Sunday, May 9, 2021

Win some, lose some

Japan has finally joined the developed world in offering a decent amount of mobile data at a not-ridiculous price. We just switched this month to an IIJMio plan with 20G data per month for about 2600 yen. Even better, as before the unused data will carry over one month, so in a while we could potentially use up to 40G in a month if we had to. 

This changes everything, as they say. 20G is enough that I don't need to know or care exactly how much I use every day. No pressure to find and use some dodgy public Wifi whenever we go somewhere, and I can tether my laptop to my hearts' content. I might even get a Spotify subscription now that I could actually use it away from home.

About as close as we got to other people. It's a nice place for a quiet holiday.

We spent the last few days of Golden Week at a small hotel in Onna. It's pretty secluded, and there's not a lot of people around. The natural beach is too shallow and rocky to draw many people (but is great for watching marine life), and we had a room with a kitchen so we didn't even visit the restaurant. We spent the last three days literally cooking, reading and taking long walks on the beach. The cliche is real.

No underwater camera this time. I did manage to capture this cuttlefish (or squid? Not sure) in the shoreline with my usual camera. This area is pretty great for casual marine life observation.

Alas, no silver lining is ever without a cloud. My phone decided to die on me while we were away. I've ordered a new phone (a Nexus 5) and it should show up later this week. Meanwhile I'm without a phone. I'm sure it's good for my moral fiber or something but it is also bloody frustrating. At first I got the urge to check it maybe every fifteen minutes or so; I've mostly lost that reflex now.

Worse, I realize now how dependent I am on that phone. I couldn't log in to my Google account (or to my work account) since I need my phone for 2-factor authentication. I can't use PayPay to pay for stuff, and I can't use Line to stay in contact with people. I can't record my running sessions, or check the weather, listen to podcasts, find a recipe, look up a Japanese word, read the newspaper...

The last (backed up) picture from my phone. At least the breakfast was delicious.

On the bright side, I did have plenty of time to read. Specifically, I read "Project Hail Mary" by Andy Weir (of "The Martian" fame). It's difficult to say much without giving away the plot, but if you like your science fiction properly sciency — if you enjoy, say, Dragons Egg, or The Martian, or anything by Arthur C. Clarke or Isaac Asimov — then you'll probably love this one. Expect lots of danger and close escapes, vaguely plausible future science, and some instantly likeable characters. It's a fast, engaging read; perfect for a few summer days at the beach or by the pool. Do read it.

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).


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!