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By Qualidade PRAXIS

Arnaldo Baptista: the man who bottled Coimbra dos Laranjais - News from Coimbra Coolectiva

It's called citrosidra and it's the new “apple of the eye” of the founder of Praxis. An important part of Coimbra's history has permeated the aroma of oranges and the brewer decided to make it so we could drink it.

It was six in the afternoon when we entered the bar. First week of August, very hot and that hot breeze doesn't help, just as it doesn't help that we are on a work mission while most of those present seem to be on vacation. We noticed strange looks at the camera and recorder sitting on our table. The hall of the Praxis Restaurant, Museum and Beer Factory, on the left bank of the Mondego, was well composed and, in everyone's hands, unanimous: beer. A lot of beer. Of all, except ours, where two glasses of very cold cider clashed with the golden Ipa, Pilsner and Weiss. But ours wasn't just any drink either, it was the history of Coimbra dos Laranjais bottled and transformed into citrosidra.

Cider is an alcoholic drink prepared with fermented apple juice and its history is steeped in history. O shekar appears in early Hebrew documentation, translated by the Greeks as sikera : fermented drink. From the same family comes cider (in Portuguese and Spanish) and also the French word cider and the English cider . Historians point to the Romans as being responsible for the development of the drink throughout Great Britain, Normandy, the Basque Country and Asturias, places that today appear as the cardinal points of the world route for this drink.

Already CitroSidra takes doses of orange and apple in parity and the orange works as body and life to the apple : «In my mind, this drink germinated in 2013 and took shape as part of my master's thesis in Food – Sources, Culture and Society, from the University of Coimbra, with the title Contribution to the Development of an innovative fermented drink . Beer continues to be the queen and mistress of this house, but a few months ago the apple of my eye was born», says Arnaldo Baptista, creator of the drink, businessman and founder of Praxis , who defended his thesis in 2016.

The innovative drink was launched a year ago by Praxis, but had the collaboration of the Escola Superior Agrária de Coimbra – ESAC, which participated in the initial development of the product carried out in 2014 and 2015. Arnaldo says that he placed a sociocultural element that satiates it: «My purpose is to provide a link of cultural dissemination of what Coimbra dos Laranjais was and to confront people with this narrative that, alongside other historical treasures, is falling into oblivion of our Lusa-Atenas.»

Baptista's study covered the time when the city elevated Portugal as a kind of citrus kingdom. A precursor to the improvement of the orange, Coimbra improved the fruit that was born sour: «The orange was brought from China to Europe by the Portuguese in the 16th century and here it was perfected in a cross with the polmelo, a type of quince, which served as horse – which is what the root of the stem is called for grafting, a technology born from the teachings of our families producing citrus nurseries who, to this day, supply the orchards in the Algarve and Setúbal with improved seedlings», explains the creator.

This orange, born and raised in Coimbra, traveled far and wide and arrived in Brazil, making it the largest global orange producer, according to Food and Agriculture Organization . This period of history was crystallized in the various ways in which the name of Portugal is used to designate the fruit: in Greece, orange is called portokali ; in Türkiye and Bulgaria it is said portukal ; and in Romania, if you want an orange, you ask for one portocala . Following on the map, in Persian, spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and in countries such as Armenia, Georgia or Iraq, but also in Arabic, the word Portugal means orange.

The Coimbra orange also contains one of the most famous dishes in the region: Leitão à Bairrada which is enjoyed mainly on festive occasions. Some say that the oldest document that refers to this delicacy is a convent recipe from 1743, probably from the Monastery of Lorvão or the Monastery of Vacariça. Others go further and believe that the dish has its origins in Roman civilization. What is certain is that a Leitão à Bairrada only comes to the table (very well) accompanied by a sliced ​​orange which, despite interfering with the flavor of suckling pig, has an astringent function and also reduces part of the absorption of fats – a perfect pair.

Arnaldo emphasizes that his project also draws attention to urban pressure: «I witnessed the advance of construction in the green spaces that were occupied by orange groves and how people were being expropriated from these lands that gave way to new constructions. As a businessman, I questioned this period in a practical way, cultivating 14 hectares – seven of oranges and seven of apples – of orchards in Vila Verde, Lamarosa, in the District of Coimbra, for part of CitroSidra's production, as we are not self-sufficient, let's always have to buy both fruits outside our production.”

The future of CitroSidra is to leave the bottle and occupy a structure that will allow special visits to the orchards and orange groves , as well as the place where the fruits are washed and pressed to produce the must that is then fermented. «This place will allow people to understand the entire production chain of the drink in an experience that will enhance the interaction of people who wanted to commit a little more to this story. « When I announced CitroSidra, I saved a «compliment» from someone who said: «Here comes some more idiocy from Baptista». But I'm stubborn and I want to take this drink as far as I have the capacity to honor my commitment to take it» , reveals Arnaldo.

With a historic ingredient, Coimbra is changing the recipe for ancient cider and invites connoisseurs to maintain tradition : the drink should be consumed quickly, in just one sip. Whatever is left in the cup must be poured onto the ground as a gesture of gratitude to the earth, making it part of what was offered.

Text by Vilma Reis in Coimbra Coolectiva

Photography: Mário Canelas

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