Nicaragua: Heather’s first coffee sourcing trip
While I have been in the coffee business for 12 years, before last December, I did not have the opportunity to travel to origin. I was excited when I learned we would begin a new Direct Trade relationship in Nicaragua and would be headed to a small co-op prior to harvest. This year, BRCR would begin a relationship with the nicaraguan cooperative cinch de junio. Cinco de Junio is a very small co-op, albeit growing, which makes them a good fit for us here at BRCR. We plan on receiving 15-30 samples from this year’s harvest which we have big plans for. With a few of the samples, we will construct a mirco-lot blend. We will also set aside the more interesting coffees as our farm-specific retail beans as well as for our pour-over bar coffees.
On my first morning in Managua, I was up before the sun – something I have become accustom to from years of early mornings as both a barista and a roaster. The President of Cinco De Junio, Jimmy, arrived at the hotel around 7 a.m. with a driver from Somoto. We wasted no time and started early with the 4 hour drive to Las Sabanas where the co-op’s headquarters is located. The long drive was mercifully beautiful as the scenery unfolded the higher we climbed into the northern mountains of Nicaragua. Cars became 4X4 vehicles and livestock roamed close to the roadside (even on it in most cases). In the town of Somoto we parted ways with our driver and swapped our sedan for a truck to travel the remaining rough terrain to the co-op.
Jimmy spoke little English and my Spanish is rather poor. When we couldn’t quite understand each other we used google translator, thank-you technology! We both promised to work on our 2nd languages for our next visit with each other.
We arrived at the Cinco de Junio headquarters just before noon where I met my translator Marlon. After attending college in the states, Marlon returned to his native country, Nicaragua, and is currently working on children’s educational programs in a city not far from Cinco de Junio. Marlon introduced me to a few of the men of the co-op including Douglas, the vice president, and Fredman, head of operations. I was also introduced to a handful of the producers that make up some of the 143 partners in the co-op.
We got right down to business with a meeting where we discussed both the mission and the business goals of Bird Rock Coffee Roasters. I stressed the importance and value of micro-lot separation, which came as old-news to many, but was a brand new concept to some. Many of the farmers were trying out lot separation for the first time this year. As we moved forward, we talked about BRCR being awarded the Micro-Roaster of the year in 2012, which generated a lot of excitement around the possibility of sharing this year’s harvest with us.
Since this was just a pre-harvest trip, little had begun at the farm level, but there was still much to see. After lunch, we took a ride to a producer’s farm nearby, Finca San Rafael where I ogled at their wet mill, Cattura and Maragogype trees. As many of you know the Maragogype varietal excites us here at BRCR a lot. The co-op has also begun working with the honey process and have had good results with this unique, but wonderful type of processing. Honeyed, or pulped natural, is common in Sumatra but has grown in popularity over the last few years in central america, especially in Costa Rica. Honeyed coffee can be slightly sweeter and fruitier than washed coffee and this processing also works well for coffees used for espresso. After working in the coffee industry for so long, I was thrilled to see this all in person.
After a long day on the farm, Marlon and Fredman accompanied me to my hotel. I checked in but we felt like we should spend more time getting to know each other over a few beers before dinner. They had both been so kind and welcoming it was a pleasure to learn more about them. Fredman was kind enough to host dinner at his house that evening, which was located high on the hill overlooking the small village. We talked little of business that night and more like new friends.
In the morning I met back at headquarters for a brief meeting with Douglass and Fredman. We spoke in great detail of the different types of coffee varietals and processing methods that BRCR would like to see come out of this years harvest.
My work at the co-op was just about done for this visit, but not before I could get my hands on some ripe coffee cherries. On the way back to Managua, we made a stop at Finca San Juan Chavez where I helped pick cherries of this years harvest. John, the producer for this farm, shared with me his knowledge and experience working on the farm with a crash course in drying beans. He showed me how he rinsed beans still encased in parchment to ready them for the drying beds in his front yard. It was a fascinating process, and I was grateful for his insight and skill.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to help sort cherries that had not been removed in the mill. There weren’t many to sort, but the hands on experience with the fruit that I formed my career around made me realize that I had come full circle.
This was a quick trip but effective. I accomplished what I set out to do, and know that the producers at the Nicaraguan Cooperative are on the same page as us. Not to mention, it was refreshing to find that everyone now has a good understanding of our expectations. More importantly though, we are excited that Bird Rock Coffee Roasters is able to participate in the Direct Trade circuit where we can help farmers earn better wages and create more sustainable growing practices.
If all goes according to plan, we’ll be back to Nicaragua in late February or early March to make lot selection. Come April or May we should have some excellent Nicaraguan beans on the shelf ready for coffee cups of all shapes and sizes!
Head Roaster | Bird Rock Coffee Roasters