On the Road With Oregon Bounty: Day 6 – Smells Like Home
(Greg and Sean head to Oregon’s outdoor haven, Central Oregon, for a whiff of organic coffee and the Deschutes County Fair.)
The aromas of Central Oregon are branded on my brain. Born and raised there, I had a lot of time to follow my nose. It amazes me sometimes how many memories of Central Oregon I can recall by the odors, fragrances and pungencies of my childhood: a newly-mowed hayfield after a late spring rain: driving outside Madras in the summer and being assaulted by ripe peppermint — as if the entire region was chewing green Dentyne and exhaling simultaneously; asparagus juice on my hands from picking the wild spears that grew in rock patches along the roads; sage when it’s in bloom; snow, just before a big storm; our pig farm.
Yes, a pig farm. And yes, it smelled. But I also learned what real bacon tasted like. From the huge garden my mother tended each summer, I discovered how minutes-old corn melts in your mouth. I realized that tomatoes actually have flavor.
One aroma that only recently joined these positive olfactory memories of Central Oregon is that of fine coffee. Growing up, I remember coffee one way: it came in a can and was brewed in a pot on the stove, where it sat all day evaporating and fermenting into a sour dark sludge. Back then, you drank your coffee either black or with cream and sugar, period.
Central Oregon was a half step behind the coffee craze that entered America’s latte psyche in the late 80s. Java here would remain decidedly rural for a few years, stuck in the Maxwell House and Folgers rut until an influx of transplants imported a palette for better coffee to complement their gentrification. Royal Blend Coffee was one of the first to feed the need for a strong brew. Not long after, Starbuck’s opened its first location. Then, like coffee beans sprouting, roadside espresso shacks and convenience store espresso machines completed the region’s mocha metamorphosis.
In 1999, a new kid walked onto the coffee block. With two bags of organic coffee beans and enough youthful energy to believe they could add another shot to an already crowded field, Richard Steffensen and his wife Rhonda Ealy founded Strictly Organic Coffee Company.
Coffee, they believed, should be more than just a morning jolt on the way to work or play. With its place in the American culture, coffee should be flavorful, but also friendly to the economies and environments of the places that grow it. It seems that a good portion of Bend agrees. Richard and Rhonda have a successful roasting operation in Bend, in addition to a retail store downtown and a new coffeehouse in the Old Mill District.
They spent a morning with me, sharing stories about their travels to South America and the relationships they’ve built with the farmers in a small coffee co-operative in Nicaragua. The day I was there, we opened the first bag of the Nueva Esperanza Co-op’s beans from this year’s harvest. I even learned how to brew the perfect shot of espresso, something that’s always eluded me.
Another childhood aroma that was rekindled on my road trip to Central Oregon was the unmistakable bouquet of corn dogs, cotton candy, and chocolate-dipped bananas at the Deschutes County Fair. That’s where “On the Road” special correspondent, Sean McGrath, ran into food court nirvana attempting to do an expose on fair cuisine. I’ll let you judge his journalistic skills in today’s video, but let’s just say he had a bit of a brain freeze… and that was before he made it to the ice cream cart. You know, you just can’t take a city boy to the country.
To see what would go well with your latte at Strictly Organic Coffee, check out what Central Oregon’s hotels and inns, restaurants, wineries, breweries have to offer during Oregon Bounty. You’ll find music, food and Oregon wines served at the Bend Fall Festival on October 6 & 7. To sample craft brews available only once a year, grab a mug at the Fresh Hop Beer “Tastival” at Deschutes Brewery on October 27. For wine and artisan cheese tastings, hit Maragas Winery every weekend. Love to see what chefs over here can do? Several great restaurants are featuring special three-course Oregon Bounty menus matched with local wines, beers or spirits. Just click on the Central Oregon section of the map on the Oregon Bounty website and take a tour. Happy travels.
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