As one of the non-Spanish speaking members of our field team, my goals for the trip were different than Matt and Alyssa, who were critical in surveying farmers, pickers, and other industry professionals, as well as Erik Eisele, our videographer with a knack for capturing natural moments, all the while making endless children smile and laugh.
Primarily, my duties involved operational functions: coordinating meetings with our fixer and partner producers, handling hotel and driving logistics, freeing up the team to focus on the research and not the minutiae, and generally ensuring that we met our goals in the many areas we had planned in the short amount of time we had on the ground.
A more important component of mine involved researching best practices in coffee cultivation from partner producers. Imperative to the continued growth of the #CoffeeLives project is our ability to recognize and advise on farmers’ growing practices and objectively taste the result of their labors, known as “cupping.”
Three days does not a coffee farmer make; a more fitting description perhaps is pounding two double-shots of ‘spro and running your fastest mile. You reach your primary endpoint, but there is a whole lot that is blurry and that you cannot absorb in the process. However, I was able to glean some very useful practices, even a few “hacks.”
Here are my top five:
2. Similarly, how do you distinguish between your pacamara, catuai, and/or caturra? The pacamara plant itself is generally much, much taller than other varietals of a similar age, often taller than a person. The difference in the shape and appearance of the cherries themselves is equally as striking, one producer characterizing pacamara as having, “Much length and a nipple on the end [where it connects to the branch].” Caturra and catuai cherries are shorter in length, generally more round, and lack a “nipple.”
3. Fermentation - a dark art turns grey. In a textbook sense, prior to this trip I felt I had a solid grasp on the step-by-step process cherries move through as they convert into marketable green coffee, but fermentation was an admitted blind spot. To be honest, I did not learn as much as I would have liked. Or, perhaps it is better to say that I learned so much that it remained an equally ambiguous, black remaining black, subject.
It was not until our last day and nearly our last producer visit that a small light shone. In speaking about his production, the producer in question noted that his fermentation time was nearly 48 hours. At first, we believed we had misinterpreted the dialogue, as all other producers had provided an 8-18 hour fermentation guideline. We had not misheard, nor was our Spanish failing us. When pressed on the subject, we were able to suss out that the increased time in tanks was needed due to the wet depulping being performed in comparison to dry depulping on other farms. Additionally, this producer was at a slightly higher altitude and his wet mill had significantly more tree cover.
Hack/Hypothesis = fermentation time is inversely proportional to moisture level at any given temperature.
Ojo de Gallo is a fungus that affects the leaves, branches, and fruit, but is most apparent on the leaves of coffee plants as splotchy, two-toned brown spots. As with most plagues, the best cure is not to contract it; farmers must properly prune healthy plants at the end of the harvest and fertilize aggressively.
A weak plant that is overly crowded and receives above average rain is primed for such disease, as moisture breeds Rooster Eye. As you would imagine, climatic shift, where areas suddenly receive above average rainfall for extended periods, could result in unprepared regions succumbing to large bouts of Ojo de Gallo.
Therefore, the farmer must not only prune existing shoots from branches, but also “kill (most of) the children” that have sprouted from the stump or trunk. A maturing and healthy coffee tree can sustain roughly one child per 12 inches of trunk, per side, or every 6-8 inches staggered.
There is so much more that I have learned, even in the very short time we spent in Nicaragua. I am excited to share these thoughts and findings with our readers, donors, and supporters in future blogs. Have questions, comments, or thoughts? Please comment below!
Michael J. Zerinskas
Board of Directors