mucus is removed the bean pairs split.

Commercially they are dried in the pulp and machine processed to remove the beans from the dried outer layers.

Coffee beans with pulp and mucus removed.

Coffee beans with pulp and mucus removed.

You’d think they were ready but the beans are still encased in the parchment layer. This needs to be removed, too. I let them dry overnight before pealing off the parchment. What is left is the raw green bean. In most cherries there are two beans, but sometimes there will be only one. These are called peaberries and they are expensive and worth it. There is a peaberry in this image on the right side – it has no flat side and is shaped like an American football.

Beans in parchment

Beans in parchment

As the parchment dries it splits, making it easier to remove. Much of this is very automated in commercial farms, but this hands-on method is enjoyable probably in the same way many craft hobbies are.

The raw beans after parchment removal

The raw beans after parchment removal

Once the parchment is removed the raw beans are further air dried and then sealed in jars. At this point they’re ready for roasting. It took 6 years to raise enough beans for a single cup of coffee, but it was delicious! Many more followed over the years. When we moved to Oroville we had no place indoors to keep the trees and had to leave them on our unheated south-facing porch. Sadly, the 4º F temperature of last winter froze them and they all burst from root to top, but not before a final flourish of cherries were harvested in late fall.

Roasting raw coffee beans can be done in several ways. I use a hot air popcorn popper because it is fast, efficient, and reliable. It is also a smokey process best done outside away from smoke alarms. It is also a bit messy as the beans expand and shed a final thin skin called chaff that floats out of the popper. I direct these to a steel colander and toss them into the sink where they are wetted for collecting and disposing. They are feather light and will waft in the slightest breeze. The immediate area becomes saturated with the delicious aroma of roasted beans so if you do this in your kitchen be advised the fragrance will linger for hours. Win win!

You can also roast the beans in an iron skillet, but it is important to keep the beans moving so they roast evenly. Managing the chaff is also problematic. Some people are so taken with home roasting they buy commercial roasters that can range in price from $99 to over $500. All methods raise the air temperature to nearly 500ºF so be very careful when handling the beans after a roast. Beans crack at 380º and the second crack happens above 400º. Be aware too that as the beans roast they crack which means they expand and split causing a cracking sound. A couple minutes later a second crack happens which causes small hot pieces of beans to fly off and these can escape the popper or frying pan causing an annoying stinging as they burn a tiny bit. Do not look into the popper or other roaster without eye protection.

I mention all this because while shopping on Amazon last week I found a source of Tanzania peaberry raw coffee beans for a very good price and I’ve just roasted up a batch for use in the morning. First batch in over a year and we’re really looking forward to brewing them.

Here is a Youtube video from Sweet Maria – a raw bean coffee seller.

Apparently, I do. I tried to find this Hawaiian brunch delicacy in local restaurants via an internet search and by talking to locals, and nobody has it. What? ‘Sup wi’dat? This borders on culinary larceny!

A loco moco challenge is at the bottom of this article.

So just in case there’s somebody out there that doesn’t know what this delicious and very nutritious dish is, here’s what you need to know. Here is a picture of a loco moco as served in the Aqua Cafe in Honolulu. It is missing something critical, but it does show how they’re assembled. It’s on the right.

Hamburger loco moco at Aqua Cafe, Honolulu

Hamburger loco moco at Aqua Cafe, Honolulu

The problem with the one above is it isn’t smothered in gravy! Ouch. Here’s one I had for breakfast.

Loco Moco Brunchfast

Loco Moco Brunchfast

Now, the beauty of loco moco consumption is to get the right ingredients – sticky rice, lo-fat content beef patty, one or two eggs over medium (or well done for the squeamish). Don’t skimp on the gravy! Getting gallons of gravy in a can from Costco is wrong on so many levels! It should be prepared fresh and slathered on each layer as it is assembled so that everything is immersed. It probably costs less than a dollar for the ingredients.

Substitutions are plentiful – in Hawaii it is common to use spam, kalua pork, fish, and chicken. It’s all pretty good.

What about that sticky rice? Well, that can be hard to find in small towns. It is a glutinous rice that sticks together after cooking. If you find Thai Sweet Rice on the shelf, grab some. Follow the cooking instructions exactly. Very good for sushi and loco mocos though maybe not so popular in the current banal glutin-free world. For folks who are truly glutin-intolerant a very good alternate is Calrose US #1 extra fancy rice. It is non-alergenic and glutin-free.

Now I don’t want a bunch of people showing up for breakfast/brunch, so here is a challenge to all Okanogan Valley restaurants: Add this as a week-end special just to see if it generates interest, let us know you have it available in the comments, and we will do a photo review. Be the first but don’t be the last establishment to adopt this interesting and delicious meal!

 

We stopped into the Pastime Bar and Grill for the inaugural Sunday Brunch menu and caught Tim at work churning out omelets. The process is new but the results are good old fashion. And my omelet was awesome!

The process is simple – you tell Tim what to put in the omelet and he cooks it up. The options are cheeses (cheddar, sharp or mild, or Monterrey Jack), meats (crumbled sausage, bacon, or ham), and veggies which include red and green bell peppers, green and white onions, jalapeños, tomatoes, and spinach. Basic omelet craft follows and at the last minute Tim throws in a dash of secret spice and hands you a plate with your omelet.

Under the lid of the hot tray lurks a big pile of hobo spuds – this is a blend of what ever has been cooking in the kitchen and includes home-style fried, and hash brown spuds and more. Pretty much what ever one might find in the tucker bags at a hobo camp, simple, and cooked right.

The omelet line

The omelet line

Where the magic happens

Where the magic happens

Master Chef Tim Naillon readying his tools

Master Chef Tim Naillon readying his tools

Commence!

Commence!

First customer!

First customer!

More of this, more of that!

More of this, more of that!

My omelet and hobo spuds - Delicious!

My omelet and hobo spuds – Delicious!

The menu includes more than omelets so if you prefer something else with your coffee, Bloody Mary or Mimosa they have it.