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Monday, October 7, 2013

The Mountain School I: Coffee Tasting

Nicaraguan coffee
Quality control in a coffee farm culminates in the most tempting of all jobs: coffee tasting. At The Mountain School, Spanish students learn about the coffee production process, including how the coffee is taste-tested professionally. Coffee tasting is still an art, but a fine art, with diligent procedures involved in the tasting process. Here are some photos of the coffee taster, Nelson McKuen, explaining the process to our group.
coffee in Nicaragua
When coffee leaves the wet mill, there is still a papery husk covering the bean, having the pulpy outer "cherry" removed and washed. Samples taken from the coffee are taken, measured and stored for documentation purposes.
coffee in Nicaragua
In the quality control laboratory, the coffee is dried under controlled conditions, in a cabinet dryer.
green coffee
Coffee drying in a cabinet in the quality control laboratory. Photo by Tania Company.
We gave the green coffee a taste-it doesn't taste like anything at all. Someone wondered aloud how anyone ever would have discovered the great taste of coffee, given that the raw product has no strong flavor.
coffee tasting
Nelson shows us how the coffee from the wet mill is dried before testing and storing samples. Photo by Tania Company.
As in any factory, there are lots of tests made by the quality control laboratory, including the quantity of "reject" material, moisture, and other things, but we were wanting to taste the coffee!
coffee roasting
A sample of coffee was wieghed before roasting for a taste test. Photo Tania Company.
The coffee roasted in the laboratory smelled wonderful. We were all excited before even drinking any coffee. Then someone reminded us that the taste test did not involved drinking coffee. To the contrary, the tasted coffee is spat out by the professional taster. How can they do that?
Nicaraguan coffee
Freshly roasted coffee has an incomparable flavor. Photo Tania Company.
Nelson ground the roasted coffee and placed a spoonful in each of several cups with hot water. The foam was removed by hand, then sampling began. Coffee makes The Mountain School even better!
The Mountain School
Nelson guides each participant through the tasting process.
Our results, however, were abysmal. None of our group recognized the differences between the different lots of coffee. Perhaps our group was anxious to drink coffee, not just swish it around in our mouths and then spit it out. Gaia Program director Jeffrey McCrary gave the coffee a taste, and yep, it was good.
coffee farm
Tasting coffees is diligent work. Photo Tania Company.
The coffee tasting and quality control processes are essential to any high quality coffee farm. We learned more about how good coffee is made by participating.
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Sunday, October 6, 2013

Camouflage and hiding animals of Laguna de Apoyo

Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve is known for its deep, blue lake, whether from near or far. The forest around the lake, however, holds a reservoir of life in great diversity. Animals large and small climb its trees and hide under its rocks. Some wildlife fly, others crawl, and many hide while in plain view. Here are a few images of the wonders we have encountered recently.

laguna de apoyo
Order Phasmatodea in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Laura Ruysseveldt.
The walking sticks (Order Phasmatodea) are insects, widely distributed in warm climates. Over 3000 species are found in this group. Generally, the females have broader abdomens than the females. They have additional defenses against being detected, by swaying as if a twig in the wind, and falling to the forest floor if molested. Some walking sticks may flash bright colors when they detect danger, and some even emit foul-smelling substances when attacked. The walking sticks are easily overlooked, as their natural disguise is quite successful.
Praying mantis (Order Mantodea) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve. Photo Laura Ruysseveldt.
The praying mantis (Order Mantodea) is also an immensely diverse group of species. There are more than 2400 species of praying mantis throughout the earth. Which is this one? Who knows!
scorpion nicaragua
Scorpion in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo Laura Ruysseveldt.
Scorpions are much feared, in some places even deadly. Thankfully, we have no deadly scorpions in Nicaragua, but that consolation only reduces the pain of a sting to annoyance. In the forests of Laguna de Apoyo, the scorpions can be abundant. The Order Scorpiones contains more than 1500 species, but only about 25 of them are deadly. They are not insects, but closer relatives to the spiders. Their colors are usually neutral to the human eye, but they remain undetected often because they stay still long periods in crevices. The scorpions can last long periods without food or water.
nicaraguan satyr
Nicaraguan Satyr, Cissia themis, in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo Max Schellekens.
Our research group at FUNDECI/GAIA has been studying the butterflies of Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve for a few years already. Among the species which spend extensive time on the forest floor among leaf litter, the undersides of the wings are usually more brightly colored and patterned than the uppersides. The underside of the Nicaraguan SatyrCissia themis, demonstrate this tendency. The ventral wing pattern, seen above, is delicate and more complex, especially along the posterior edge of the hindwing. The dorsal wing patter, seen below, is contrastingly dull and simple.
Cissia themis
Dorsal view, Nicaraguan Satyr (Cissia themis) in Laguna de Apoyo Nature Reserve, Nicaragua. Photo Max Schellekens.
walking stick