Roaster Boutique is a bright and airy space in the Zona Sur of La Paz, Bolivia. Floor to ceiling windows face a quiet street and light grained wood fills the interior space. Open and inviting, we step inside and are immediately enveloped by the nutty aromas of freshly roasted coffee complemented by sourdough rolls just out of the oven. We were invited to tag along for a visit by Yehuda Lilo, the man behind local coffee brand Las Tacanas. He thought we might be interested in seeing what coffee culture in La Paz is evolving towards, and we jumped at the opportunity to taste a range of Bolivian coffees.
Mauricio is the face behind the shop, a charming man who is quick to smile, his infectious passion for coffee was tangible within seconds. Upon arrival, he quickly ushered us upstairs to his laboratory, a space where him and his team pour over (pun intended) the different beans and the best ways to roast and serve them to their guests. Filled with every type of coffee making device, from espresso machines to air presses, this space doubles as a classroom on the weekends where those interested can take barista classes led by the man himself.
We were all quite thirsty by the time the film was over, and couldn't wait to get downstairs and start tasting. Him and his team are perfectionists, with various tools measuring everything from the temperature and volume of the water to the amount of beans before and after they are ground. Everything must be exact when striving for that perfect cup. We were treated to three different beans, each coming from high altitudes and all named for the mountains from which they came. I had never before really been able to distinguish different notes in different beans, but each of these had a unique personality and it was possible to tell them apart quite easily.
After our tasting we watched them roast a batch of beans. These were going to receive the most delicate of roasts, one that just barely toasts them, and stops the roasting immediately after the first “crack”. Sounding like popcorn, this is the point at which super heated water vapor escapes the beans, and signifies that they are ready to be pulled. We learned that you can only use this light of a roast on the highest quality of beans as any variance would be readily noticeable, and any flaw would show itself prominently. If the beans are allowed to continue roasting there is a second crack that happens when the CO2 escapes, this results in a much darker roast where the beans will be almost black, this can hide imperfections and poor quality and ensure an even tone, but also covers the character of high quality coffee beans.
Our visit was eye opening, coffee really is a labor of love and as the second largest commodity in the world, this is sometimes easy to overlook. It is always inspiring to be around someone who has such a passion for their trade, and Mauricio was no exception. We left only slightly jittery and more ready than ever for our days of volunteering at Yehuda’s coffee farm next week.