Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Nicaragua Coffee Trip: Matagalpa, Esteli, Nueva Segovia
Traveling around the coffee areas of a country is so much more rewarding than being in the major cities. I always learn a lot on these trips... Nicaragua has an odd system of delivering coffee to the mills. In many areas, the coffee is wet-milled at the farm, dried on patios down to 12-13% moisture content, then either dry-milled at the farm before export, or delivered to a central dry-mill. In Nicaragua they wet-mill the coffee at the farm, but often do no drying; they deliver it to the mill wet. This is partly because the coffee farms do not have large flat areas to build patios, or there is not enough sun and too much rain to patio dry. Luckily, most coffee farm areas have nearby low-elevation, dry areas where this can take place. The trick is getting the coffee to the patio quickly: if not, the coffee will have off, moldy, fermenty or harsh flavors. In Nicaragua they seem to do a pretty good job with this technique, although it is still not ideal. In Honduras the "wet-parchment" (called cafe humido) is responsible for a lot of the off flavors in poor quality coffee.


Check out my Nicaragua Movie
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I also was able to see the difference in how varying quality levels of coffee are treated. Here you see the huge drying patios of the Atlantic Coffee mill, and out in the hot sun is parchment coffee covered by burlap. This would rapidly kill the quality of good coffee.

Inside the Atlantic Coffee mill, better lots are stored in parchment. They seem to use burlap for the better lots and plastic for others. I have seen plastic used before for fine coffees, and provided the environment is good and storage is not too long, there is no negative effect from this.

Here are the best coffees; these are the lots Atlantic had milled for Cup of Excellence farms in the 2003 competition.

Here are stencils for inking coffee bags. They are made in thin tin sheet, punched out with a hammer and sharpened flathead screwdriver! I was surprised to find that small lots are actually inked using vegetable-based shoe polish.

Coffee rakes, used for moving coffee on the drying patio.

Frank. Well, that's what everyone calls him. After the Cup of Excellence judging we visited various farms, including the #1 coffee from Hacienda Santa Rosa, owned by Francisco Jos? Lanzas Monges and family. If you ever doubt that Cup of Excellence awards, and the money it brings, is meaningful, you can talk to Frank. His family had lost their hotel in Matagalpa, and the farm was looking uncared for, mostly due to the incredibly low coffee prices they were receiving. The #1 award was going to keep these people in possession of their farm. Many farms are so deeply indebted to baks, and these types of loans are upward of 20% compounded monthly! At the award ceremony he said "I thank you, my bank thanks you ... "

Frankenstein: this is Frank's truck that he's very proud of... there are all these leftover Russian vehicles from the Sandinista days. The hardy ones still chug around, mostly work trucks like this. Frank took the Russian truck, put an Izusu motor in it, and added a Toyota dump truck back, affectionately calling it Frankenstein.

The winning coffee plant - well, one of them.

Graffiti in the city of Matagalpa

Typical corner bodega in Ocote

A brief sidebar: I kept encountering all kinds of super primitive skateboards in Nicaragua this year. These are sunbleached and literally ridden down to the bone. This one at Selva Negra farm.

At La Union Coop, they preffered a completely customs board about the size of a Men's 13 shoe. I tried to ride it on their drying patio but the action was way too lose for an old-timer like myself.

I was really impressed with one of the local cupping stations (sponsored by USAID and CLUSA) we visited outside Dipilto in the state of Nueva Segovia. The two cuppers (pictured at right) were roasting local coffee samples in an open frying pan on a propane burner, and getting excellent results. We cupped 3 samples they had prepared and the roasts were really good ... in fact one of the coffees was really good too.

Also see:

Nicaragua Cup of Excellence Competition 2003
Selva Negra Farm: Matagalpa, Nicaragua

Prodecoop "Sabor de Segovia" and La Union Coop

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