August 10, 2015

The Nicaraguan Coffee Industry & Story Behind Finca La Argentina


El tiempo perdido los santos lo lloran.

The saints cry for lost time.

That phrase embodies life in Nicaragua. Conquest, revolution, and disaster may rob the country of its wealth, produce, and time, but always the people immediately work to rebuild and improve their lives. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the coffee industry.

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Coffee in Nicaragua

Most of Nicaragua’s coffee flows out of its mountainous, central areas, at between 600-1,500 m.a.s.l.; coffee from here is renowned for its floral aroma mixed with a bright, high end acidity. Some of the best regions for Nicaraguan coffee are the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions nestled within the Isabelia and Dariense mountain ranges, due to the combination of their nutrient-rich volcanic soil and a humid climate.

The Nicaraguan coffee industry supports 45,000+ farming families, of which an estimated 95% are small-holders. Between May and December the plantations employ thousands of additional coffee pickers, making the industry a serious boost for the economy. 95% of the coffee produced is considered shade grown, meaning that natural foliage is used to shade the coffee and help sustain the native ecosystem. This biodiversity improves the soil and water conservation, crucial in a country experiencing great levels of deforestation. 

Nicaragua’s spectacular mountainous landscape. Credit: Falcon Coffees

Nicaragua’s spectacular mountainous landscape. Credit: Falcon Coffees

Surviving the Coffee Crisis

Yet relying on the coffee industry can be dangerous. From 1999-2003, the Nicaraguan coffee production plummeted as a result of Hurricane Mitch and major drought. This had devastating effects. Three of the country’s major banks folded. Children were removed from school, farmers migrated, and the level of health deteriorated. It’s estimated that over 4.5 million days of work were lost during the first two years of the crisis.

Yet despite 4.5 million days of lost time, Nicaraguan farmers didn’t give up. Even during a forty percent fall in the number of agricultural cooperatives, coffee cooperative membership increased by ten percent. Then as the U.S. specialty coffee industry started to take an interest in Nicaraguan coffee, the farmers cooperated further to facilitate entering the speciality coffee industry. With that came fair trade initiatives allowing the cooperatives to build their own member-owned dry processing plants, as well as to establish educational programmes, women’s support programmes, and agro-ecotourism programmes. Despite the seemingly inevitable destruction of the Nicaraguan coffee industry, it somehow not just survived but thrived.

Finca La Argentina, a Nicaraguan Coffee Farm

Finca La Argentina is one of the farms that weathered the storm of the coffee crisis. This eighty hectare farm in the beautiful mountain ranges of Dipilto and Japalpa Nicaragua has been owned by the Peralta family since 1920. They farm shade-grow caturra, catuai, and javanica, employing 40 full-time and 150 seasonal employees to do so. 

The sun breaking through the foliage at Finca La Argentina. Credit: Falcon Coffees

The sun breaking through the foliage at Finca La Argentina. Credit: Falcon Coffees 

What makes Finca La Argentina special is their dedication to sustainable coffee that future generations can benefit from. Julio Peralta believes Nicaragua has the conditions and facilities to create extraordinary cup flavours, and that sustainability can be possible through the cultivation and exportation of high-quality micro-lots rather than through mass production—particularly as leaf rust is a constant threat. His vision is to spread his passion for micro-lots to his family and his country, and his work has been rewarded; many of the farms now producing micro-lots have had their coffee win in Cup of Excellence competitions.

The view from Finca La Argentina.

The view from Finca La Argentina. Credit: Falcon Coffees 

So how do you plan a micro-lot? Well, the Peralta family decide on an area by using refractometers to measure the sugar percentage of the ripe cherries. They prefer it to be about 22%. After that, the cherries are picked in a specific order, determined by how they will be processed at the San Ignacio mill in Nueva Segovia. Cherries that will be naturally processed are picked first, then dried for a prolonged period with the pulp and mucilage intact. After that, red honey cherries are processed; again, the mucilage is kept intact. Finally, yellow honey cherries are picked and pulped, with some mucilage removed, and then dried.

The Finca La Argentina farm.

The Finca La Argentina farm. Credit: Falcon Coffees

Roasting Finca La Argentina Coffee

Over the past few months, I’ve been cupping and reviewing one of the red-honey processed catuai Finca La Argentina micro-lot coffees. My beans were transported nearly 6,000 miles from Finca La Argentina to roastery Röststätte, Berlin.

The Röststätte Berlin beans.

The Röststätte Berlin beans. Credit: @verticalthinking 

The Chief Roaster, Ivo Weller, is a member of the SCAE, The Roasters Guild, and a certified Q-Grader Arabica. He applies rigorous tests to his coffee, ensuring that it adheres to Röststätte’s firmly held values:

  • Coffees should be drum roasted by hand.
  • Coffees should be obtained through direct and fair trade with locals farms and cooperatives.
  • Coffees and farmers should both be respected.
  • Coffees should be roasted so as to highlight “the flavours which are donated to the coffee by nature”.

Trying My Finca La Argentina

When I brew new coffees, I always use three different methods—AeroPress, Kalita Wave, and Chemex—simultaneously so as to determine which will provide the best extraction and flavour. Needless to say, the aroma levels in my kitchen were insane. For hours afterwards, all I could smell were figs.

In this case, the Kalita had the best effect.The slightly more aggressive nature of the AeroPress seemed to hide the jasmine and tangerine flavours; the Kalita, on the other hand, highlighted them while keeping that intense fig flavour, all wrapped up in a lovely clean cup.

How to Brew It:

What method? Kalita Wave (paper filter)

How much? 17g

Brew time? 2:45-3:00 minutes

Grind? Fine to medium

1. Pre-warm and wet the Kalita filter paper and decanter.

2. Add the ground coffee, which should have been ground to a fine-ish setting.

3. Simultaneously pour the water (83°C) and start the timer, weighing the water to 50g for the bloom.

4. Wait for 30 seconds, then continue to pour until the water weight reaches 220g in total.

The extraction should take around 2:45-3:00 minutes and result in an incredibly tangerine first sip alongside that gorgeous fig depth. Hints of jasmine accentuate the cup.

The Kalita Wave brew method.

The Kalita Wave brew method. Credit:@verticalthinking 

All in all, this coffee’s high roast quality, high cultivation quality, and excellent profile are impressive. I thoroughly recommend it.

Where Can You Buy This Coffee?

Being a micro-lot, this coffee can be hard to obtain. However, we’ve seen it stocked by:

Know of any others? Let us know in the comments and we’ll update the list.

Edited by T. Newton 

Feature Photo Credit: Falcon Coffees

Perfect Daily Grind.