Churqui Coffee

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Café de espino  

Churqui coffee, or café de espino, is a very ancient drink that was frequently made in Chile, but has become unknown in recent times. The drink is prepared from the fruit of the churqui tree (Acacia caven), a small tree  that is found mainly in ravines and hillsides. The churqui grows in Chile from the Copiapó River, in Atacama Region III (north central Chile), to Los Sauces in the Region VII of Bío Bío (in central Chile). The tree produces a fruit called quirinca, which is composed of a cylindrical case that has a brown interior that contains small seeds of the same color. In mid-autumn, the tree loses its foliage and the pods can be harvested and then used to make the drink.   To prepare the coffee, it is necessary to collect the pods, open them and remove the seeds. Then, the seeds should be roasted in a skillet over medium heat. They will soon begin to give off a slight odor and make noise. Once they begin to pop, the skillet should be covered. When the seeds stop popping, the roasting is complete. They are left to cool and then ground to create a powder. After grinding, the coffee can be prepared in several ways, such as in coffee makers that use regular ground coffee or made directly in the cup like a tea.   Traditionally churqui coffee was consumed at home after meals. It is believed that its preparation may have originated with the Mapuche people. While the tradition of preparing this very natural coffee in the home has been lost over the years, there are now restaurants that try to rescue the churqui and present it in different formats such as coffee, or included in different preparations to keep the culinary tradition of this tree alive. Churqui trees in the area are much less abundant than they have been in the past, as trees have been cut down for firewood or to make coal. Because they are a slow-growing tree, once cut, they are often replaced by introduced and faster growing species such as eucalyptus and pine.   It is difficult to find churqui to roast or as already prepared coffee for sale on the market, as it has lost its value and tradition in recent years. However, it is still easy to find and collect the berries from the wild.  Unfortunately, fewer and fewer members of younger generations are aware of this culinary tradition. 

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