Tropic House Wolhusen: a sustainable, pioneering idea

Coffee country Switzerland? Absolutely!

by Heini Hofmann

Situated in Lucerne’s back country, at the gate to Entlebuch’s biosphere reserve, Tropic House Wolhusen is a well thought out pilot project in more ways than one: It is being heated by industrial waste heat of a nearby gas compression station (of the natural gas pipeline North Sea – Italy) and thus produces tropical fruits and herbs that don’t have to be transported halfway around the globe.
Having just been surrounded by cow pastures and farms, upon stepping into the big greenhouses, one is instantly enveloped by a fascinating, colourful and fragrant tropical jungle. All of the exotic fruits from the supermarket shelves can be found here, growing directly from trees and bushes – well-known ones like bananas, pineapples and papayas as well as exotic varieties like kumquat, sapote or cherimoya. And one is surprised to hear that Switzerland is also a coffee country.

The tropical garden is open to the public

Stimulated by a warm and humid climate, around 120 different varieties of tropical crop plants enticing the senses with their evergreen leaves, colourful fruits and fragrant flowers, can be found flourishing in the visitors centre spanning an area of 1,900 square metres. Themed islands providing information on the cultivation and processing of tropical products as well as critical reflections on how the tropics are being treated by western society have been installed all over the premises.
For those wanting more, seasoned guides are available as well as public tours on the weekends. Tours including the tasting of fruits and their products are especially popular with groups. Moreover, themed workshops can be booked for those interested in deepening their knowledge about the tropics. The kids are asked to participate in a tricky expedition game about a missing tropes researcher involving the entire facility’s terrain.

Tropic House Wolhusen (behind) and house of production (in front). In the background the Pilatus. (pictures “Tropenhaus Wolhusen”)

Mahoi – exotic culinary delights

However, the Tropic House would not be complete without its own exotic restaurant. At Mahoi, guests can enjoy delicacies from the house’s own production and local specialties paired with exotic drinks and selected wines while virtually dining in the jungle. Highly motivated 34-year old chef de cuisine Andreas Halter who worked at Mahoi since the restaurant’s opening in 2010, was able to receive his 14th Gault Millau point this year.
As is true for all of these types of sightseeing and sightfeeling institutions, the restaurant is an essential pillar of the whole enterprise, that, as managing director Pius Marti mentions visibly proudly, after five years in business, is likely to welcome its 250,000th visitor soon (the number of restaurant visitors is already at 300,000). With it’s special ambiance, bar, lounge and big terrace in the midst of a tropical garden, Mahoi can seat 180 guests and takes bookings for private as well as company events.

A glimpse inside the production house

Even the big 5,500 square metre plantation that houses the actual production is partially accessible to the public by guided tour, which, of course, is always particularly fascinating. Within our latitude, where else would it be possible to visit a papaya, a chili or a coffee plantation? Here, selected tropical fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices are being grown and harvested for the restaurant, the store and external sales.
Similar to other institutions depending on visitors, e.g. natural history museums, botanical and zoological gardens, for the Tropic House, the information provided to the customers is key. For example, nature didn’t equip the coffee plant with caffeine in its leaves, blooms and seeds in order to act as a pick-me-up for humans, but primarily to enable it to protect itself against insects, bacterial and fungal infestation. Furthermore, raw coffee is simply inedible. The roasting process is what first renders it potable, it lends the unmistakeable aroma and the characteristic colour to the coffee.

Coffee country Switzerland – yes, really!

Due to climatic reasons, our country (except for Tropic House Wolhusen) obviously lacks coffee plantations. Not withstanding that, the “brown gold” is still an important commodity for Switzerland. Surprisingly enough, as a refined export product, coffee outranks watches and chocolate. That fact alone should be enough to interest us in the incredible story of the brown wonder.
It all started in 12th century in Ethiopia, where the consumption of coffee fostered people spending time together. Later on, as the brown juice conquered the world, coffee was used to counter the effects of alcohol abuse before it morphed from being a luxury product for the wealthy to being the masses’s lifestyle beverage all around the globe. But back to the coffee plant.

Arabica and Robusta

The Coffea plant is part of the Rubiaceae family and comprises around 120 species, but only few are used for coffee production. Today world trade is dominated by two species: the Arabica coffee plant (Coffea arabica), which is originally from Ethiopia and up to 5 m high, covers around 60% of the world’s harvest. Its caffeine content is lower, its variety of flavours is high. The first plantations were known from Yemen before coffee conquered the world in the 17th and 18th century and gained a foothold in the higher tropical regions of Asia, Africa and America.
With the up to 8 m high Robusta coffee plant (Coffea canephora) the colonial botanists discovered an alternative to Arabica in 1897 which was less susceptible to rust fungus (hence the name Robusta). It has a slightly higher caffeine content, has a more bitter flavour and covers about 40% of the world’s harvest. Now one tries to incorporate its resilience into modern breeding products. A third variety (Coffea liberica), originally from West Africa and now spread in Central Africa, is involved in less than 1% of the world’s harvest, because its flavour is not popular with the customers.

More than 850 flavouring agents

The tropical undergrowth plant Coffea loves soil rich in humus. Propagation is done by seedlings (Arabica) or cuttings (Robusta). Their stone fruits ( “coffee cherries”) contain two flattened seeds, the coffee beans. Each year, some 8 million tonnes are produced. The top ten growing countries are Brazil, Vietnam, Indonesia, Colombia, India, Honduras, Uganda, Guatemala, Mexico and Ethiopia.
Coffee has been one of the world’s most popular drinks for centuries; for it offers pleasure and sensuality at the same time, and through the caffeine (purine alkaloid) it acts stimulating, awakening (not everybody is delighted) and mood-lifting. Anyone who thinks that you cannot talk shop and philosophise about coffee like wine is wrong. More than 850 chemically defined aromatics have so far been identified in roasted coffee beans – more than in wine.
The enjoyment of coffee depends on variety, degree of roasting and grinding as well as on the way of preparation, which varies around the world. The coffee aroma is a result of smell and taste. A coffee can be smoky, nutty, flowery or fruity regarding odour, sweet or bitter, with a tea-like soft or syrupy-dense body and with citrusy, apple-like or vinous acid regarding taste. In addition, the appearance and colour of the crema are important to the eye. In short, you are amazed at what such a small bean has got in it!    •

Additional information at: Tropenhaus Wolhusen LU: www.tropenhaus-wolhusen.ch, tel. 041 925 77 99.
(The analogous Tropenhaus Frutigen BE: www.tropenhaus-frutigen.ch, tel. 033 672 11 44, is specialised in sturgeon and caviar production instead of tropical fruit.)

(Translation Current Concerns)

Coffee recipes from all over the world – so many countries, so many coffee customs

Cafezinho/Brazil

Ingredients

1 heaped ts ground, Brazilian coffee
1 three-quarter cup of water
1 ts sugar
Preparation
Heat the water together with sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved (just before the boiling point). Add the ground coffee. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Stir the coffee well and strain the mixture using a fine sieve and serve.

Café de olla/Mexico

Ingredients

2 tb coarsely ground coffee
170 ml of water
25 g of brown sugar
1 clove
a little cinnamon

Preparation
Boil the water with clove and cinnamon and simmer for 10 minutes. Add sugar and, as soon as dissolved, add the coffee and continue simmering for 3 minutes. Put the pot aside and allow to stand until the coffee has settled. Strain and serve.

Maple coffee/America

Ingredients

150 ml fresh, very strong coffee
100 ml of milk and 100 ml of cream
50 ml maple syrup
little whipped cream
Preparation
Combine cream and milk in a saucepan, stirring constantly until thoroughly heated (do not boil). Stir in coffee and maple syrup. Then strain and serve with a little whipped cream.

Arabic coffee/Arabia

Ingredients

1 ts ground coffee, dark roast
about 50 ml of water
ground cardamom
ground nutmeg

Preparation
Mix water, coffee, cardamom powder and a hint of nutmeg well in a saucepan. Boil gently on low heat until foam gathers on top. Then pour the coffee into a pre-heated demitasse cup. Should be particularly enjoyable after lavish meals.

Ibrik/Turkish coffee

Ingredients

1 ts extremely fine (!) ground coffee
about 50 ml of water
sugar at will

Preparation
Pour water into a pot, add sugar at your will, stir well, then bring the mixture to a boil. Remove the pot from the cooker and add the coffee powder. Then boil up twice or three times, remove  the pot from the cooker in between, remove the foam and stir thoroughly. Before serving, add 1 ts of cold water to accelerate the settling of the coffee powder. Pour the coffee in a cup without straining and serve.

Kopi Jahe/Indonesia

Ingredients

1 tb coarsely ground coffee
100 ml of water
15 g palm sugar
1 piece of ginger (hazelnut-sized and smashed)

Preparation
Bring coffee, ginger, and sugar to a boil with the water. Reduce heat and leave on the cooker until sugar has dissolved. Pour Kopi Jahe into a cup and enjoy it.

Indian coffee/India

Ingredients

1 ts ground coffee
100 ml of water
1 tb of rum
1 tb of sugar syrup
1 ts of coconut milk
½ ts of  cornflour

Preparation
Mix cornflour with coconut milk and boil until thickened. Prepare a thin coffee and sweeten with sugar syrup, add rum. Then pour the mixture of coconut milk onto the bottom of the cup and pour rum-coffee over it.

Carajillo/Spain

Ingredients

45 ml espresso
30 ml Spanish brandy
1 ts sugar
3 coffee beans

Preparation
Put brandy with sugar and coffee beans in a small, heat-resistant glass. Heat the mixture with the steam nozzle of the coffee machine. Light the heated brandy and deglace with fresh espresso.

Viennese coffee/Austria

Ingredients

100 ml of coffee
Vanilla syrup (optional)
1 ball of vanilla ice cream
Chocolate flakes
Preparation
Put a little vanilla syrup and one ball of vanilla ice cream into a heat-resistant glass. Fill up with coffee. Garnish with chocolate flakes at will.

Julekaffee/Denmark

Ingredients for “Christmas Coffee”

150 ml freshly brewed filter coffee
1 pinch of ground cardamom
1 pinch of ground coriander
1 soused ginger plum
2 cl Gammel Dansk Bitter Dram
(bitter)
25 g whipped cream
½ ts ginger syrup
Chocolate powder

Preparation
Chop the ginger plum finely and put it in a high mug. Mix ginger syrup with cream. Brew the coffee, adding cardamom and coriander into the filter bag. Spread the Gammel Dansk over the ginger pieces and pour the coffee into the mug. Cap it with a cream topping and sprinkle with chocolate powder.
Irish coffee/Ireland
Ingredients
100 ml of coffee
40 ml Irish whiskey
2 ts of cane sugar
2 ts of half-beaten cream

Preparation
Put sugar and whiskey in a heat-resistant glass and heat it with the steam nozzle of the coffee machine. Add a freshly made coffee. Put half-beaten cream on it carefully. Serve without spoon.

Ginger honey/Origin?

Ingredients

45 ml espresso
1 ts honey
1 knife tip ginger powder
Preparation
Put  honey and ginger into an espresso cup. Add a strong espresso. Stir before serving.

Kaldi and the dancing goats

A legend from the originating country of coffee

HH. Around the year 850 AD, the young Ethiopian goat shepherd Kaldi observed something peculiar: his bleating animals chewed the red fruits of a tree, whereupon they became unusually lively and began to jump and dance around. Curiously, Kaldi tasted some of those fruits himself and immediately realized that they were something special.
He ran to the nearby monastery and told the abbot of this peculiar effect. The man of God discharged his duty, declared the fruit as devil’s work, and threw it into the fire. After a short time the heavenly scent of roasted coffee beans wafted through the monastery. The monks came running, fished the beans from the ashes, put them in a pot and poured hot water over them to keep them fresh.
During the night the monks tried the dark brew. It was irresistibly good and had an invigorating effect. So they vowed to drink it daily from now on, so as to keep them awake during their night’s prayers.
(Translation Current Concerns)

Coffee “Fünfliber“ – Pure Swissness

HH. One of the most exceptional coffee recipes worldwide originates from the Entlebuch, quasi from the heart of Switzerland, at the entrance of which the Tropic House Wolhusen is located. Flamboyant coffee ideas seem to be traditional here. In terms of coffee Lucerne hinterland has always been way forward. Therefore the following special recipe shall be honoured:
Ingredients: 1 l and 1 dl water, 3 tablespoons ground coffee, 3 tablespoons sugar, ”Schnaps“ [brandy](pipfruit or plum), fresh fir branch, clean “Fünfliber” (five-Swiss franc coin).
Preparation: Boil water in a pot. As soon as it is cooking intersperse coffee and sugar and stir with the fir branch. Cook up the water again for a short time and take it from the stove. Pour 1dl cold water circularly in the pot. Put the Fünfliber in the glas and fill up with coffee until the Tell1 is no longer visible. Add “Schnaps” until he is visible again. Remove the coin before drinking. Cheers!

1     Wilhelm Tell’s head is shown on one side of the five-Swiss franc coin

(Translation Current Concerns)