I have always been a big fan of Central American coffees, I think the combination of the mild acidity and chocolate, honey and citrus flavours lend themselves well to espresso coffees, so I was really excited when asked by Smudge Publishing to be involved in their Coffee Encounters book and assist them with featuring Nicaragua.
Nicaraguan coffees feature in a few of our current blends and we have also bought smaller lots of specialty coffee from Nicaragua over the last few years, so I saw it as a good opportunity to visit the country for the first time and strengthen some of our existing relationships and establish some new ones.
Through our association with Cup of Excellence we were put in touch with Beneficio Las Segovias. Las Segovias is owned by Luis Balladeras Moncada, and has produced 50-70% of the Nicaraguan Cup of Excellence winners. They are dedicated to specialty coffee and constantly improving the quality of their coffee and in turn the lives of their farmers.
“We do not do things randomly so we achieve the best quality. Each process is revised, supervised and researched on a yearly basis so to keep improving the processes ranging from natural coffees to completely processed ones and each has its own research experiments done separately. We have taken seriously each one of these steps. Judge the work we have done, but most importantly where we want to go.” – Luis Balladeras Moncada.
We were coming in to the last weeks of harvesting when Joe (our WA Roaster), Agim (our Victorian Production Manager) and I arrived in Nicaragua. We spent a day in the nation’s capital Managua before heading to Nueva Segovia. Built on top of a network of fault lines Managua has been rocked with a history of earthquakes. In 1972 the city was devastated by a 6.2 quake that killed 11,000 people and the city centre including the beautiful old cathedral has never been rebuilt, leaving it looking a little abandoned. With no real skyline and surrounded by trees the city looks a little more like a big country town then what you would expect from the nation’s capital. We took in a few of the sites including the unmissable silhouette monument of the revered revolutionary Sandino, before hiring Nicaragua’s version of the landcruiser, “the Scorpio” and heading north east to the coffee growing regions.
Nicaragua is a small country, but rich in quality coffee. It’s located in the heart of Central America bordered by Honduras to the North and Costa Rica to the South. There are 16 departments in Nicaragua and two autonomous regions. Ten departments produce coffee, yet 93% of the coffee produced comes from Jinotega (45%), Matagalpa (33%), Nueva Segovia (10%) and Madriz (5%). Most of these coffee growing regions lie north to north east of Managua. Beneficio Las Segovias and the farms we were visiting are situated in the Nueva Segovia region, which stands out from all the regions due to its high quality. Every year Nicaragua celebrates its “Cup of Excellence” competition selecting the best farms, with the best coffee in the country. Farms from Nueva Segovia have won 90% of those places which stands as proof of the quality level of the coffee produced in the region. It is the farms in the Dipilto-Jalapa mountain range in Nueva Segovia where the best coffee is grown. With elevations of up to 1,700metres, the mountain range that borders Honduras provides farms with the right combination of elevation and microclimate with the rich soils producing the perfect combination of fruits and chocolate flavours.
From Managua we would head about 3.5 hours North to the town of Ocotal in Nueva Segovia. We entrusted the driving to Agim and despite a couple of hairy experiences dodging oncoming trucks, managed to arrive safely. Ocotal lies in its own little valley surrounded by beautiful mountain views. It’s a small market town which serves as the commercial and population centre of Nueva Segovia. On arrival we caught up with Claudia Lovo, our host from Beneficio Las Segovias. Claudia works really closely with the individual farmers that Las Segovias represents and would be an unbelievable host, translator, educator and guide over the next week. Claudia is an experienced cupper, an international Cup of Excellence Jury member and an incredibly passionate supporter of both coffee and her community.
We spent the first day familiarising ourselves with the town. It has a beautiful park in the middle and a baroque style Cathedral built in the 1800’s. It also had a great local market where farmers are selling seasonal fruits, vegetables, bean, and grains. We spent a lot of time in the market the first day, sampling the local fruits and using it as our own flavour wheel base for the coffees we would be cupping throughout the week.
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