Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Zero To Coffee

I have a coffee plant. I've had it for about 7 years and it is now chest-high. Two years ago it bloomed, and shortly after it produced a few green cherries. 

 


My coffee plant is a little worse for wear. A typhoon will do that to you.


But a typhoon almost killed the plant — we were travelling and the plants were all outside — and it nearly killed the plant. This is why it looks so bare and lopsided; it lost most branches in the typhoon.

 


You get these delicate, beautiful white flowers along the branches for just a few days. Each flower is blooming for perhaps only a day or so. My plant doesn't really have the strength to put out a lot of flowers, but the ones I do get are beautiful.


Amazingly, it recovered and last spring it once again put out a few beautiful white flowers for just a week or so. A couple of weeks after the end of the bloom it produced about a dozen cherries. They have been maturing over winter and I harvested them a few weeks ago. In all I got 11 cherries. This is fine; I'm just happy the plant is alive and able to produce any at all.

  


Each flower site will bud a few cherries like this. They take about 8-10 months to turn red and ripen fully.


The coffee "bean" that we use is the seed of the coffee cherry. There's a couple of ways to process coffee, but the most common is the "wet process", or "washed coffee". There is also a "dry" or "natural" process; and a "semi-washed" process but wet process is most common.  

 


My bountiful harvest! 11 cherries.


You dump the cherries in water and remove any floating ones (I don't; I'm not willing to lose 2 out of 11 beans); remove the skin and most of the pulp; ferment for 24-36 hours to make the remaining slimy mucilage easy to remove; wash; then dry for at least a week. I've checked out several web pages and videos, but the best one is this: How To Wet Process Coffee

Wash and depulp

 


You remove the skin and pulp. Inside you find two stones like this. You can see that they're still coated with a slimy, tough mucus-like substance. The fermentation lets enzymes from the skin dissolve the coating. You can use the pulp to make tea if you like.


We wash the cherries and remove the pulp. Normally you do this with a machine, but as I doubt Ritsuko would agree to getting a coffee depulper for a total of 11 beans, I do it by hand. You effectively lightly crush the cherry so the skin and flesh splits open and you remove the seed inside. Each fruit usually has two seeds each; if you only have one that makes it a "peaberry". Peaberry coffee is beans that were a single seed. I got a total of 24 beans (I think two of them had three beans).

Ferment

The pulp is gone but the seeds are still covered in slimy mucilage. Wash them, then leave in water for a day or a day and a half. Enzymes from the skin will break down the slimy mucilage so we can easily wash it away.

Wash the beans a few times, rubbing them together to remove all the gunk left on the surface. I should have left them to ferment another half a day I think; there was still a bit of mucilage stuck to them at the end. I guess that makes this a "semi-washed" coffee.

Dry the beans

 


Dry beans. They're coated in "parchment", a dry shell similar to the shell of a peanut or pistachio.


The beans need to dry for at least a week in an airy place. Real coffee producers dry them on a fine net or cloth suspended above ground in the sun. I just put them on a clean tea towel and make sure I rotate them every day.

Dehulling and Roasting

 


I manually cracked open the parchment with my fingernails and removed the bean. With a bigger harvest I'd need a better way to do it. One way is apparently to stuff them into a hose or inner tube, then roll and crush them from outside.


The beans are dry. They still have two layers outside the bean itself: the silver skin and the parchment. The parchment is like a woody shell outside the beans itself, and we need to remove it before we roast. There's various ways, from specialized machinery, to using a bicycle inner tire. For 24 beans, though, the easiest way is to just pry open each bean with a thumbnail then remove the bean itself.

 


Green beans. If we let then sit they'll slowly turn light grey, which is how you usually see them if you buy unroasted beans.


The final amount is 2.6g of green coffee. That's not a lot. These beans are small and have fairly low density as they've grown near sea level. That means they'll roast really quickly. I knew that, and I still managed to over-roast them a little; it went so fast towards the end. We got 2.0g roasted coffee beans in the end. I let it sit for 3 days to degas a little.



Roasted beans. A bit dark for my taste; they're small and light so they went from a light roast to this in maybe 20 seconds or so.


Enjoy our Coffee

 

We've ground the coffee. It's a small glass and it's close up, so it looks much coarser than it really is. Still, a better grinder would have been nice to have.
 

 

Time to enjoy the fruits of a year of (very little) work! But how do you even brew 2g of coffee? Carefully, is the answer. I ground it medium:ish with my crappy manual grinder into a clear glass, then poured 34g of water just off the boil on top for about 1:17 coffee to water. That's a bit more water than I usually use, but will help discern the flavours in the cup. After a couple of minutes I poured it though a fine sieve into an espresso cup (then split in two so Ritsuko could also taste).

 


A well-deserved cup of coffee.


How did it taste? Surprisingly good! It's not bitter, there's a fair amount of body, and quite a bit of sweetness. More of an earthy coffee rather than a floral one. I'd be happy to enjoy a full cup of this coffee if I could. I don't know the species, but the balanced flavour and lack of aftertaste makes me think this is Arabica, not Robusta.

Finally, just as I was preparing the coffee, my plant has put out a new round of flowers. It seems I'll get to enjoy another cup again next year!

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Not Going to Osaka

I'm not going to Osaka. I mean, I'm not going to lots of places — Kuala Lumpur, BorĂ¥s and Adis Abeba to name a few. 

No, this is more specifically not going to Osaka for Golden Week, like we did last year. We had planned a two-week holiday at home in Osaka. We'd take care of some errands, go walking around town, cook and generally just relax. COVID, and Japans lethargic approach to it, effectively put a stop to that today.

 


A Shisa lion at Naha airport

Japan has overall managed to keep cases fairly low. This has really mostly been through the willingness of the Japanese public to go along with voluntary restrictions, and a general sense of caution even when the government does something headlessly dumb such as campaigns to promote domestic travel and eating out last autumn. Those campaigns caused the previous surge in cases.

We now have another surge, and this time it's different. Cases in Osaka has risen to over 1000 per day, and Okinawa is not much better off. Tokyo is reporting fewer cases, but they are also testing a lot less. The rise this time has been far more sudden and more dramatic than previous surges, and restrictions doesn't seem to even slow the rise.

One reason is a sense of virus fatigue. Very understandable; I feel it too. But another reason is that apparently 90% of new cases now is by the British strain; a strain that is more contagious, and more dangerous if you catch it. Several areas are now at the limit of what hospitals can take care of and there's no drop in sight so far.

Will vaccines help us? No. Japan doesn't have the vaccines we need. They've so far vaccinated a fraction of the medical workers (around 0.8% of the population), and they're talking about possibly vaccinating the most vulnerable elderly by end of June. That seems unlikely. Why doesn't Japan have vaccines? Good question.

One answer is that Japan didn't seem to have entered any international cooperation agreements and was very slow ordering vaccines from foreign makers. And that, in turn, seems to have been due to some nationalistic desire to have a domestic vaccine. Which is not forthcoming, as domestic makers have been hobbled by a lack of funding the past decade or so, and never stood a chance to create a vaccine in time.


Life goes on. Tourists still visit. And as Ritsuko says, we're lucky to live in a place pleasant enough that people are willing to risk travelling in a pandemic just to come here.

So, it looks like we will spend Golden Week during another emergency declaration, with a more aggressive virus and no relief in sight. And that, frankly is better done on Okinawa than in Osaka. At least we can get outside into quiet areas without people here on the island. In Osaka we'd be stuck at home.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

I get boxes

Delivery people have been giving me boxes lately. Small boxes and big boxes; cheap boxes and expensive boxes. I now have all the boxes.

Five years ago I built my current desktop PC. It's working (mostly) fine, but it's getting a little long in the tooth and it's time to build a new one. My plan is to build a new, shiny computer here on Okinawa; then bring my current desktop back to Osaka. With a second computer there I won't need to bring a laptop along every time I go back.



What I imagine my new computer will be like.

This cunning plan has only one slight flaw: this is the worst time in a decade or more to get a new computer. Because of COVID, supply chains and industrial production has been disrupted the world over, and it's particularly bad for complex electronic components such as CPUs, sensors and RF components (Wifi, bluetooth and so on). Products from smartphones to cameras have been delayed or cancelled, car plants sit idle, and computers are of course especially affected.

At the same time, the pandemic has increased the demand for laptops and desktops. Lots of people now work and study from home and they all need computers to do that. And when you're stuck at home with little to do, a gaming PC or game console seems like just the thing to relieve the boredom. PC sales are increasing for the first time in ten years.

How bad is it? I've tried to get a new laptop at work since late November. The order has been cancelled twice due to a lack of parts, and five months on I still don't know when I will finally get a replacement.


Concerned cat does not approve of the current component shortage.


Still, if you persevere you can get lucky. I've been looking for the AMD 5950X CPU, but it's been constantly sold out online (you can get it at 25%-50% markup from a scalper, but I don't want to give them my money). However, I also kept an eye on the stock at our local store (called "GoodWill"), part of the PC Koubo chain. The physical stores have a separate supply channel, and visitors can't snap up stock instantly. And they get regular supply drops of this CPU.

About three weeks ago the shop in Chatan got a shipment of the 5950X. We drove over, waited with ~6-7 other people until they opened (I'm not the only one monitoring the store page), and walked out with a 5950X, at MSRP - no scalpers or shady resellers and no inflated price.

I've since ordered the other parts I'll need for a working computer: a motherboard, memory, an SSD, a CPU cooler, a PSU and a case to put everything in. It all finally arrived this week, neatly packed in boxes on my workroom floor.

 


A pile of boxes. Put them together and you have a computer. Put them together wrong and you have some expensive junk. Don't put them together wrong. With that said, it's actually pretty easy.

One item is conspicuously absent: I didn't get a GPU. If other parts are hard to get right now, GPUs are effectively impossible. Cryptocurrencies are booming, and some them can be profitably mined with consumer GPUs. The major PC builders - the likes of Dell and Lenovo - get a lot of them to fulfil the demand for PCs. Then currency miners and scalpers hoover up everything they can get their hands on, through bulk buying and by using bots to grab anything that shows up online.

It's not just the newest graphics cards either. You can't get anything. I bought an RX570 8GB on sale about two years ago, for about $180. Today Amazon sells used cards for $380, and new cards go for $700 and up.

I gave up. I'm not going to spend weeks trying to find a current-generation GPU, then pay several times what it's normally worth. I'll use the RX570 for now, then buy a new card in a year or two, once the COVID-related shortages fade and cryptocurrencies crash again.

Meanwhile I will put together my new computer this week, and once it (hopefully) works I'll move over my stuff from the old one, and prepare that one for shipment back to Osaka. 


Saturday, March 13, 2021

Happiness

 Happiness is love. Real happiness is a working hot water heater. 

Now we know :)


Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Valentine's Day

 Valentine's Day and as every year, Ritsuko gave me a little something:


Chocolates and a Line prepaid card. The heart knows what it wants.


The chocolates are really tasty; each one is a different experience, with contents ranging from whiskies to fruit liquours. I'm having several weeks of enjoyment from these!

The other thing was a 1000-yen Line prepaid card. Line, for those that aren't familiar with it, is the most popular messaging app by far here in Japan, with group chats, phone and video calls, news, games and even a cashless payment service. And stickers.

Stickers are insanely popular. Large stickers, small stickers, animated stickers, customizable stickers... You get some for free, but if you want more you buy them. Anybody can put up sticker sets on the service, and some sticker creators manage to make a full-time living from Line stickers.

I've only every used the default selection. That marks me as a tight-fisted cheapskate, and the prepaid card is a not-very-subtle nudge to just get myself some fresh sticker packs already. Which I have! They were fun to select and they're fun to use. Might have to get some more...

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Winter walks

I've spent some time walking and cycling around the Naha area lately, camera in hand. I haven't really done that in a few years; no idea why I stopped. Anyway, it's fun to explore your neighbourhood and nearby areas - there's still so many places to discover even right around the corner.



Naha has a reputation for being a bit rundown, ugly and full of tourists. I don't think it deserves that; there are many spots around the town that are beautiful, even serene. This is Miituji park and canal just a block from the waterfront.



Naminoue beach in Naha. It's right in the city and right next to the commercial harbour so it's hardly an unspoiled wilderness. This road bridge leads to the airport further down the coast. But it's still a nice beach, and I love that we can live in the middle of a city and still have a place to cool off in the summer just a few minutes away.



Critics are right about one thing: Naha (and Okinawa) has a lot of concrete construction, and a lot of it looks worn down and broken. But that's really a result of the climate here.

With frequent typhoons you really want sturdy buildings. The hot, humid climate and salty sea winds makes everything rust, makes concrete crumble, and mould will quickly discolour anything exposed to the outside.



Yang Kyou Fang (The Golden Swallow). Probably the best Chinese restaurant we know here. It's also conveniently almost next door. They've been hurting over the pandemic, like all restaurants, but seems to still do OK. Their take-out service seems very popular — we order now and again, and there's always other customers there picking up their orders — and they have enough space to safely have some level of eat-in service.



Speaking of Chinese restaurants, this fried pork is from another restaurant called  Kujakurou (Peakock) in Ginowan. It's older and perhaps more traditional than Yang Kyou Fang. Both are good.



"Gabe Useful — Junk"



Matsuo Park in Naha.

I'm back to using my old Pentax K5-IIs. It's almost ten years old now, and starting to show its age, but honestly still the one camera I find most natural and effortless to use. And I really enjoy the results I get, even in near-darkness. 


Saturday, January 16, 2021

An Osaka New Year

 Osaka for New Year as usual. Except, of course, not like usual. Nothing this year has been.


New Year sales poster.

 On a normal year we'd go out to eat a lot. We'd probably spend New years eve at a certain bar with people we know. We would perhaps stay overnight at a ryokan somewhere, and we'd certainly go out mingling in the crowds. 

None of that happened. We did venture outside — it's low-risk away from crowds — but we ate at home every night, and we didn't meet anybody. 

We did take a Hanshin train to Kobe one day; had lunch at Raja, our favourite Indian restaurant; then took a long walk through the Kitano area on the mountain side. We picked a date and time we knew the train and the restaurant would both be quite empty. And Kitano is always quiet in the off season even in a normal year.


Hanshin station, Osaka.


Kobe. It's a worn-down port city but we like it.


A shop in the Kitano district, Kobe. We often get vegetables and other random food here when we come to Kobe.


One thing happened: I brought my Pentax DSLR with me to Osaka, for the first time in years. I'd been using a small mirrorless Olympus for the past several years; small, light and portable, but I was never really happy with it for some reason. Taking the Pentax in my hands felt like coming back home, and taking pictures suddenly felt like fun again.


Midosuji line. On my way back from Nagai park.



A cafe on Midosuji, Osaka.



San Marco curry. Good curry. Not a lot of people.


The four amigos. They all know I'm there; they were laughing and smiling when they saw me grab my camera and realized what they must look like from outside.


I'd forgotten how much fun it is to walk around at random, camera in hand. The mirroless was always a hassle to use; with the Pentax I don't need to look at it or even to think to get the right settings and take the picture. I took more pictures over this holiday than I took all the rest of the year.

 


We found Small Friendly Duck waiting at a street crossing, and he followed us home. He was a bit worse for wear but after a clean-up he is happy to stay with us in Osaka. Here he is posing with a matching vase of tulips.

We spent new year at home, talking and playing with our phones while Kohaku Gassen, the traditional music show, was playing in the background. It was good. Let's hope 2021 improves over its predecessor. It shouldn't be difficult.

 


Nagahori at dusk.