SALT Reflection: Making coffee in the countryside
Annalee Giesbrecht is a one-year SALT (Serving and Learning Together) staff member who joins the MCC Haiti team as a communications assistant.
During the three weeks I spent in orientation in Desarmes, I learned many things: how to ride a mule up a mountain (hold on tight), how to get on a moto taxi (not from the side with burning hot exhaust pipe), how to wait out a hurricane (with friends). Less dramatic but equally educational was observing traditional Haitian coffee making with Madame Marianne, who has been making coffee this way for over forty years. Haitian coffee is dark and sweet: you'll see the sugar is added during the roasting process, but most people add a generous helping into their cups as well. I can tell you from personal experience that drinking coffee bitter is seen as somewhat eccentric.
Coffee has been grown in Haiti since it was brought to the island by the French in the 18th century, but has ceased to be a major export crop. Production and sales suffered during the regime of the Duvaliers in the 20th century, both because of the political environment inside the country and US-led trade embargoes against the regimes. Since then, widespread deforestation and soil erosion have made it difficult for coffee to make a significant international comeback, although brands of local coffee are readily available in supermarkets throughout the country. In the countryside, you will still find some—like Madame Marianne—who still make Haitian coffee the traditional way, roasted over a charcoal fire and pounded by hand to a fine powder.
Should you desire to make Haitian coffee yourself, you will need charcoal, a big metal pot, several sticks for stirring, unroasted coffee beans, raw cane sugar, a big mortar and pestle, a fine sieve, and ideally a Haitian grand-mere to make sure you're doing it properly.
First, the beans are roasted over a charcoal fire.
The roasted beans are removed from the fire and left to cool while Madame Marianne adds sugar to the pot and boils it. The beans are then mixed with the caramelized sugar and left to harden and cool.
Once cool enough to handle, the bean and sugar mixture is broken into the chunks and pounded by hand into a fine powder. The powder is sifted and pounded several times to ensure a relatively uniform "grind."