De la planta a la taza

26 Mar 2012

El cultivo, la cosecha, el tostado, el molido. El tránsito desde las plantaciones hasta la máquina express. Cómo se transforma el fruto de un arbusto en… la segunda bebida más consumida en el mundo.

de-la-planta-a-la-taza


oleo-dixitUn viejo refrán dice que, en toda competencia, el que salga segundo será el primero de los perdedores. Protagonistas del superclásico en el campeonato de las infusiones, el café y el té pelean por ese lugar con la tradición milenaria y la arrogancia de las multinacionales. Según datos del Museo Johann-Jacobs de Zurich, dedicado a revisar el aporte del café en la cultura europea, el oro negro es la segunda bebida más consumida en el mundo, después del agua. Y además es el segundo commodity, después del petróleo, en un negocio infernal donde los sacos de 60 kilos se compran y se venden como en la escena más emocionante de la película Wall Street. ¿Quién da más? La ambición humana consiguió lo que parecía improbable: que una planta se convierta en la gallina de los huevos de oro.

La fría descripción botánica dirá que el cafeto (la planta de café) es un “arbusto de la familia de las rubiáceas, que se desarrolla en un clima cálido y húmedo, en baja y mediana altitud”. Gracias, Wikipedia. Crece entre los trópicos de Cáncer y de Capricornio, en un cinturón imaginario que rodea el Ecuador. Y recién a los cinco años empieza a dar sus primeros frutos, unas cerezas llamadas “drupas” que, en el momento justo de la maduración, viran del insípido verde a un rojo carmesí. Una o dos veces por año, siempre después de la temporada de lluvias, hordas de pequeños productores se lanzarán en su propio camino a la Meca: pertrechados con canastos, juntarán los frutos de esos arbustos con la ilusión secreta de que la cosecha supere algún récord esa temporada. En el corazón de cada cereza, la esperanza: dos semillas verdes, parecidas a las arvejas y unidas por una cara plana que, gracias al milagro del tostado, se convertirán en los granos de café.

“El café necesariamente tiene que ser tostado”, escribió el experto cubano Gonzalo Bernaza en Café, sabor y mística, uno de los más completos manuales en castellano: “Es lo que propicia la ocurrencia de cambios físicos y químicos en su composición, vitales para su posterior manejo y disfrute. Tan imprescindibles variaciones no se logran de otro modo, ni siquiera cocinándolo en agua hirviente a 100 grados centígrados, un nivel calórico insuficiente que no garantiza que los granos experimenten las transformaciones”. Una tradición antigua y analógica, quizás inaugurada por aquellos monjes que descubrieron los primeros granos en los alrededores del Mar Rojo del año 800, tostaba las semillas en una sartén metálica que sufría unos cuantos minutos encima del fogón. Pero con la era del enchufe, el tostado se volvió industrial: ostentosas máquinas con una cámara cilíndrica giratoria que permite regular con precisión las temperaturas requeridas a lo largo del tueste. Al comienzo, aquel café verde se somete a una temperatura de 220 grados que baja abruptamente a 150° y que después vuelve a subir progresivamente a 220° al final. El proceso puede demorar entre 10 y 20 minutos y una señal de que el tueste está listo es el ruido de un crepitar, similar al del pochoclo en un microondas. ¡Que empiece la función! Aquí se produce el milagro: al tostarse, el café pierde entre un 15% y un 20% de su peso aunque duplica su volumen y cambia de color hasta un beige o un marrón bien oscuro, según el grado de tueste. Los azúcares, las grasas, los aceites y las proteínas se transforman y originan sus sabores y aromas. Más de novecientos: sí, casi un millar de perfumes pueden encerrarse adentro de un grano. Algunos previsibles, como el aroma a cacao, fruta o cigarro. Y otros inesperados, como el olor a paja, caucho o… aspirina.

Que el barista principiante siempre compre café en grano, no molido: se conserva mejor por más tiempo y podrá determinar la medida más útil para su cafetera. Así como en la fiambrería se indica “picado fino o picado grueso”, aunque no se hable de salame, la diferencia en el molido es fundamental. Si el café está poco molido y queda con el grano grueso, no se extraerá lo suficiente porque el agua lo atravesará rápido, sólo superficialmente, sin obtener el gusto del café. La bebida quedará liviana y poco concentrada (el famoso jugo de paraguas). Si el café está demasiado molido y queda con el grano finísimo como una harina, terminará disolviendo los componentes aromáticos y se formará una pasta por la que será difícil que pase el agua. El café caerá de a una gota amarga por vez (el famoso vaso de petróleo). Para una prensa francesa, el molido debe ser de grano más texturado, casi como el tamaño de la sal gruesa. Para una máquina express hogareña, el grano debe estar bien disuelto, con una densidad menor a la del azúcar. ¿No es fino? Ya preparado, a beber sin horarios ni renuncias porque, al decir de aquel viejo cafetero cubano, “quien se inicia en el consumo del café no tiene escapatoria, pero es feliz, dejándose inundar por su sabor, sus impulsos y sus luces hasta el amanecer”.

Publicado en Guía Oleo

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