Meet Mrs Olga Marina González Cuadra and her family at Finca ‘La Picona’, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua!

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Coffee blossom at ‘La Picona’

At Kaffee-Alchemie, our aim is to promote coffee as the result of hard work of ordinary farmers. Although their role in the entire coffee chain is indispensable, they are rarely “visible” to consumers and receive little recognition. At our local ‘Farmers Market’,  we are accustomed to hands-on information about the origin of cheese, vegetables, meat and fruit  -not to mention when we purchase a bottle of wine: we expect clear language about grape variety, processing, name of farmer and vineyard!

A coffee farmer invests a lot of hard work into growing, harvesting and processing the coffee cherries into green beans: the finished product from the farmers side is the dried, unroasted coffee seed, free from defects and unclean flavours. Each farm grows coffee with different characteristics because of different micro climates and different varieties of the coffea  plant  -but neighbours may also have different backgrounds and use different methods of nurturing, harvesting and processing their coffees: and this is what we as a small speciality store are interested in!

As John was in Nicaragua in April last year,  ‘La Picona’ was one of the many coffees he tasted, and he also met the farmer, Mrs Olga Marina Gonzàlez Cuadra. We in Kaffee-Alchemie decided to purchase her ‘lot’ from the Cup of Excellence auction in June, and in August the coffee from Olga Marina arrived in Salzburg.

Mrs Olga Marina Gonzàlez Cuadra with her husband, her daughter (17) and son (19) at the ‘La Picona’ farm.

‘La Picona’  is situated in the northern part of Nicaragua, in the region Nueva Segovia, with a great view into neighbouring Honduras. The area is a protected nature reserve rich in forests and streams, and the higher altitude of 1200 -1300 masl provides a perfect micro climate in which the coffee trees thrive.

Olga Marina and her family purchased the abandoned ‘La Picona’ twelve years ago, and gradually they have nurtured the 8.39 Hectares  -out of which 4.19 Hectares are coffee trees-  into a lush and green oasis. Large búcaro and guaba trees provide a canopy of shade together with banana for the coffea arabica  varieties ‘caturra’ and ‘maracatu’.  Bananas and other fruits ( jocote, oranges, avocado and lemons) grow inbetween the coffee trees and give a steady harvest throughout the year.

The coffee harvest begins in the lower altitudes in November, and at ‘La Picona’ in January and February.  Olga Marina can process the ripe cherries herself in her own ‘Wet Mill’ on the farm, something which gives her control over the first important stages of processing when the green seeds might be contaminated or tainted by its surroundings.  Careful de-pulping the green seeds from the red fruit, then soaking the sticky beans in clean, cold water so that the mucilage dissolves -a process which takes a day’ and a night’s work.  The end result is untainted and clean green coffee, still protected by the inner ‘parchment’ skin.

As ‘parchment’ the coffee is sun dried on their own drying patios – if the weather allows it-, or in large, mechanical tumble driers at the local Dry Mill. The Dry Mill is also where the farmers have their coffee processed further:  the parchment is removed, the coffee is bagged and stored in the warehouses to rest and dry further  -a process which takes weeks and months.

Mrs Olga Marina Gonzales Cuadra: 4th time Cup of Excellence Winner (2005 #1, 2006 #17, 2009 #5, 2011 #17)

Ms Claudia Lovo, who was coordinating the Cup of Excellence 2011 competition in Nicaragua  also works as a consultant for coffee growers in Las Manos, the region in Nueva Segovia where ‘La Picona’ is situated. When the coffee we purchased from Olga arrived in Salzburg, we asked Claudia if she could visit the farm and interview Olga for us, getting more information about her and the farm. The response was immediate and enthusiastic, and a nice mail followed with a description from ‘La Picona’.

By coincidence, just a few weeks after, Claudia Lovo was invited to the HOST fair in Milano to present Cup of Excellence, and came to visit us in Kaffee-Alchemie in Salzburg to stay for almost two weeks!

It was very nice to meet Claudia again: it was her first visit to Europe!

For us it was simply fantastic to have a nicaraguan with us just as we were roasting and cupping our newly arrived lot:  Claudias knowledge and experience daily with  nicaraguan coffees, and particularly the ‘maracatu’  bean variety, gave us a chance to define a roast profile, and for Claudia it was fun to roast Olgas coffee -in Austria.

Claudia Lovo, coffee consultant from Nicaragua, was roasting our first batches of ‘La Picona’ together with us.

Olga Marina grows the varieties  caturra  and  maracatu  on ‘La Picona. Both are coffea arabica . The caturra  is a natural mutation of the  bourbon‘  variety, and  maracatu  is a result of a crossing between the  caturra  and maragogipe, a mutant from the coffea arabica  variety typica‘  with large beans which was discovered in 1870 in the Maragogipe province in Bahia, Brazil.

The selection Olga chose to enter Cup of Excellence with was 16 bags of maracatu  -and with this, ‘La Picona’ was awarded with a  -the fourth time CoE winner!

Roasting the large maracatu beans is a bit tricky. While other varieties like bourbon and typica are small and round, the mutant maragogipe and its offspring maracatu are also known as the coffea arabica  giants:  They show very tall sized plants with large leaves, large cherries, etc. In general,  their ‘architecture’  is open and messy, and they are not high yield producers, but the cup quality is notable and characteristic. The slightly softer cell structure of these beans demands a careful roast and slightly different roast profile. Ms Claudia Lovo guided us through this during our roasting sessions in November -and we’re pretty much extatic about the result!  Some minor changes in temperature during the last roast batches have given us a deep and rich coffee, luring out exactly those orange fruit and dark cacao notes these beans are known for.

Young ‘maracatu’ coffee plants in the ‘nursury’ section on ‘La Picona’

The Gonzales Cuadra Family house on ‘La Picona’



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