My project is focused in the department of León, mostly in areas where the low hot pacific plains make cattle farming, sugar cane, and peanuts the principal agricultural crops.   The largest agricultural export in Nicaragua, coffee, is mostly concentrated in the northern mountains.  I haven’t spent very much time focusing on coffee in the eight months I’ve been here, so I took a two day trip to Jinotega and Matagalpa with Nicolas and Mickey McCloud, a coffee roaster from Salt Spring Coffee in Vancouver Canada, where he signed contracts to buy organic coffee directly from the cooperatives.

Rachel setting up the coffee cupping

Rachel Archer, who has worked with fair trade coffee and is currently working part time developing some national marketing strategies with several coffee cooperatives, gave us a good send-off with a coffee cupping here at Nicolas’ house in Leon.  I’ve never cupped coffee before, and really only started drinking coffee this year, and I learned alot during our little excercise.

She started by lining up five different ground coffees, four Nicaraguan and one Costa Rican, and we rated and described them by appearance and fragrance of the grounds.  Then she added boiling water to some grounds, and we described the aroma of the liquid coffee.  Then we each “broke” a glass of coffee, by sinking the grounds with a spoon while smelling carefully and noting whether the aroma changed while we stirred.  After that came the tasting – dipping a spoon in the cup, slurping the coffee along with some air, swishing it around in your mouth and then spitting it out and trying to lucidly describe what you just experienced.  I found this excercise challenged my readily available flavor vocabulary, and also taught me alot about what I like and don’t like in coffee.  Don’t like light roasts, and don’t like stale coffee.

We finished by choosing our favorites and discussing the differences between the five coffees.  Rachel revealed to us which was which, and we looked at the packaging for the different coffees to see which ones we felt were most appealing if we were tourists here buying presents for friends at home.  I really enjoyed that part.   The label is such an important place to incorporate beautiful pictures and important information, to appeal to a variety of consumers.   A good combination of art, agriculture, and food.  Mmmhmm.

Coming next:  Our visit to the first cooperative in Jinotega.