June 15, 2011

...Dark Roast

The Dominican Republic is known for their coffee. As it very should be! It is delicious! When I go back to the United States, I am going to be soooo spoiled. After all, for the past four years, I've lived in college residence halls, where the basically the only readily available and easily accessable coffee was the burnt-sludge you'd choked down in order to get through those morning (or afternoon...orevening...) classes and late-night cram sessions.

My only complaint about the coffee here is how it is served. Coffee is presented in what I call a shot-glass mug. It absolutely cracks the locals up to see Kristen and myself drinking out of an actual mug filled with coffee. They think we are crazy. They also can´t understand how people could possibly drink coffee without about a cup of sugar per each ounce of liquid. Sometimes when Kristen and I are being served the beverage,we have to resist the temptation to ask if we could please have a little more coffee with our sugar.

I have always enjoyed the taste of coffee. Even as a kid, I would sneak sips from my mom´s mug (Sorry mom!). But after living in the DR for almost five months, I have witnessed the incredible amount of labor that needs to occur before I indulge in this daily habit of coffee drinking.

The entire process of making coffee is a much more complex process than I have ever imagined. It is difficult for me to believe my own ignorance about where coffee comes from has lasted this long.

 A coffee bean is actually the seeds of a cherry-like fruit. Coffee trees produce berries, called coffee cherries, that turn bright red when they are ripe and ready to pick. Coffee is harvested each year during the dry season. During this time, the coffee cherries are bright red, glossy, and firm. The first step in the process is carefully picking each cherry. The ripe cherries are harvested by hand. If the cherry is picked up to early it will lack of essential sweetness, but if the cherry is picked up to late it will be sour, thus, the picking of the cherries needs to be done carefully and selectively.

Immediately after being picked, the it is time for processing. This can be done in one of two ways. The first way is by the Dry method, where the cherries are spread out and left to dry by sunlight. The drying process lasts typically 7-10 days. During this time, the outer shell of the cherries turns brown and the beans rattle around inside.

The second method used is called the wet method. With this method, a pulping machine washes away the skin and pulp. The beans are put in fermentation tanks for 12 to 48 hours while the coffee to release all the honey remaining from the pulp. The beans are then dried, either by the sun or by mechanical dryers.

After using one of these two methods, the third step is washing the coffee beans. The beans are placed in large tanks filled with water pressure, which leaves the beans with no honey leftovers. It also separates the coffee beans by quality, the beans that float are the low quality beans and the ones that are in the bottom of the tank are the good quality beans. The beans are sorted by size, then by density. The different beans are either sorted by hand as they pass by on a conveyer belt or by an air jet that separates lighter (inferior) beans from heavier ones.

The last step roasting the coffee. In this process is where the roaster will decide the taste of the batch of coffee being roasted. The beans are heated in large, rotating drums using temperatures of about 550 F The beans first turn a yellowish color. After about 8 minutes, the beans "pop" and double in size. The beans then begin to brown as the oils within them start to emerge. This oil is called coffee essence or caffeol. The chemical reaction of the heat and coffee essence is called pyrolysis, and is what produces the flavor and aroma of coffee. A second "pop" occurs about three to five minutes later and signals that the bean is fully roasted.

There is truly an art to coffee roasting. Sound, sight and smell are all used to determine when the beans are roasted to perfection. Timing is crucial, as it affects the color and flavor of the final brew, so the length of the roasting period depends on the type of coffee desired. For American brew, the roasting process is shorter. For expresso, longer.  All of this needs to be done before the coffee beans are finally ground.
Ísn´t it amazing? How all of these steps are nessesary to follow before the coffee can be consumed. So the next time you drag yourself out of bed to the coffee machine or drive to the nearest Starbucks for a pick me up, please remember all those who labor for this taken for granted luxury.

 Information gathered by first hard experience, HowStuffWorks.com and CoffeeResearch.org

June 14, 2011

...Descriptive Rhymes

Two entries, two days in a row! Aren´t you lucky! I wanted to share a poem that my Grandpa Krzysik sent to me before beginning my experience in the Dominican Republic.  I keep this poem on my closet door and found it has lifted my spirits on many occasions.

Only You
No one on earth
Exists quite like you
And no one is able
To do what you do
The person you are
The talents you bear
Gifts that only
You can share
Only you have learned
From the things you've done
Gaining perspective
From the battles you've won
Times when you've lost
Have been priceless too
The lessons contribute
To what makes you you
The rest of the world
Can't see through your eyes
Which is why your insight
Is such a prize
Because you are you
The lives you affect
Much more than you
Would ever expect
The things you do
The things you say
Send ripples throughout
The Milky Way
You're unique, amazing
Like no one else
You have the exclusive
On being yourself

I also included a few of my favorite quotes, which I look to as a reminder of why I am here. Enjoy!

 When the deepest part of you becomes engaged in what you are doing, when what you are doing serves both yourself and others, when you do not tire within, but seek the sweetest satisfaction of your life and work, then you know that you are doing what you are meant to be doing. (Gary Zukov)

 Christian love of neighbor and justice cannot be separated. For love implies an absolute demand for justice, namely a recognition of the dignity and rights of one's neighbor. Justice attains its inner fullness only in love. Because every person is truly a visible image of the invisible God and a sibling of Christ, the Christian finds in every person God himself and God's absolute demand for justice and love. (John Paul II. Justice in the World, #34)

Whatever you do, you need courage. Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising that tempt you to believe your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires some of the same courage that a soldier needs. Peace has its victories, but it takes brave men and women to win them.  —Ralph Waldo Emerson

As he prayed he saw the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them…he cried, “God, how is it that you can see such things and yet do nothing about them?” God said, “I did do something. I made you.” –Author Unknown.

Every night ask yourself - what has this day brought me, and what have I given it?

June 13, 2011

...Delicious Rice

A very large part of adjusting to the ways of life and culture here has been trying to change the basic eating habits my body was used to. In my situation, because of where I live and work, along with how my meals are provided, All of my meals are pretty much out of my control. Something like eating when you are hungry and portion control is something people take for granted. Here not so much. Don´t get me wrong, I am forever grateful for those here who have so generously taken on the task of hosting Kristen and I. But the American body (or at least my body) is used to certian things. A certain intake of fruits and vegetables for instance. One of my favorite foods is salad. Yeah, I know. Sounds lame and very typical girly-like, but you haven't seen my salads. Ask all of my friends from college. Not only are my salads huge, but I have been known to get every food group on my salad at any given salad bar. So, needless to say, up until this year, my body had gotten used to a whole lot of vegetables.
Here in the DR, there are four major food groups: You have your milk group (cheese), then you have your vegetables (potatoes), grains (rice), and then of course you have your fruits (bananas). Add the occasional red beans and bread, mix in some occassional questionable meat, and TA-DA. You have the basic Dominican diet. But I do enjoy the food here, very much in fact. Sometimes though, the lack of variety reeks havoc on my body.
One thing that was introduced to me here, something seemingly common that I had never before heard of is Kong-Kong. Kong Kong, as it is known here, is the rice stuck to the bottom of the pot after it is cooked. A very weird concept, but the best way to describe it is a crunchy/ chewy rice usually served at the end of the meal. For whatever reason, is really good. It probably isn´t too healthy, based only on the fact that I really like it. When my parents were visiting, I introduced them to the dish and they enjoyed it as well. I´ve heard that Kong Kong may goes by other names around the world, so I´d be interested in knowing if any of you has ever heard of this dish.