Day 2 Coffee shops and big huge drops

So Day two in Bolivia, and today I hope for happier times. The bomb shell of Machacamarca is still ringing in my ears. We all have bad days, but I don’t think I have ever had a bad day where someone has tried to take away property that’s been in my family for 6 generations.

Today is very much a day about travelling, but before that I get to experience, let’s talk about a coffee shop that’s trying to do the right things. It’s called Roaster Boutique and it’s about three blocks from the hotel I am stopping in, in La Paz. It’s owned by a guy call Mauricio, who is a producer I met when I was on the Cup of Excellence jury back in 2006 and 2008. He’s a young guy doing great things with the farms that he had, pushing boundaries with processing and with varietal work. He picked up awards in those competitions, and he has them proudly displayed in the store.

But he has taken this experimentation onward into the coffee shop, where ha has two roasters in store (I’m not a fan of in-store roasting, but this was done very tactfully) and has a bar-style layout where you are drawn to sit down. They are only doing Bolivian coffee, which may not seem that shocking, but the two other stores I visited seemed happier promoting Colombian and Peruvian coffee than their own. They also offer lessons on how to brew coffee, something that I think should be applauded. They also employ a barista from the States called Ellie, who seemed super knowledgeable, and worked for a Counter Culture customer whilst working in the US.

I had an espresso, which was very very good. I hadn’t thought so much about it but at this altitude it must be super tough to pull, so it was very good in those circumstances. I had a Chemex also, which although good, I think had suffered more from the altitude. So high up water boils so much earlier, and it’s something I struggled with in this week’s In My Mug. I don’t think this one was helped by the fact that that water temperature had dropped a little before pouring and it was cool. Cool water will not extract as well as water at a higher temperature.

But all in all the shop was a very cool place. So where am I going with this? Well, I hear all the time that “my town / my city is not quite ready for us to go geeky on them”. I hear that “there is no market for smaller drinks and a clear and defined menu”, and “no-one wants tasting classes or is interested in specialty coffee”.

But if someone can do this in La Paz (and trust me there is nowhere on this earth I would expect this to be more so the case than here) then you can open the shop with all the rules you want in place, to make it a geek’s paradise, and it can work. You just need to make sure it’s empathetic to your audience’s needs, and is presented in a way that they can just access it.

So we all know Bolivia because of coffee, and lots of other people know it because of cocoa plants. But the other thing that Bolivia has started to become quite famous for is its roads. Brought to the front by programs like Top Gear and their Bolivia special, and Ice Road Truckers, and also National Geographic programs about the Death Road between La Paz and Corico (which I cycled down in 2008), roads have become a little bit of Bolivia’s ‘thing’.

So today I set off to Caranarvi which is around 4 and a half hours of driving. We couldn’t leave until 5pm because the road is closed during the day at the moment to try to make it larger and safer. So on the first part of the journey between La Paz and Corico the road was replaced around 6 years ago with a brand new (not perfect) but safer road. I even commented how easy this is while we were driving.

Then comes the second part, between Corico and Caranarvi, which is currently being worked on. I have never ever been so scared of a journey. In pitch black conditions thrashing through to passing points so the huge trucks coming the other way can get past. All that you may have seen and heard about Bolivian roads from TV and books is completely and utterly true. But I’ve made it to the mill where most of our amazing coffees came from last year, and I look forward to lots of fun tomorrow.

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