A coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert
So imagine this. You’re in the middle of an amazing road trip in Morocco. You’ve met up with a few fellow road trippers and joined a convoy together for the Sahara desert leg of the journey. You awake one morning next to a huge sand dune towering above your camp and a loud nuzzing camel or 6. The morning sun is glowing, warming you from the cold desert night. What do you do first? Well here at Mowgli Adventures, we do what we do every morning. We put the kettle on for a cup of hot, strong coffee. But today our routine got interrupted with the most unexpected experience. We had a coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert! Yes! You heard me right. A coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert!
Every road tripper has skills acquired from their previous lives but to meet a professional coffee taster is a rare thing indeed. To meet one in the Sahara Desert and for her to generously spend a few hours putting on a demonstration, was an unrepeatable experience.
The joys of north African coffee
We love coffee. I know we say that when things go wrong, we stop for a ponder and a cup of tea and this is true. But coffee is our morning beverage of choice. We drink plenty of it right up until lunchtime. Even more so when we have fresh milk available for Angela. Coffee and fresh milk is top of our shopping list when we pull into a desert town with a few half decent shops.
Now we’re no coffee experts. We drink regular supermarket bought coffee and push the boat out sometimes and buy a tin of Illy. That said, it’s fair to say that coffee from North African cafés is an acquired taste. In one word, it’s gopping. Apart from whatever the nasty blend is, quite often the water contains chlorine, fine Sahara sand and the milk is often UHT. All this leads to a distinctive taste and a vile, offensive and lingering aftertaste.
A coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert
Sharon and Frank had joined our convoy around the Sahara Desert. As we got to know them, we discovered Sharon is a professional coffee taster back home in Australia. Some of their African travels have taken them via several coffee plantations. All in the name of research and of course the chance of a decent cup of coffee. Frank had managed to stow away 5 months’ worth of some the world’s best coffee beans on board his Defender. Every morning, you can find Frank on grinding duty, while Sharon prepares the coffee making ceremony.
Well who knew there was so much to learn about coffee? We pulled up our chairs, eagerly awaiting our first cup of coffee of the day. Sharon was brilliant! She used the world map on the side of the vehicle to point out regions of the world with coffee plantations.
The coffee tasting experience
Sharon chose 2 samples that she knew would differ enough for our untrained palate to taste the difference. As Frank hand ground each sample, Sharon boiled the kettle and explained where in the world they’d come from. It’s interesting to know how supermarket coffee tends to come from many of the same plantations as the finest beans. The quality is determined by how and when the beans are harvested and the processing.
For high quality blends, the harvest includes only the beans that have reached the required level of ripeness. If one bean is over or under ripe, it’s excluded from the batch. But harvesting is less fussy for the coffee beans destined for mass production. When the plant is more or less ready, the coffee pickers harvest the whole crop. Sharon – I do hope that was a fair reflection of what you said!
To slurp or to atomise?
With the coffee made, Sharon allowed the samples cool to the right temperature. Not too hot, not too cold – it’s a science, you know! But before we could have a taste, we needed to learn how to slurp. It’s not just wine tasters that slurp! I think the official term is to atomise but hey, it sounded like slurping to me. The technique releases the many flavours and aromas held in the bean onto your palate. it’s these that a professional like Sharon analyse with their highly tuned taste buds.
We tried 6 samples in total, always in pairs. Sharon was so good, we even started to recognise a green bean when we tasted one! Our slurping became noisier than the nuzzing camel next door and we began to understand a few of the differences in flavours. Of course it takes many years of slurping to become an expert, but for the time being, we felt we were making progress.
Supermarket coffee – how does it compare?
We knew we would taste these high quality coffees everyday and, interested to have Sharon’s opinion of our own regular blend, we added a couple of other coffees into the mix.
We’d picked up a packet of Carte Noir in a nearby desert town. Judging by the thick layer of dust on the packet, it’d been on the shelves for quite some time. We also had a sample of Turkish coffee among the convoy. We slurped our way through these two samples and Sharon gave her professional opinion. Turkish coffee is yuk (something to do with the processing as opposed to the harvesting) and Carte Noir has a fair share of green beans.
And the winner is….
Of all the coffees we sampled, on this unique coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert our favourite was Panama #5. So that’s it then. We need to go to Panama for a decent coffee! Unless of course, we meet an expert wine taster on the way!
The real winner is slow travel. If we’d been travelling on a tight schedule, we’d not have been so fortunate as to meet this wonderful group of people. We were all road tripping and taking our time, in no rush. The gave us the opportunity to change what loose plans we had on the fly. Turns our we had the most wonderful time and spent the better part of 2 weeks with our new found friends (and their dwindling coffee supply)!
A big thank you to Sharon and Frank for a wonderful morning. A coffee tasting demonstration in the Sahara Desert was never on our bucket list but we’re delighted to have had this incredible experience. Hopefully having shared some of your collection, you still have enough beans for the rest of the trip.
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