vendredi 20 mai 2011

Haitian Coffee: Brewing Again

City Restaurants Begin Carrying Hand-Picked Beans From the Troubled Island Article
Gabriel Kreuther, chef at Danny Meyer's Modern restaurant, sniffed and swirled and sipped.
"This has a beautiful after taste, there is nothing that dries your mouth out," said the French chef. "It lingers nicely. It stays elegant. It's soft but expands in your mouth."
This was no wine tasting. Mr. Kreuther was sampling Haitian Blue Forest coffee, which is making inroads into the U.S., hitting select cafes and restaurants.
Once one of the largest coffee producers and exporters in the world, Haiti's long history of economic and political chaos, combined with deforestation, left the industry ailing. In recent years, coffee exports have been miniscule and declining, less than 0.008% of world exports, according to the International Coffee Organization.
La Colombe Torrefaction, a coffee roaster with cafes in New York and Philadelphia, is hoping to change that, partnering with a cooperative in Haiti to put island brew back in U.S. cups again. Last week, members of La Colombe put Robinson Nelson, manager of a Haitian association of co-ops, on the restaurant circuit. They visited some of the city's top chefs and restaurants, from Jean-George to Michael White's Ai Fiori, to promote the coffee, a strong, heady brew best prepared with a French press and drunk sans sugar and milk.
"The original strain of this coffee is almost extinct," explained Todd Carmichael, an owner of La Colombe. "But it survived in Haiti almost in a time capsule. This is like having a coffee from 300 years ago."
Grown semi-wild in the mountain region of Thiotte, the Blue Forest coffee is an heirloom typica variety, according to Mr. Carmichael, unaltered from the original coffee beans in Ethiopia.
Single-origin coffees have risen in popularity in the specialty-coffee market in recent years. Most come with the story behind a particular village or region. The coffee is often more expensive than blends.
The new face of Haitian coffee, Mr. Nelson, a 34-four-year-old coffee grower, is a quiet, college-educated man who could have easily left the island. Instead, he returned to Thiotte, the region he is from, after his father passed away, to become a third-generation farmer.
Now, he is manager of a Coopcab, a group that represents nine coffee cooperatives and about 5,500 farmers in Thiotte.
Last week he visited New York for the first time. He listened intently, watching the reactions to the coffee his group produces.
"I knew the coffee from Coopcab was one of the finest in the world but now I have the validation of that because I see the reaction of everyone," said Mr. Nelson speaking in French, through a translator.
According to Mr. Nelson, most of the coffee produced by Coopcab is currently sold to the Dominican Republic, where it's mixed with lesser-grade coffee.
La Colombe bought 85,000 pounds of Blue Forest coffee beans in January, roasting and selling them at its cafes, in addition to selling to other restaurants and cafes. It already has bought 400,000 pounds for the next harvest. And La Colombe bought a coffee dryer from Brazil that will allow the Haitian cooperatives to boost production.
The Blue Forest coffee is grown in high altitudes and under shade in a "wet" process that involves bathing the skins of the coffee beans in water to induce fermentation, said Mr. Carmichael. Production is primitive. No fertilizer is used and beans are hand-picked. "It's almost like the economic conditions of the island have made it so the coffee has been preserved," he said.
La Colombe is in the process of helping Coopcab get certification from the Rainforest Alliance, and it is helping the cooperative reach out to coffee brokers and wholesalers to encourage further trade.
Among La Colombe's customers is Building on Bond, a Boerum Hill shop that is selling the Blue Forest coffee by the cup and bag, going through about 40 pounds a week for the past six weeks. "The reaction has been great, both because of the quality of the coffee, as well as people's awareness of what's going on in Haiti," said Jared Lewis, an owner of the Brooklyn café.
Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com

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