1. Origin Trip: Finca La Esperanza, Nicaragua
OUR ORIGIN TRIP TO NICARAGUA
This past February, Troy and I had the amazing privilege of visiting several coffee producers in Nicaragua. We were able to meet the coffee farmers who have been providing us with many of the green beans that we roast for you here at our cafe in Toronto. It was incredible and inspiring to connect directly with the farmers, their work, and experience the immense effort and care they take in producing the coffee. This care and passion they put into their craft transcribes into the incredible tasting coffee we roast for your daily coffee ritual.
Since 2016, Outpost Coffee Roasters has sourced many coffees from Nicaragua through direct trade, or what we like to call ‘relationship coffee’. Varietals include El Volcan, La Esperanza, Un Regalo, Las Golondrinas, San Ramon, Los Monos, and El Cipres.
We work with Jamie Ardon from Green Haven Imports who organized the trip and many farm visits. Jamie and the team at Green Haven Imports source all our beautiful Nicaraguan green beans. Jamie and his family are from the coffee-producing regions in Nicaragua, giving them a great depth of understanding of the needs and culture of the local farmers. I cannot speak highly enough of how great a trip this was and how great a guy Jamie is. Thank you Jamie, for showing us your home and sharing your rum!
Through our experience and this blog series, you can meet the farmers, their land, their staff, and learn the meticulous process of harvesting coffee. We especially want to shine a light on this beautiful country that is experiencing so much political turmoil right now. By continuing to enjoy their coffee, you can support the farmers, the people, and their livelihood from this beautiful country.
Your local barista, manager, roaster
Finca La Esperanza (translates as “Farm of Hope”) is a farm owned and operated by Armando Zeledon. La Esperanza is situated in the mountains of San Juan Del Rio Coco (say this name out loud and let it roll off your tongue), 1300 meters above sea level (MASL) with gorgeous views down to the valley below and beyond to the neighbouring mountains. When Armando’s father bought the farm, it had been completely abandoned. Since their purchase, Armando and his family have been continually rebuilding and revitalising the property, soil, and farm equipment. This ongoing dedication has transformed the abandoned farm into a beautiful landscape, and has produced an incredible coffee to match. Armando has been a finalist twice now in the Cup of Excellence competition.
THE PLANT BASICS
The first coffee plant was found in Ethiopia in the 11th century, nowadays there are an estimated six thousand varietals in Africa. A coffee plant can produce fruit -the cherry- after its second year and at seven years old it will reach full maturity. A coffee plant here in Nicaragua will typically produce cherries for 25-30 years. Depending on terroir (climate, soil and altitude) and varietal producers can expect a yield of around 100 cherries or 6-12kgs each harvest from one tree. From the start of flowering to harvest time will take approximately 9 months, just like a having baby. Once the cherries are ready to harvest you have roughly 8-10 days to pick them before they become overripe. Surprisingly, every 2-3 years a coffee plant has a 'down-year' where it will not produce any fruit, and will regain its strength for the next season.
There are 5 layers to the coffee cherry:
- Skin/Pulp: On the outside, the two coffee seeds are covered by a cherry-like skin. The skin is mostly considered a by-product, all of the farms we saw used the pulp as fertilizer, however increasingly 'Cascara' tea is being made out of the pulp as it is caffeinated and sweet.
- Mucilage: Under the skin lies the mucilage, a sticky, sweet substance surrounding each of the two seeds. Since it is so sticky and sugary, it is sometimes dried on the seed and this is called the Honey Process.
- Parchment: After the mucilage, a layer of cellulose protects each of the coffee seeds. When dried, this layer looks and feels like parchment paper, hence the name.
- Silver skin/Chaff: Further inside, an even thinner layer coats the seed. This layer is called the silver skin because of its somewhat silverish sheen. This layer comes off during roasting. If you ever notice flakes in ground coffee, that is usually bits of silver skin or chaff that didn’t separate from the beans during the roast process.
- Seed/Coffee Bean: The coffee bean is one of the two seeds from inside the coffee cherry. However there is an anomaly where only one bean is formed these are called Peaberries.
While we visited his farm, Armando was in the peak of harvesting his coffee crop and he gave us the opportunity to give coffee picking a try! Picking coffee can be a very challenging task because of the difficulty in navigating terrain with its steep muddy hills. The coffee trees are planted so close together, you would be lucky not to get a branch in the eye doing this job every day. Not to mention how difficult it must be carrying these heavy bags of coffee cherries up and down the slippery mountainside and back to the processing area. Troy and I decided to have a ‘coffee pick-off’, to see who could pick the most coffee. Sadly, neither of us were any good, nor were we fast enough, dashing all my future hopes of living out my days on a coffee farm. Armando’s foreman told us that the amount we picked in half an hour he would expect the workers to pick in 5-10 minutes. An experienced picker can collect over 25kg (55lb for you Canadians) of cherries in two and a half hours, but hey who's counting. Quality over quantity is my new motto.
One of the biggest difficulties with picking coffee cherries is that each cherry will ripen at different times on each branch. This means that entire branch has to be selectively picked, slowing down the process. There is a specific technique to twisting the cherry off the branch as to not pull the skin away from the cherry which will expose the flesh. Also, obviously you should not snap the branch or hold on to the tree if you fall, sorry Armando. Unfortunately, due to the extra rainfall this season, many of the cherries had already split and were swollen, meaning many cherries had to be left behind. To add to the challenges of the harvest, many farms were finding that the flowers were blooming two months ahead of season.
During harvest time pickers will stay on the farm for the work week and then are driven back to their village every second week for the weekend. On these live-in farms they will provide breakfast, lunch, sleeping quarters and a commissary for pickers to buy essentials. The workers are paid by the weight of the picked cherries. Workers therefore haul as much as possible, while picking as quickly as they can. The work is long, hard, and difficult as we experienced first-hand. Many producers we spoke to on this trip said they had a very hard time finding pickers for the season. Knowing the amount of hard work it takes to harvest by Armando and his team, we are proud to pay a premium price for their green beans.
BENEFITS OF TRANSPARENCY IN COFFEE
When you buy coffee from Outpost Coffee Roasters, you are not only getting independent locally roasted coffee, but you are also supporting farmers like Armando that pay workers a fair living wage, update farming equipment, and help support their community and local economy. We pay specialty prices for green beans from farmers like Armando to ensure that coffee growers are able to be successful and share the profits within their communities.
By working to create transparency through the supply chain we can see the impacts buying high quality coffee. Direct trade, or as we like to call it, relationship coffee, pays specialty prices for coffees (significantly higher than fair trade ), which allows the farmers to grow a high-quality product and have a greater impact on their local community. In Armando’s case, he has been able to build a well for the community and has also donated land for the growing of fruit and vegetables. As a roaster working directly with the producer and having a personal relationship with them each year we are able to financially back them to allow for experimentation with processing, growing and varietals.
Farm/Producer: La Esperanza, Armando Zeledon
Region/Altitude: San Juan Del Rio Coco, 1300 masl
Varietals: Caturra, Yellow Catuai, Typica
Process: Fully Washed, raised bed and patio dried
Cupping: Dark Chocolate, Toffee, Molasses
La Madrugada is a low acid coffee, roasted to emphasize dark chocolate flavours and caramelized sugars in the cup with a lasting finish. Enjoy La Madrugada as a heavy espresso, a rich french press, or as a robust drip coffee.