FIVE BAGS OF WISDOM
BY JAIME R. FORTUÑO
A short story celebrating Sir Arthur
Conan Doyle s work and Yauco Selecto Estate
coffees association with the entertaining world of Sherlock Holmes. The short story
was meant as a homage to Sir Conan Doyle s creation.
copyright ~ Jaime R. Fortuño
Taking a Presidente cigar out of the coal scuttle, Sherlock Holmes contemplated the results of his latest encounter with delinquent activity. He had saved this as the last cigar from the box he received as gift from the Cuban diplomat. His daughter had been kidnapped and rescued thanks to his intuitive mind. He allowed a warm smirk to show as he remembered how the kidnappers had allowed such a careless mistake to happen. To think how the ransom note's paper was from the same paper maker as the stationery used by Manila's Joseph Penal "The Sugar Wars, it's never really about money, but it always ends up measuring its success in..."
"Mr. Holmes!" yelled a voice from the street.
"Mr. Holmes! Are you there?" said a young manly voice with great anxiety.
"Yes! Who wishes to know?"
" My name is Roberto. Dr. Joseph Bell sent me. Would you let me in?" pleaded this voice with his face half in the dark and the Cambridge Blue rowing colors on his jacket shining next to the low gas lamp on the entrance.
''Dr. Bell of Knightsbridge?" asked Holmes.
"Dr. Bell warned me about you. He says that Edinburgh is nowhere near Knightsbridge, and that you would be better off forgetting the money owed to you by the Knightsbridge chap." responded Roberto in a more relaxed tone.
" Very well. Since there is reason to believe that my old friend Dr. Bell has sent you, I will accommodate your request. Please do corhe in."
As the door opened, Holmes was able to get a better perspective of the young man before him. Six feet of lean muscle encompassed in an aristocratic, yet reserved attire. A student of some means I suppose. But the accent and the name were not familiar to people he had encountered from the Caribbean. His speech was more melodic and the delivery faster than the typical of British colonies. Certainly a Spanish island, but definitely a twist of French émigréin the blood.
"Roberto, will you care for some tea?"
'I would. if you care for some coffee?" responded with quick wit the visitor.
"How so? Are you carrying a pot with you, or did your French republican father make you promise him to always stress self reliance even in the face of hospitality?" quizzed Holmes with the anxiety of a professor awaiting a pupils correct answer.
"Pardon my rudeness Señor Holmes. I am only responding to a grave situation that I face which lead me to you. You see, my name is Roberto Mari. As you very well have established, I am the son of Eduardo Mari, a French Corsican who migrated to the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. My father and his friends arrived with nothing to the new world. They had left behind family and friends with the ideal of reaching new and fertile land in which to create opportunities for themselves. It was the year 1866.
His uncle and others had left Corsica fifteen years before, and had found in the island of Puerto Rico a very attractive yet virginal area by the name of Yauco. The region of Yauco ranged from the Caribbean Sea to the top of the highest mountains of the Southwestern Mountain Range of the island. The valley land was already occupied by Spanish and Criollo families who spent their efforts forging a sugar, vegetable, and cattle industry on the island. Being the last to arrive, they were granted permission to claim the only remaining territories, the high mountains.
Corsicans are known for their relentlessness in effort, and the Mari clan did make honor to the name. In the minimum amount of three years that it takes to get a sizable crop, the Mari clan had begun to produce what was considered a delicacy among local coffee consumers. They had been careful in choosing the desired borbon arabica trees along with a variety they called Porto Rico in honored of their new homeland. The word spread quickly among the islands. Yauco's finest coffee was soon consumed in places as remote as La Havana, Cuba by the emerging aristocracy.
In 1865, my father had returned to Corsica from studies at the Sorbonne in Paris. As a young student he had received the blessing and support of the local bishop. He was seen as a very capable young man and received the economic support from his town's doctor to attend school....
"Excuse me, Roberto, but even Shakespeare gasped for air in constructing his more elaborate tales." interrupted Holmes inquisitively about the direction of the young man's story.
"My apologies, Señor Holmes. I feel its important I tell you my full story in case... in case something happens to me. It must be told. My father must know what happened." said Roberto in a somber tone.
"I see. We shall deal with your fears in due course. Carry on, 221 Baker Street is safe haven for friends of Dr. Bell. No need to fear." reassured Holmes with aplomb.
With a warm tea in his hand, Roberto continued "As I was saying, he returned to Corsica in 1665. No job, no future, and the prospects of putting his studies to good use as slim as the edge of the sharpest rock in the rugged terrain common to this Mediterranean island. Soon, he enlisted two of his best friends, said good bye to his mother, and embarked for America with a letter in hand for his uncle Antonio in Yauco. Upon arrival, he was greeted with great feast for he was the first relative to make the long trip. He was soon
working for Don Antonio in the Yauco farms. He was responsible for processing the coffee at the beneficio.
All ripe coffee picked by Don Antonio's people was sent to the beneficio for processing. There, he used a cotton gin that Señor Mariani, another Corsican immigrant, had adapted to dehusk the coffee. His coffee was not only grown in the best soils of the high mountains of the region, but it also received the best processing available. Eduardo had a gift with the coffee that was soon recognized by Don Antonio. He was offered to run the farms three years after he had arrived. Eduardo declined the offer and in exchange requested permission to take coffee samples and money for a voyage back to Europe to sell to the very discriminating coffee importers in France, England, Germany, and Italy. His request was granted and his real mission began with a simple farewell hug from his uncle.
During his voyage he had some time to think about the best way to present the coffee to the world's best coffee cuppers. First, the name. Grateful to the land that had seen his dreams begin to flourish, and aware of the selective nature of his uncle's coffee operation, he called the coffee Yauco Selecto. Second, the roast. With the help of the ship's chief cook, he used a skillet and roasted coffee to various roast levels. The ship's passengers were glad to serve as testing ground for this coffee. In particular he received very helpful advice from a young English lady by the name of Sophia. With her help, he was able to establish a full city roast as the optimal point where Yauco Selecto provided a wonderful taste experience. This full city roast was a medium to dark roast which awakened the beans flavor without burning its nuances.
Upon landing in England, he traveled to see one importer per country, preferably the most trustworthy and reputable house. He was well received by all and soon established a distribution for Yauco Selecto. News was sent back to his uncle Antonio, and ships sailed back and forth from Yauco to Europe carrying ~what was soon to be known as "brown gold", Yauco Selecto coffee beans. He was able to receive the highest price ever paid for coffee and coffee houses from Vienna to Valencia featured the Yauco Selecto emblem in their window cases."
1 have seen them in our dear London as well. Doctor Watson, my trusted friend has tried in several occasions to take me to his favorite, right in front of Westminster's Cathedral. I must make the time to do so..." interjected Holmes with great interest.
"I certainly hope you do. That is, if I can avoid a terrible tragedy that could eliminate the name Yauco Selecto from the map. I shall get to it in time. My father Eduardo maintained a relationship with Lady Sophia during the months that he was going back and forth between European capitals, selling Yauco Selecto. They always met at coffee houses or importers, and spent a lot of time cupping coffee and talking about the industry. He did not know much about her, except that he felt very fond of her. With time, she revealed that she was a daughter of England's most powerful tea importer. Her social standing created a lot of difficulty in their relationship, but with time and effort they were
married and kept a residence in England during the off season, and my father spent his energies at the beneficio in Yauco during the crop.
In the last fifteen years, Yauco Selecto has worked hard to establish a reputation. My father's yearly visits have established strong bonds with Europe's coffee giants. Nevertheless, there is an issue of utmost urgency that has brought me here. Yauco Selecto has been sold in limited amounts, for it is picked and selected with the coffee lover in mind, therefore our emphasis has been on quality, not quantity. I was sent over to school here, with the commitment that I would maintain the affairs of the family in order.
Two months ago, we received an invitation from Buckingham Palace to participate in The Royal Food Exhibition and Festival. As part of the activity they are planning a cupping contest for coffees from around the world. As you can imagine, the results of this activity will have a significant impact on the perception of the coffee industry about the different coffees. We are only at the beginning of the picking season. My father had to contract a ship to expressly deliver the first samples of the new crop from Yauco to London. At this time, all Yauco Selecto coffee from the previous crop has been consumed.
Upon arrival in Dover, the cargo of 5 bags of 100 lbs. of Yauco Selecto was brought down from the ship and carted to an awaiting horse carriage that had offered the shipping company false documents. I arrived shortly after their departure and saw no trace of the coffee. If we are not able to present a sample for The Royal Food Exhibition our standing as the premiere coffee estate might be lost. The efforts of Uncle Antonio and my father will be jeopardized. Someone else will receive the royal seal and Yauco's economy could be severely affected
I fear who might have done this. It is true, over time, many a competitor has seen with little complacency, the success of Yauco Selecto. I can not imagine that someone could go through so much trouble for pure financial gain. You can imagine my horror when, upon returning to my quarters at the University, a note had been slipped under my door."
At this point, Roberto presented the note to Holmes. In it was the figure of a hand. Each finger was drawn resting on top of a Yauco Selecto bag. The inscription read 'Thou shall '701 seek the breu! or the Eato'7 boys u ill suffer'.
"Who are the Eaton five?" asked Holmes.
"My mother's sister has five boys. They all go to school at Eaton. I presume that they could be in danger if we move."
"Have they been alerted?"
"The respective House masters have taken the necessary precautions to ensure their safety. Yet, I feel that someone who goes through the trouble of presenting false papers for 5 bags of coffee is capable of worse." responded Roberto with concern.
"True, I recommend we take a walk. You will be surprised how small London can be when one seeks to hide from justice".
With this, they departed and took a long stroll. At Mr. Holmes request, they stopped at three coffee houses of certain reputation, where the roastmasters received them with great coffee and true hospitality. Immediately they all expressed their confidence in the success of Yauco Selecto at the much awaited Royal Food Exhibition. The response could have been timed to the tick of the clock upon learning of the disappearance of the new crop samples. Screams of "Preposterous!"., "Unbelievable!", "Bloody Thieves!" were among the nicer insults vented towards the unknown criminals. Unfortunately, they were of little help in offering good leads as to who could be responsible for such an act of treason.
The coffee houses carried rather peculiar names. "The Ace of Spades", "De Clieu and Nabucodonosor", and "Johnson's Farewell". Roberto knew them well, for they were three of the most distinguished members of the London Roastmaster's Society. They were getting ready for their own competition, the "Creative Coffee Drink" contest. They all proudly displayed the invitation to compete embossed with the Royal Seal. Coffees of superior quality were in great demand by the Roastmasters for this competition. Roberto was flooded with petitions to use the Yauco Selecto. A flood which placed further pressure on him. The dam of hopes was cracking at the base.
The coffee industry had distinguished itself for being such a gentleman's game. To add an element of evil was a very unwelcome turn. With a warm and genuine wish for a successful hunt, Mr. Holmes and Roberto left each coffee house upon finishing their coffee. Roberto left no trace of the consumed brew, while Mr. Holmes left a trace which he twirled around several times prior to bidding farewell
One could see the worry increasing in Roberto's face. Meanwhile, Mr. Holmes lead the resumed walk and proceeded with the following questions:
"Now, Roberto, if we are to get to the bottom of this matter. I must know some details about your Yauco Selecto coffee."
"Fair. Ask me anything you want. " answered Roberto with a trusting voice. A trust that he could not attribute to any one thing Mr. Holmes had said. It just seemed that Mr. Holmes knew where he was headed and Roberto intended to follow him to the last muse in the city of London.
" If I were to taste Yauco Selecto coffee, what would distinguish it?"
" Its uniquely creamy and buttery taste, its balance in the cup, a great body, some hints of chocolate undertones, and an arresting aftertaste."
" What makes it so special?"
Roberto was concerned at the determination he could feel emanating from Mr. Holmes demeanor. He was afraid to ask. A solution to his crisis was desirable. Yet, many questions accelerated the beat of his pulsing heart. Revisiting the coffee houses? Who could be behind this? What kind of a confrontation was ahead of them?
Upon nearing the coffee houses, Mr. Holmes took the back alley instead of the street. He quickly passed "The Ace of Spades", did not even look towards " De Clieu and Nabucodonosor" and stopped at the back entrance of "Johnson's Farewell".
"Four bags of Yauco Selecto are in the basement of this building."
"Mr. Johnson? But, he is one of London's most respected coffee houses. Why?" presented Roberto with great surprise.
"His agenda and yours are in a conflicting path. Remember our visit?"
"Our coffee was immediately served with milk and honey. How often do you visit that coffee house."
"On Saturday's, every week. Of course, they do know what I always get. I do not even have to ask for it." exclaimed Roberto
"More importantly, the cup was laced with cinnamon. I twirled the last sip of my cup, and you could see it in the bottom. Mr. Johnson had to quickly deceive your taste buds."
"I see your point. I was so obsessed with this crisis that I did not even think about it. I assumed that, since no one had Yauco Selecto, he gave me something else to drink. But why would he have Yauco Selecto out in the coffee house?"
"Mr. Johnson is in competition for the "Creative Coffee Drink" contest. A quarter of the evaluation is done by a secret judge that will go to the coffee houses on the days prior to the contest and test the roastmaster's work on what would be a more normal situation. He probably thought that cornering the Yauco Selecto coffee that had arrived to London would give him the edge he needed to win his contest. Your own competition was surely not a consideration." proclaimed Mr. Holmes.
Upon arrival of the proper authorities, four coffee bags of Yauco Selecto were found in the basement of the coffee house. The fifth presumably was already consumed or roasted for that purpose. Mr. Johnson admitted to his actions with a claim for pity. He had accumulated serious gambling debts and was about to lose the coffee house. The idea of wining the contest seemed a feasible opportunity to gain new clientele and obtain bank financing.
Upon placing the remaining bags in the custody of a trusted friend, Roberto proceeded to thank Mr. Holmes for solving the case. Mr. Holmes quietly responded:
"It was rather amusing. Besides, seeing Professor Moriarty's drinking cup at 'Johnson's Farewell' did help make it interesting. Now go on and win that competition." responded Mr. Holmes.
They parted ways with a handshake and a promise to share a cup of Yauco Selecto after the Head of the Thames regatta. Roberto had one more reason to win the coffee competition, and win he did.
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