La Yerbabuena, Coffee and Corn

Greetings again ! In this post, I will talk about the coffee-making process, and also the process of turning corn into tortillas. Both are very labor-intensive, but for those who obtain their food from supermarkets, you probably have never thought to question what goes into making these items.

Today, we volunteers took a ride to La Yerbabuena, near the foot of the Volcan de Fuego (Colima’s Volcano of Fire), and home of Jose Ramon’s coffee fields. The coffee trees produce the beans once per year, and it takes 8 tons of coffee beans to produce one ton of coffee. Jose Ramon processes 48 tons of beans to make 6 tons of coffee per year.  The beans were on the trees today. The berries are red and the actual bean is in the center, like the pit of a cherry. I tasted the “pulp” around one of the beans, and it was very sweet.

Some of the beans are put through a grinder to remove the pulp, and then the beans are washed and put out on cement to dry in the sun, the pulp being used as compost for the plants. Some of the berries are not stripped of their pulp, but put out in the sun as is to dry.  Most of the berries are red on the trees, but occasionally there is a mutation which will turn them a yellow color, but it is still the same coffee bean.

The bitterness and acidity of the final product depends on how long you let it dry and how  long you roast the beans. He was very informative, but there were so many variables throughout the process, that I cannot remember it all to repeat here, but I do remember that the beans he grows are Arabica.

Behind his store, he had a small area where he roasts his beans over a wood fire. It was unbelievable to me that he would roast all 48 tons of beans in that one small pan, and do it himself. When all is said and done, he bags the coffee as whole beans, ground beans, plus sells hot and cold coffee at the store, and it is the best coffee in the area. After the tour, we volunteers had a variety of his drinks, from regular coffee (cafe Americano), to espresso, to my delicious cold frappe, all while looking out at the fields and coffee trees.

Not long ago, we also visited the family of one of our students – a family that makes a living selling homemade tortillas. If you’ve ever wondered where the corn flour comes from for cooking, it will probably come as a surprise that it is a very time-consuming and laborious process.

The dried corn kernels are hard and indigestible, so they are soaked in a lime solution, not only to re hydrate and soften them, but also to break down the protein so that they can be easily digested. Once they are softened, they are dried again and ground into powder. Then water is added to the powder and mixed together to form a dough. The dough is then ground again with a stone mortar and pestle which makes the texture incredibly light and smooth. After that, it is formed into balls by hand, pressed in a tortilla press to make it flat and round, and then cooked on a wood fire.

We volunteers, for the most part, were OK rolling the dough into balls and pressing them, but it took practice and skill to lay it out on the pan to cook without causing it to fold onto itself or have wrinkles.

As I stated, it is incredibly hard and time-consuming work. I don’t think people of other countries realize how incredibly hard the people of these communities work to simply stay alive and make a very basic living, and I am so grateful that they have an organization such as Project Amigo helping to keep their children in school, which will enable them to have a better life.


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