21 February 2018

Getting Passionate About Coffee

Javier out with the coffee plants
"I have measured my life out in coffee spoons."
~ T.S. Eliot

I had no clue so much went into making a cup of coffee until my visit to Juayua in western El Salvador last month. It was my second visit to Hotel Anahuac but on this visit, I took a tour of a coffee farm after witnessing what was going on in the hotel between resident coffee roasters, Markus (IG @the_flyingbean) and Javier (IG @javi_magnap). Meeting those guys and getting educated on the "cold brew" process got me really interested in what they were into. 

Javier teaching about roasting coffee
I've had a semi-interest in several beverages that began when I worked at a Budweiser distribution company in Tennessee. I visited a Budweiser brewing plant in St. Louis and the immensity of the place was quite overwhelming. Later on in college, I did case studies in business classes on more beers and wines. I was far more attracted to the wines and the time and craftsmanship that went into it. These are centuries old practices that have been cultivated and improved upon over thousands of years. 

These guys in Juayua got me thinking about coffee differently. Its not just a job to Javier, a local of Juayua. Its a passion. To the surprise of his family, he gave up his work in pharmaceuticals to pursue his love as a coffee roaster. Markus, an Austrian is not even 25 yet, but has been traveling around the world pursuing his passion in coffee becoming an expert in the field as, opposed to simply an aficionado. I could identify and relate to this passion because I share the same thing with photography. Passion breeds respect, regardless of the chosen field. Javier and Markus take the growing and roasting of coffee into an art form no different than my own work.

"When life gives you lemons, trade them for coffee beans!"

Markus lectures on Chemex brewing
I was forced to look at my own relationship with coffee. Both my grandmother and her sister would give me coffee in the mornings starting maybe when I was between 5 and 7. It was either Folgers, Maxwell House, or Sanka instant. Either way, it was sweet with a ample serving of Carnation condensed milk. We got it served in cups with saucers. They taught me to drink it by pouring from the cup into the saucer and sipping it. That cooled it down much more quickly.
So I've always had my coffee sweet with cream. If there was no sugar, I wasn't drinking it. The only exception to this was during some days during my military career where we were so cold, to get anything hot in our bodies was much welcomed and we were grateful for it. Not so with anytime other than that. Markus' passion made me rethink that notion as he, still being a young man, preferred his coffee black and maybe warm, as opposed to pipping hot. He explained that this allowed him to better appreciate the flavors of whatever coffee he was tasting.

Markus demonstrates techniques of Chemex brewing
And, of courser there are several different ways of brewing coffee. I first found out about a french press from Art Model, Melissa (miss her btw). During one of our shooting breaks she offered coffee and she familiarized me with the french press for the first time. Javier introduced me to the Chemex and the V60. Markus taught me about cold brew that can take up to 12 hours! And until now, I never really knew what espresso was. These guys ensured the water was a specific temperature, used a timer, and used circular pours to ensure even extraction of flavor. I'm telling you. It reminded me of being in the darkroom. Only instead of manipulating light over silver halide grains on photo paper to make images, these guys were manipulating water over coffee grains to get complex flavors. 

Javier took us to the farm where he works and roasted some new coffee for us and let us compare that taste with coffee that was a few days older. My taste buds are not so trained to detect the minute subtitles from such a comparison. Javier roasted the coffee beans according to a specific roasting profile that he designed depending on which ever type of coffee bean he was roasting. Watching masters at work is always fascinating whether you are roasting coffee or laying brick. 

Picking out inferior beans
I won't make it back down there before the coffee season ends. When the rain starts, the coffee season stops. But I'll be back down there to see Javier again and get some more insight into his passion. In the meantime, I'm going to continue my own exploration in coffee. I think its going to be the French Press for me. Check my Instagram, @PhotoAnthems for a few vids!

13 February 2018

Month ONE - Central America

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley

Yeah, everything changed after October. October happened to be one of the most challenging and weirdest months that has hit me in quite some time, as I stated in the previous blog post.

So after going through a few interesting life events and situations, I decided to delay Southeast Asia for a little bit. I moved all my things in storage and sold the rest. I needed a life "re-calibration", of sorts. Over the last few months, I've lost some people that were dear to me and as close to family as you can get without sharing the same blood. Rest in Peace, Jerry Brady!!

L to R, Susan, Jerry, Tracie, and Me! RIP, my friend

I'm in Guatemala right now. I've already been through Nicaragua and El Salvador. So for something a little bit different, I'm doing something I've always wanted to do... extended travel... quite a bit longer than the usual 3 or 4 months that I usually do. I've been gone just a little over a month. I chose to start this venture in Central America because it's familiar. I was accompanied by my good friend and art model, Kristi C., but she left last week. We traveled to several places and tried to shoot where we could, but sometimes situations didn't lend itself to doing our best work. That happens. You try again or do something else. Little Corn Island was such an adventure. It rained on us every single day for five days. We saw the sun once as it peeked through the clouds and set over the horizon. Our clothes smelled of mildew and I became concerned for our camera sensors with the heavy humidity and salt in the air. So, I cleaned our sensors when we got back to dry mainland.

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley
I've met some very interesting people along the way and saw some old acquaintances from previous visits. I learned a ton about coffee and now I appreciate everything that goes into it so much more from my time in Juayua, El Salvador. A Canadian girl has given me some things to think about as it relates to depression. I had a great night in El Salvador with some guys drinking a few beers as we talked of our perspectives on cultural differences. An Austrian, a Salvadorian, a Canadian (who showed me a tat on his butt of another dude's name who did the same while they were drunk), a Belgian dude, and another cool guy from Norway. A Finnish guy joined later. No arguments. No judgments. Just 6 adults from different countries sharing opinions and experiences.

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley
Presently, I've got a room in a hostel in Quetzaltenago, Guatemala. I'm pretty sure I'm going to find a place to rent, chill for a few months and figure some things out. Quetzaltenango, also called Xela, is the second largest city in Guatemala. Its got a nice feel to it. Its got a good blend of the modern Guate City and the old colonial Antigua. There's something here and I want to find it. Ever get that feeling? I'm going to see if I can teach some photography as well as capture this city from my own perspective. Its a little cold here. Wasn't expecting that. I'm the only fool around here still walking the city in shorts and flip flops. At more than 7500 ft ASL in these mountains, it can still get quite chilled. And I still like it here.

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley
I'll have to head back stateside in May/June because I need to buy a laptop that I can edit on, likely that Surface Book 2. And maybe pick up that sweet glass Sigma 20mm 1.4, with the MC-11 adapter, of course to fit on my Sony gear. I'll only be there for a few weeks before coming right back down here and continuing with my adventure. I've been warned that many come here and don't leave. I can see why.

More updates to come. All these images are unedited. Til I get my new laptop, I don't have the photoshop tools I usually use. I rarely edit on the road. But I'll have to now tho. Soon tho! Til then...I'll manage with the likes of these.

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley

Art Model Kristi C., Nicaragua Copyright 2018 Terrell Neasley