In December, Kyle and I travelled to Kawnpui, our friend Chhawna’s childhood village. Kawnpui is an approximate three-hour drive through jungly hills from Aizawl, along a road that perilously snakes and twists along an almost-certain-death cliffside.
While I wanted to put my entire trust in our hired truck driver, I couldn’t help but doubt our safety when, not long into the drive, we saw a ‘Recovery Crew’ that was attempting to tow up a full-sized lorry which had tumbled down the cliffside. I shudder to think of the fate of its driver. We later passed a towering, gray, stone monument, on it engraved the names of dozens of victims that one particularly vicious corner had stolen from us. This drive was dangerous.
It certainly can’t help that drivers chew paan to stay awake (if you’re not careful, paan gets you high) and sneak little, plastic bags of hard homebrew that they buy when they stop without explanation at suspicious-looking shacks. Your nose stings a little when they get back in the truck and you helplessly grip your husband’s hand a little tighter.
Hired drivers are also on a mission to beat the clock to get back to their families. They race around hairpin corners, squeal their tires in haste, and ride their breaks into a pungent smoke when headlights surprise them on the other side of blind curve. Should they become aware of another vehicle approaching, drivers barrel towards one another, and then both slam on their breaks at the last second, narrowly avoiding head-on collisions.
Thank God we made it there (and back — the same experience, but in darkness and further haste) safely!
On the other side of the treacherous journey was a bamboo village, a charming family, and an orchard — the most beautiful, luscious orchard I could ever have imagined. The orchard breeze danced around us, among the orange, lemon, and towering betel nut trees, fragranced with the lively aroma of citrus. Softball-sized lemons fell to the ground from trees pregnant with heavy fruit. Ripe oranges hung from branches, contrasting beautifully against the blue sky backdrop, and when we ate the sweet oranges, they were warm from the sun. Bright green betel leaves sat on their bushes, waiting for us to taste their bitter-sweetness. Time disappeared in that beautiful grove and I will never forget its magic.
Best of all, there were coffee plants. Big, round, coffee cherries hung off the leafy branches in colours ranging from light green to bright red to deep burgundy. We sucked on the sweet cherries and delighted when white, slimy coffee bean halves emerged onto our tongues. This gave us an idea. We we greedily picked handfuls of ripe cherries and stuffed as many into our bulging pockets as could fit, and transported them back to Aizawl with a whole lot more care than our driver was taking of his passengers.Back at the Synod Guesthouse, our old home, we peeled the beans out of their cherry coats and set them out on brown paper to dry overnight. After the beans had dried, we peeled off a thin, dry membrane to reveal the green bean beneath. We were surprised at how lightweight the beans were.However, we realized that there was yet another, extraordinarily thin membrane still protecting the beans from fully exposing their little, green selves. For days we scratched at that membrane, making sore our finger tips, and punctuating our conversations with, “ouch!” as tough bits of husk shoved their way a little too far beneath our fingernails. We never did fully manage to get that layer off by hand. (Sometimes we could get all the membranes off.)
All of our peeling efforts were in vain anyways, since after we roasted the beans, we were able to do as little as softly blow on the beans and the featherweight husks blew away, effortlessly, in the wind. (One last attempt to remove the thin, outer membranes.)
Roasting was a rather enjoyable process. We put all of the green beans into a cast iron pan, and agitated them constantly above a flame on a gas stove element for about ten minutes. It didn’t take long for them to turn a pleasing shade of golden brown, then darker, darker, and then start to pop and dance, the effects of the caffeine appearing to affect them long before it reached us. They quieted down for a time, now a dark, rich, chocolate brown, and resorted to quiet popping sounds, like bursting bubbles in a bath. Another minute and we removed them from the heat, put them on a plate, and rushed them outside to cool quickly in the winter air. We laughed at the irony as we gently blew off the husks. The freshly roasted beans needed to breathe for a few days, so we let them rest again on their brown paper bed, then moved them to a sealed container for storage until we could grind them. A few days later, Kyle opened the lid to unleash that rich, deep aroma of roasted coffee. We had really done it!
It was only after we moved into our new house that we finally ground our beans. Kyle and I took turns putting all of our muscle-power into the mortar and pestle. Grinding coffee by hand was a much more difficult task than either of us expected; it took a long time.Eventually we were satisfied with the grind, and excitedly poured our very own peeled, roasted, ground, Kawnpui beans into our prized coffee maker and watched excitedly as our homemade gold flowed into the carafe in perfect coffee-colour. It was easily the most satisfying and life-threatening cup of coffee I have ever tasted. And it was delicious.