Kaffee-Alchemie in Nicaragua, Day 1

Posted by john 2 Comments

It is a privilege to be invited again to be part of the International Jury for Cup of Excellence: this time in Nicaragua.

This whole week I am in Matagalpa, tasting coffee!

CoE is a non-profit organisation seeking to help individual coffee producers having their small ‘lots’ of green beans a chance to reach the Speciality Coffee Market. Since Cup of Excellence started in 1999, the program now arranges this ‘competition’ in Brasil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua -and Rwanda. Bolivia has taken part too, but is sadly prevented from doing so currently. Other countries might take part in the future (read about CoE on their website: www.cupofexcellence.org).

In the past months and weeks since the coffee harvest ended, nicaraguan coffee growers have chosen their best bags of coffee for this years CoE, and a jury made up of national coffee tasters (many of them grow coffee themselves) have been blind tasting more than 380 different harvests. After this pre-selection, 60 coffees are ready for more ‘cupping’ sessions (‘cupping’ is what we coffee nerds call the technique we use for tasting).

The International Jury is made up of people from the Speciality Coffee section world wide, usually working for small roasteries, coffee houses or importers of green beans. Since 1999 the Jury has grown to a strong unit of experienced cuppers with strong friendships spanning all continents.  This years nicaraguan jury comes from Iceland, Lithuania, Sweden, Canada, Japan, South Corea, USA, Norway  -and for the first time Austria!  🙂

This week will be quite busy: 60 coffees will be cupped again and again and evaluated by the jury without knowing anything about the origin of the coffee in the cup. What we know is that there are families behind every single coffee, and that our job is to find the excellent ones.

In every coffee producing country there are small producers who grow and processes unique coffees with great attention to quality, reflecting the variety of coffee grown, the micro climate and the specific preferred processing, which are characteristics you will not find in large bulks of commodity coffees branded by importers. These coffees are pure gold for the Speciality Coffee Market!

Most of the coffee grown world wide comes from small farm, but as most of these coffees are of a low or average quality, the coffee is merely picked and sold as red cherries at the market or sold to a local Mill, which then blends the coffee with hundreds of other lots, and processes the fruits to dried green beans for export.

Wine gets some of its character from its processing in barrels or tanks, and Tea is processed dry either green or black; The best coffees are -as grapes and tea leaves- picked when at its peak: the coffee cherries ripen to a deep red or yellow, and this is when the seeds (the ‘beans’) should be processed to a dry stage. The different methods of removing the coffee pulp (which sticks to the seed like on a peach or a plum) has an impact on the quality of the flavor too, when the seed later is being roasted. Thus, the different processing methods: in dry lowland countries, coffee is mostly sun dried, and in steep highland regions with lots of presbytation, the coffee seeds are ‘washed’ in clean water and then sun and shade dried, carefully.

And ‘care’ is the key word here: green coffee seeds, (in this stage still protected by the ‘parchment’ during the drying process), are easily ruined by burning sun or surprising rainfalls. With attention and care during processing a farmer can achieve bags of excellent quality coffee. Like a ‘Chardonney’ wine or a ‘Darjeeling’ tea, the coffee displays its characteristics, and coffee lovers can thoroughly enjoy a unique cup of black gold!

The first day here in Nicaragua is over; the International Jury has arrived, and we drove from the capital Managua to the town of Matagalpa in the highlands, a region known for growing good coffee. This is where this years Cup of Excellence will be arranged. A tiny Hotel opposite a beautiful church, and guess what: around the corner a small coffee shop! And the barista is a master in latte art (he’s also Nicaraguas Barista Champion!). A group of judges grouped around the bar, being served beautiful cappuccinos: the beans used were of course locally grown (and I’m sure the cows are happy cows: that milk was amazing!). (and the Espresso Machine is the same ‘La Marzocco’ as in ‘Kaffee-Alchemie’ in Salzburg!

Later, we were invited to a Welcome Reception with music, dancing and finger food. We were being introduced to the Major and local politicians related to the coffee scene. It is incredibly inspiring to meet these people: their lives here are strongly connected to coffee, and there’s excitement in the air concerning all the great coffees waiting to be judged finally by the International Jury!

The temperature is around 31 degrees, and the sky is blue, there are no cocarachas in my tiny hotel room, and there’s a coffee shop around the corner: what bliss! I am about to get ready for breakfast and the 2nd day down here: today we will have a calibration, and get a chance to cup the first coffees: I am excited!

Greetings to you all

The photo shows the amazing cappuccino, served by an enthusiastic barista: I’ll be back today for more of that!

Cappuccino, Matagalpa

Who would know I'd get excellent cappuccino in Matagalpa!

A great Joy to team up with excellent cuppers; especially nice to be able to spend a week with an old colleague from Norway: Bjørn Harald! Here we are, together with a handful of other judges at Matagalpas ‘Espresso Bar Barista’!

CoE Nicaragua 2011 Coffee Bar Barista, Bjørn Harald


2 Responses to ‘Kaffee-Alchemie in Nicaragua, Day 1’

  1. […] me there! I was just in Nicaragua, as judge in Cup of Excellence: if interested, read my blog: Kaffee Alchemie Kaffee-Alchemie in Nicaragua, Day 1 So, more good coffees coming our way! LG, […]

  2. Anonymous says:

    […] come by for a coffee talk And, yes, we do have a blog (I tasted unique coffees last week!!!) Kaffee Alchemie Kaffee-Alchemie in Nicaragua, Day 1 LG […]

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