Un pasaporte con muchos sellos

28 Abr 2012

pasaporte

De los volcanes de Guatemala al desierto de Kenia y las islas de Indonesia. Las tres zonas del café: Latinoamérica, Africa/Medio Oriente y Asia/Pacífico. Qué se puede esperar de cada variedad y cómo una simple taza puede encerrar una historia milenaria de conquistas, colonias y aventuras.


oleo-dixitMillones y millones y millones de plantas de café, nacidas de un mismo gajo: ésa fue la primera hermandad latinoamericana. El milagro botánico se dio en el año 1723, cuando el oficial de infantería francés Gabriel Mathieu de Clieu cumplió con el encargo titánico del rey Luis XIV: transportar un arbusto que estaba exhibido en el Jardín de las Plantas de París hasta la isla de Martinica, una de sus más preciadas posesiones caribeñas. En su cruce del Océano Atlántico, el temerario marino tuvo que soportar furiosos huracanes, el ataque de los piratas y una sequía de agua potable, pero después de un año cumplió con su misión y la planta de café llegó intacta a Martinica. Un siglo más tarde, los cafetos cubrían la zona tropical de dos hemisferios. Esa fue la otra gran conquista de América.

La leyenda del marino francés marca la fundación mítica del café en nuestras tierras: de las alturas de Jamaica a las llanuras de San Pablo, el “continente de la esperanza” produce algunos de los mejores cafés gourmet del mundo. ¿Colombia potencia? Y también Guatemala o El Salvador. “Cada zona de producción, con su altitud, su temperatura, su suelo y sus métodos de cultivo, da lugar a un café específico, único y perfectamente diferenciable de los demás”, explica la enciclopedia Café, de la Editorial Larousse: “Es la noción de cosecha, idéntica a la de los vinos”. Nacidos de aquella planta que traía el ADN cafetero y adaptados a estos suelos, los granos latinoamericanos evocan los volcanes, la tierra negra fértil y los arbustos omnipresentes, crecidos a la vera de los caminos o al pie de las montañas. Gozan de tonos chocolatosos o de nueces, como el Blue Mountain de Jamaica o el Yauco Selecto de Puerto Rico. Aun así, hay diferencias: los cafés de Guatemala y Costa Rica tienen una acidez fresca mientras que los de Colombia y Perú gozan de sabores bien balanceados. Y si en Brasil predomina la robusta, la especie menos cotizada de café, en algunos estados como Minas Gerais o Pernambuco hay amplias plantaciones de arábica de calidad. O se puede tomar el café “tipo Río”, cultivado en el sur y expuesto al aire marino, que brinda unos sabores yodados y especiados. ¡Bebida maravilhosa!

Los cafetos crecen entre los trópicos, en un cinturón imaginario que rodea el Ecuador, en tres grandes zonas del planeta: Latinoamérica, Africa/Medio Oriente y Asia/Pacífico. Desde las riberas del Mar Rojo, donde las cabras díscolas descubrieron el café por accidente, se exportó a Europa, conquistando los favores de papas (a Clemente VIII le tocó el privilegio de “bautizar” el café en su llegada a Roma) o reyes, como aquel fanático Luis XIV que envió una planta bendecida hacia América. Ellos bebían lo que compraban de los comerciantes árabes, que en su astuta visión del negocio mantenían el monopolio desde sus plantaciones en el norte de Africa o en las cercanías del Golfo Pérsico. Más cítricos y florales, entonces y ahora, algunos de los cafés más exóticos del planeta, como las variedades de Kenia y Tanzania que incluyen en sus notas de sabor los árboles y las flores de la región. La naturaleza exuberante se resume en una taza. Los cafés de Africa/Medio Oriente ofrecen sabores impredecibles (cítricos, pasas, especias, bayas, chocolate) por estar secados al sol y con un proceso de cultivo y cosecha con menos controles, como los de Yemen o Etiopía. Suelen tener un cuerpo pesado, menos ligero, más amargo, que se siente en el fondo de la lengua. Y se destacan por el retrogusto: permanecen en la boca hasta mucho después de que se haya vaciado el pocillo.

La historia del café es la historia de la conquista, la colonización y, ¿por qué no?, del capitalismo. Aquel monopolio árabe se mantuvo hasta principios del siglo XVII, cuando algunos peregrinos musulmanes contrabandearon granos fértiles hacia la India. En 1690, un hábil holandés llamado Nicolás Witten trasladó arbustos desde Yemen hasta sus colonias en Batavia, la ciudad después conocida como Yakarta, en Indonesia. Y de ahí a otras zonas de las llamadas Indias Orientales, con las primeras plantaciones en Java y Sumatra. Si el cafeto llegó desde Africa hasta Latinoamérica gracias al impulso transatlántico de un rey francés, también se expandió hacia Asia/Pacífico con la voluntad de conquistar el mundo. Más especiados y espesos, se cultivan en muchas islas dispersas por un mapa enorme (desde Hawai hasta Papúa Nueva Guinea) y ofrecen sabores húmedos, ahumados, lavados, con probable gusto a hongos y hasta a moho. Tienen muy baja acidez y son notables los aromas herbales de Papúa Nueva Guinea o el sabor picante de Indonesia. “El café es la fuerza impulsora de la historia”, escribió el periodista californiano Stewart Lee Allen en su libro La taza del diablo, para el que recorrió 32 mil kilómetros a pie, a caballo, en tren, en micro y en camiones de carga. Su sueño era visitar todas las zonas del mundo donde se produce café. Lo cumplió. Y en el viaje pudo vivir las epifanías latinoamericana, africana y asiática, siempre estimuladas por una potente taza de café: “Una bebida rodeada de hermosas leyendas, extraños ritos, fascinantes narraciones, singulares personajes y sucesos sorprendentes. El café ha sido la fuerza que ha impulsado a la civilización”.

Publicado en Guía Oleo

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