by Mike Jarrett
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect on my trip to Nicaragua — only that I was in store for something very special. We landed in the capital city of Managua, secured our (minimal) luggage, picked up our rental vehicle, and headed off to Matagalpa on a beautiful Wednesday evening. My travel mates, Steve and Brady from The Coffee Hound, were just as excited as I was; and, thankfully, Steve was ready and able to operate our pickup truck with a manual transmission. Matagalpa is almost a straight shot, 90 miles north of Managua.
It took us just under two hours to cover that distance. Once there, we met Ben Weiner of Gold Mountain Coffee Growers at Pumas Las Marias where he would direct us to Hotel San Tomas. Even though it was nighttime upon our arrival, there was plenty to take in as we drove out of Managua and past various little town centers. Cinder block homes with corrugated steel roofs, small family-owned shops, and street food vendors lined the road. We pulled into the gas station to meet Ben, grabbed plenty of bottled water and a few snacks to get through the evening, and headed to the hotel. Check-in was fast, but we were all exhausted. So, off to our rooms it was to get some shut-eye.
I woke early around 5:00 a.m. — thanks to what seemed like 100 roosters sounding off — and prepared for the day. I couldn’t wait to take in my surroundings as the sun came up, so I quickly headed out to the balcony. There, I was greeted with a mountain breeze and a sunrise like I’ve never experienced before. It was at that moment I fell in love with Nicaragua. I met up with my travel mates and drove to Gold Mountain Coffee Growers’ headquarters for a relaxed cupping of about 23 new coffees.
Most of the coffees we cupped were quite promising, but three in particular stood out for all of us. Some of the cupping notes for those three standouts were “mixed berries,” “straight juice,” and “intense jammy sweetness.” We were all blown away by these naturally processed and honey processed coffees. After the cupping we all loaded into the truck and headed out of the city. This began our ascent to some of the most wonderful coffee farms in the world.
We quickly went from a somewhat arid climate in the city to a lush, green rain forest as we climbed higher and higher in our truck. Finally arriving to the first farm of Juan Carlos was a dream come true — coffee trees everywhere. I walked up to the closest tree and picked off the ripest cherry I could find. I looked at for a good minute in my hand, admiring the the color, then popped the seeds (beans) into my mouth and savored the sweet, sugary goodness. Most of the trees around me had been picked clean as it was harvest time, but there were plenty of ripe ones left in other parts of the farm just waiting to be picked. Speaking (through Ben’s translating) with the families that put so much hard work and care into what they do gave me a newfound appreciation for what we coffee professionals on the other side do back our roasteries.
Every day, we met up at Gold Mountain headquarters, made a plan for the day, and headed off either to the dry mill or back up into the rain forest. Days at the dry mill were filled with cupping newly pulled coffees, helping unload wood for future drying beds to be built, or joining in spreading perfectly ripe cherries on raised beds to begin their drying. At least half the time was spent in the back of a pickup truck barreling around the farms while picking up sacks of ripe coffee, and then getting them down to the dry mill as soon as possible.
We took multiple trips back and forth with stops in between to visit various farmers; and, of course, stops for some of the best steaks I’ve ever eaten. Picking up freshly picked coffee cherries and delivering to the dry mill was a large part of this trip. This was not an observational origin trip, but a working origin trip. We got our hands dirty as much as we could (including getting our truck stuck in a massive muddy ditch for three hours).
I’ll never forget the first cherry I saw, the hospitality of the people, the monkeys in the rain forest canopy, the site of thousands of coffee trees, or the view from the observation deck at Finca Idealista. I hope to get back to Nicaragua again in the years to come — only this time I’d like to experience it with my coffee soulmate and founder our roastery, Ryan.
Please take a few minutes to enjoy this brief photographic montage of Mike’s trip to the farms of the Gold Mountain Coffee Growers …