Saturday we went for a tour of the coffee production and social development projects with the UCA Miraflor, a cooperative of 45 producers. The UCA is also an eco-tourism project, which helps members build cabins or improve the conditions of their house to have a room to rent to tourists. Some of my friends from the states who stayed with a family for a few nights said it was one of the best things they did here.
The purpose of our trip was mostly to look at their coffee production and see how it could be improved. Miraflor is a national reserve, filled with an amazing diversity of wildlife and plants. Chico, the Manager of the coffee production, is at heart an avid bird watcher and even though it rained all day and he didn’t have any raingear, he chose to stay on the back of the pickup with his binoculars, banging frantically on the roof so we could stop and get out whenever he saw an exciting specimen. Marlon, one of the tecnics, also came with us, and Carlos, the president of the cooperative, joined us at the cupping lab and for lunch.
Miraflor was rainy, damp, and by the end of the day the coldest I have been in Nicaragua. At lunch I could see my breath for the first time in nearly ten months. Spanish moss dripping from trees and buildings gave the gray day and even gloomier mystical feeling. Every tree carried more than its load of epiphytes and orchids in addition to the spanish moss. The farms we visited were impressively diverse as well, with coffee, bananas, plantains, citrus trees, chayote squash, cattle, and extensive patio vegetable gardens that are promoted by one of the UCA projects for food sovereignty and nutrition.
The big achievement of the day was discussing and agreeing to produce a trial batch of ten sacks of ‘naturally dried’ coffee.
Most of the coffee in Nicaragua is fermented and washed at a ‘wet beneficio’ to remove the fruit from around the coffee bean, and then the bean is dried at a ‘dry beneficio’ before being exported as green coffee. Naturally dried coffee, which is actually an older method of producing coffee, dries the whole coffee cherry like a raisin, and after about 12 days when it is good and dry the fruit is then removed from the bean by pounding it. There is a difference in the finished product, because the bean absorbs a different flavor from the fruit when they are dried together. Recently Mickey from Salt Spring coffee in Canada expressed interest in purchasing naturally dried coffee for using in expressos, opening up a new export market for a product generally considered lower quality.
The UCA has also has a myriad of social and environmental projects in addition to the vegetable gardens. They have installed solar panels, build improved stoves that burn less wood and have chimney and flu systems to keep houses free of smoke, funded coffee plantation renovations, build schools, and are in the process of building small improved ‘wet beneficios’ with an improved water filtration system to reduce contamination at individual farms. At the end of the day it was so cold and we were so wet it was hard to absorb so much interesting and positive information. Their list of activities kept going on and on, and when we thought we had gotten them all notated they would casually mention something else that sparked our interest. Luckily the city of Estili is a close half hour drive, and the muddy rough roads not so bad at all. This is an excellent part about dealing with sometimes rough travelling conditions here: if I’d never left Leon this year I never would have thought a hot shower in Nicaragua would be so delicious.