«In one hand most people have five fingers. In each hand there’s always a finger that is bigger than the others. It happens the same with coffee. There’s always a bigger, tastier and better one: Arabica.»
– Manuel’s words.
Manuel is one of the few people from Sao Tome and Principe that still produces coffee. The way he does it is still the same as the one he had learned while he was young boy. There, at “Roça Monte Café”. He was humble enough to show us how and, at the end, we drank an expresso with him as a reward.
Manuel’s Coffee Cycle
The coffee plant (coffea sp.) is bought at “Bemposta co-op” – just a few kilometers from “Monte Café”. There, they plant and bring the coffea to life. After, the farmers take the plants to their own crops and let them grow – without a single chemical process.
Usually, as Manuel told us, coffee borns twice a year. And, is twice a year that he picks the coffee cherries off and start the coffee procedures.
When he arrives, he drops the coffee cherries into a bucket of water, and let them rest for a day or two. As he says: «they’re not supposed to float at this time. If they do, they’re no good, and we’ve got to throw them away». He chooses the good ones from the water and then, and then, he takes them to a pulping machine so that the skin and pulp come out of the bean.
(This first shell, as well as the no-use coffee cherries, are piled up and will serve as an organic fertilizer.)
Later, the coffee is spread on a greenhouse tray and dried with only the parchment skin left on. From time to time, he overspreads the coffee – «just to make sure he is going to be completely dry», he says. This procedure takes, more or less, eight to fifteen days – or, sometimes, he keeps it longer.
Hereafter is when he grinds coffee with two kinds of pestles for about 20 minutes to remove the parchment layer. There’s no use of strength at this time. «You must be very gentle or you’ll ruin the coffee». After this, he spreads the coffee again in a colander and sifts and blows up the small silver skins to polish it. Sometimes this is not enough and he has to finish this job by hand.
And then, is time to roast. Manuel roasts is coffee in a small pan, for 18 minutes, stirring constantly – «everyone has his method, this is mine».
Sometimes people buy coffee directly from him and that’s why he has his own coffee grinder – «My daughter bought it for me, it was one of the best gifts she could give me», explains Manuel, while he shows us his biggest smile.
Other times he sells this roasted coffee (or just the green one) to a small shop at the city called “Pereira Duarte”. And it’s from that shop that every single person, coffee shop or restaurant go to buy coffee. So, if you already drank coffee in Sao Tome, maybe it was Manuel’s.
A photo gallery by Cátia Biscaia