sober now: the purple princess genuflects!

August 16, 2007 – 2:57 am

moises, left, and marysabel say it could be the cold water that makes their coffee what it is. “or,” marysabel said, “it could be God.” fabio, right, ate a lot of dip.

what grabs you about moises hessera is that he rushes right past his verb conjugations to explain the finer points of his 35-odd coffee microlots. clearly, the man can speak very good english; he’s simply more intent on his high-altitude honduran farm, where at a staggering 5,000-plus feet he must build cypress windbreaks and replace cold-stricken coffee plants yearly to maintain his prize crop.

moises is wearing a cap with a distinctive numeral 3 on the front, a sort of signal to the attending geeks that he’s been to 3 cups in chapel hill before sweating it down to atlanta with a cheery wife, marysabel caballero, and a tall, bald and charismatic father-in-law, fabio. on the way, he’s telling groups of a few dozen here and there about their finca, and the basic subtext is simple: it is very urgent that you pay dearly for a cup of excellent brew.

for a 12-oz. bag of moises’ finca el puente, $11 please. without a middle man in the deal, moises gets a hefty cut, of course. which is the way he tiled his coffee mill. and paid his 150-odd workers a premium for honduran labor, thus attracting people willing to commute, walking, two hours to work. and allows him to harvest and keep separate all 30-odd farm lots, including the “cypress” batch — in the nosebleed section — which sells for a premium.

if this sounds didactic and boring, moises isn’t. he figures his prized coffee, dubbed “the purple princess” by a smitten buyer, failed to win its third cup of excellence competition because he neglected to wear his favorite shirt, a black-checked button-up donned in previous years. he lampoons his own rudimentary wagon-dependent mode of transporting the crop, a practice virtually unchanged, he notes, for 140 years. he questions the sanity of waiting four years for a seedling to bear fruit. and he deals circumspectly with the perils of wet-milling, “in which,” he says, “we can do very little to improve the quality of the coffee, but very much to ruin it.”

the gist of this evening parley is to reconstruct the narrative, the unabridged historical arc of the roasted granules in the vacuum-sealed paper bags strewn nearby. this probably strikes people as inane, or even a wee bit save-the-earthy. for every photo album documenting a barista’s trip to origin is, i suspect, an eye-rolling addict who wonders how many times you can photograph a cherry on a branch on a hillside on a rocky mountain backdrop on a sky. marx explained it, of course. so did orwell. what you think about the past determines how you behave in the present.

the premium stuff was roasted yesterday, or so moises said. “the cypresses.” every year, it’s the highest portion of the farm — the highest coffee growth anywhere around, he says — that packs the best cup, and counter culture will label it separately from its regular blend of the farm’s other lots. unlike many farmers, this family regularly tastes all its offerings. it took counter culture four years to score a major batch of the stuff. that’s half the age, or more, of the family’s boys shown in a slideshow on mountain horses, though tonight they were scampering about in atlanta hawks jerseys.

“we hope one day,” said moises with a real genuflecting grin, “that these children will provide coffee for your children.”

over drinks, he offered a lively description of his first, thick taste of his own specialty from the $9,000 clover machine, then rushed over to the nearby brewer for a cup of it. there was, of course, none sitting around.