Our own Carolyn Skye (creator of the legendary Skyes Mountain Blend) and Green Coffee Buyer Bob Benck visited Nicaragua to check in on two of our favorite green coffee producers; the Santo Domingo Co-op and the Miersch family.These two producers are responsible for our Organic Nicaragua, French Roast, and Organic French Roast. Here are some of the highlights of their visit. We flew into Managua, Nicaragua, to a surprisingly lush and green landscape dotted with small volcanic mountains, some rather new in age and others much older. In Managua the heat was oppressive and the air was thick. Crossing the Panama Highway from the airport to the hotel we were greeted by the smells of burning wood and diesel fumes. With our dinner we enjoyed Flor de Caa rum over ice. The rum held aromas of burnt caramel and peppery spice, a medium-body, and flavors of dark caramel and toasted nuts. The ice added some much needed relief from the heat, and was the perfect conclusion to a long days travel.
Traveling north on the Pan-American Highway we passed through rice fields with stalking cattle egrets then through tobacco fields near the town of Esteli, well known for its fine cigar making. We saw a bus with a dog traveling on the roof and wondered if he was enjoying himself or scared half to death. We arrived in the Ocotal region to visit Julio Peralta who mills coffee for the Santo Domingo Co-op (Organic Nicaragua Isabelia, Organic French Roast). The Santo Domingo coop has 128 producing members and we will be buying a sizable chunk of their certified fair trade and organic production. The area is at high altitude (1200+ meters) and the climate is dryer than many other areas of Nicaragua.
This years harvest is a little behind due to some unseasonably cool and wet weather and production is down due to residual effects La Roya or leaf rust. Quality however is expected to be better than last year which saw a 40% loss in production. After a meeting with coop members we checked in to our hotel and rested up for the trip south the next day.
Upon arriving in Matagalpa we met up with Erwin Mierisch. We have been purchasing coffee from the Mierisch family farms for 16 years.
On our first morning we headed over to the main mill and cupping lab to cup several first picks of the season. There were two rounds of 10 coffees each. The first round of coffees showed nice acidity and one coffee labeled Limoncillo was a standout. Round two featured Pacamara and Java varieties, three different processes; pulped natural, natural, and washed. We are hoping to bring in a micro lot offering from Finca el Suspiro (Sigh). It is an orange bourbon variety that tasted really awesome on the cupping table. Keep your fingers crossed! After the cupping we enjoyed lunch with the family and with full stomachs we headed to Finca Mama Mina. We were in for an hours drive on absolutely rocky, bumpy, narrow, winding roads. We reached 1350 meters and the mountains met the clouds, giving way to some very stunning scenery.
We started the next day on horseback with a tour of Finca Los Placeres. Literally translated the name means: farm of pleasures, and this farm has it all. A diversity of tree, plant, and bird varieties abound. Flowers, butterflies, and lush vegetation make this place a pleasure to the eyes. Many of the workers at this coffee farm live in housing here year-round, the farm provides a school and a day-care center for the children, and a health and dental clinic.
Flocks of noisy parakeets flew overhead as we passed under the canopy of eucalyptus trees on our ride through the surrounding countryside. The sun eventually came out as we were heading up a ridge revealing expansive views below. When we returned to the stables we realized our tour had us in the saddle for more than four hours, we slept very well that night.
We visited two more farms, La Escondida and Finca San Jose which sits high overlooking a large lake, Lago de Apanas We took five bags of coffee cherry from the San Jose farm to the mill. We watched it being processed through the de-pulper, bagged back up, and put in the truck again. We then came back to the main mill in Matagalpa where the coffee was spread out on the patio and raked to let it dry. Experiencing the full process in a day was an excellent way to bring our tour to a close.
The next morning it was back on the road towards Managua International Airport, and then on home. We concluded our journey with high hopes for some of the first-pick coffees we cupped and look forward to more samples from our friends at Co-op Santo Domingo and the Mierisch family!