Antonio, 14 years old, finishes filling a bag of coffee cherries on the slopes of mountains near the village of Sereno, in the area of Volcan in Panama. A 50 kilos load that he will be paid less than 3 balboas (3 dollars).
Several thousands of kilometers further, seated in the warmth of a cafe in Paris, Paul sniffs the aroma of his "little black", unaware of the work of pickers and roasters in the tropics.
November. “The wettest month of the Tropical rainfall season” explains Pedro. The rain drowns the mountain’s slopes. The worst enemy of the pickers, in the coffee’s plantation of the area of Volcan in the far north of Panama, a downpour.
Inadequately protected from the rain, with their floating trash bags on their torsos, Pedro and Roberto, both declaring the age of 14, like all the children interviewed, struggling in the rain. «The leaves are wet, water flows along the arms, was cold and seeds are heavier in the basket ..." attached to their waist, they grieve. In addition, they glide on the floor that is collapsed beneath their shoes. "Potentially you could fall and get hurt," they explain. Yet there is officially no work accident in this plantation...
The coffee tree, a shrub that can reach almost 9 meters, has been trimmed at a height of 3 meter. To ease the harvest. Roberto, the tallest, deals with the highest part, Pedro with the lowest branches, often assigned to women, as formerly young children. He puts a knee on the ground, in the mud, to keep balance by leaning.
Today, parcels, or “streets”, which have been designated to them, are particularly steep. In pairs, often in families, pickers are busy around the plants, quickly moving their hands along the branches. Red berries, «cherries», are then thrown into the basket, which contains 20 kilos.
From cherry to the seed
Then they are transferred in big bags of 50 kilograms fully loaded. Then men, but often, young as 14 years old, put the bags on their backs to take up to the assembly point, sometimes far over one kilometer.
There, without shelter, they will have to wait until the end of the afternoon for the weighing of their harvest. "We are cold, but it is ok," they reassure themselves while waiting in silent. They can return to their housing once they load the trailer and pulled by a tractor to the processing plant.
Cherries which each contain two coffee beans must be treated promptly, within six hours of being picked. They are first sorted to remove impurities, or green cherries, which could alter the quality of the rest of the lot.
Treatment with “wet”, usually practiced in Central America, and then brought to dip the cherries several hours in water basins to swell before they mechanically remove the pulp. The seed, yet surrounded by a fine particle, are still left in the fermentation tanks for more than 24 hours. Finally, they are dried in the sun or in large rotating cylinders, to achieve a moisture content of 12.5 degrees. The thin film that still covers the bean is removed, and they are sorted by size, density...
Raw coffee beans, so called «green coffee " is then roasted locally for local consumption or as close to the place of consumption for exports because the roasted bean will keep for less time than the "green”.
To perfection in the mouth
Batch quality is regularly tested by a taster. In a room dedicated to this activity, small amounts of coffee are roasted at 220 °. Then each batch is milled and the powder is deposited in a number of bowls, in which hot water is poured for brewing the grind.
The taster, armed with a small spoon, breaks the skin which is then formed on the surface of the liquid, pushing the grounds to the bottom. He puts his face and sniffs the initial aromas that emerge from the containers. It is important to do the same operation in several bowls because the expression of the aromas can be different according to each batch roasted.
Secondly, the taster takes some coffee at the bottom of his spoon. He sips with a very special hissing, to coat the taste buds, on and under the tongue. Then, he spits out the sample.
"He is about to test the flavors, the sour side, character, mouth length," says Claudio, who omes several times a week to the farm. If the tests are satisfactory, the whole grain for local consumption can then be roasted and packaged. This ensures the protection of the flavor while avoiding wetting and oxidation of coffee: the package includes a valve allowing for the gradual removing of the gas emanating from the coffee, while preventing air to enter the interior of the packet. This will keep the product intact for a year. At the end of this process, Paul in Paris may in turn smell the aromas of coffee and enjoy it. "Without sugar and without milk," Claudio advises him. "Black as the devil, hot as hell, pure as an angel, sweet as love" Talleyrand would have added a great lover of this beverage. Paul will pay 2.5 Euros for his "little black". Antonio was paid 0.078 dollars for a pound of coffee.