One of the most rewarding things about being a coffee roasting company is visiting the farms we work directly with to purchase our coffees. What's even more fun? Sending city folk, like our cafe managers and head office staff, down to these farms to have their minds blown. Here are nine things about visiting coffee farms we learned in Nicaragua, the native home of our La Bendicion, La Peña, and La Pradera coffees, earlier this year.
1. Your ride into the fields is a little more exciting than your usual commute into the city. "The hills of La Peña are not only one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen, but they're surely not for the faint of heart. In many spots the hills are around 75 degrees steep, made even more treacherous by the constant winds and misty clouds that rush through the surrounding mountains. If you slip there's not much stopping you from a 100+ foot tumble to the bottom." — Josh Littlefield, Director of Education.
2. Picking coffee is a LOT harder than it looks. "Josh and Amarys insisted that we pick coffee, so out came the baskets. We only had about 1 hour to pick before we needed to head over to the wet mill to watch the processing. The trees were quite difficult to pick as you had to wander in search of ripe cherry, and even then you may only find a handful of beans to pick from one tree. We were only able to pick about 30 lbs between the 3 of us." — Dan Streetman, Green Coffee Buyer.
3. And you have to only pick the good ones. "Being able to pick our own coffee was life changing and actually pretty difficult! It was tough trying to find the perfectly ripe and purple (like jamaica iced tea) colored cherries. We picked for an hour but didn't get too many baskets filled, maybe like 1 and 1/2 (if that)." — Amarys Serrano, Manager, Irving Farm Grand Central Terminal
4. De-Pulping machines are a lot like Taylor Swift. "We visited the brand new wet mill that Luis Alberto started building in November of last year. He showed us the machinery that de-pulps the coffee. It was all pretty advanced, although the machines were just 'shaking it off'". —Amarys
5. The professionals work way faster than us city folk. And they have to. "We watched as all the coffee picked by the workers today, about 1600 lbs, was sent through the wet mill. Afterwards we raced the 2 hours back to the dry mill so that we could spread out our coffee on the raised beds before it would ferment." — Dan
6. Coffee processing can be a Zen-like experience. "We chose to have our coffee as honey processed so we took the coffee to the raised beds and spread them out with a rake and our hands. It was so sticky, just like honey! We spread them out as much as we could and I went to work with Dan trying to take out the leftover pulp in our green coffee. It was actually kind of relaxing and I was determined to save all the beans stuck to the pulp!" —Amarys
8. Being actually there really makes you appreciate something.
"Today has shown me the beginning stage of coffee productions and it has made me appreciate it so much more. These men are on a MOUNTAIN SIDE picking coffee for 8 hrs. They risk their lives all to provide us with the delicious product that many many people might take advantage of. I will be a hawk on my staff for how much coffee they waste from now on!" — Amarys
9. At the end of the day, every part of the coffee chain matters. "La Peña was the coffee I competed with for Big Eastern, so just the mention of having the chance to see this plot in person was already surreal. When we tasted the ripe yellow catuai off the branches (which are actually more orange when fully ripe) they were noticeably sweeter than the varietals we had tried previously. What was also really interesting for me is that coffee thrived in this climate. The hills are constantly cool, moist and shadowed by cloud cover. In this pretty harsh environment the trees were full, healthy and lush. So cool!" —Josh