Visit to Selva Negra

It was October 2008 when I first visited the Selva Negra Farm in Nicaragua.  The anticipation for the visit was immense.  This was my first trip to Nicaragua.  I was there for the Let’s Talk Coffee Nicaragua.  During the conference David Griswold introduced me to Mausi Kühl and her son in law Stephen Franklin. Mausi spoke from her heart and soul about the farm.  Champion Barista’s from all over the world had just spent a week on the farm.  The Barista’s stories about the farm were told throughout the conference.  Everyone was amazed with the stories and eager to visit the farm.

Entrance to Selva Negra

Entrance to Selva Negra

The entrance to the farm was impressive.  We were greeted by an army tank left over from the revolution.  We choose to get off the bus and walk our way to the restaurant.  Once in the farm the road was lined with coffee plants and shade trees.  All was neat and organized.  Trash cans made of recycled bags were available for the workers to collect trash.  The walk was peaceful and beautiful.

Pathway to Restaurant

Pathway to Restaurant

In Latin American countries trash is an eyesore.  The population needs to be educated on the benefits of proper trash disposal and care for the environment.  One of the principals of the Rainforest Alliance is proper recycling and disposal of trash.  Over the years of visiting farms I can immediately tell if a farm has the Rainforest Alliance Certification by the way trash is handled and the lack of litter on the farm.  Mausi goes way beyond the Rainforest Alliance trash requirements with her motto of “waste not”.  With over 300 people living on the farm, the farm produces only one 55 gallon barrel of trash per week.  The entire farm produces less CO2 than the than the average American household.

Our first stop on the farm was the farm’s restaurant.  Not only is this a coffee farm, but it is also a hotel,

With Mausi at Restaurant

With Mausi at Restaurant

restaurant, ecological sanctuary, cheese farm, sausage factory, cattle vegetable and flower farm.  All of the farm’s diversity works in harmony with the environment.  Lunch was fabulous.  We ate farm grown vegetables, cheeses and sausages on tables decorated with farm flowers overlooking a beautiful lake.

After lunch, it was time for the anticipated farm tour.  Heidi, Mausi’s daughter guided us through the coffee portion of the farm.  Our first stop was to the first water cleaning tank for which Selva Negra won the Specialty Coffee Association Sustainability Award.  The farm has developed a system to purify the water used in processing the coffee.  The first tank captures the methane gas.  The gas is used to provide fuel for cooking stoves for the hotel, restaurant and workers homes.  The water continues its purification through various ponds.  Algae

Algae Ponds

Algae Ponds

that is grows in one of the ponds is collected and used as mulch for the young coffee plants.  One of the ponds is a fish farm with workers being allowed to catch fish.  Finally the purified water is used as irrigation at the flower nurseries.  In my early years of visiting farms I was appalled at the water used in coffee processing being dumped back into the rivers.  Today Selva Negra has taught hundreds of farmers how to treat the water without harming the environment.

Broca Trap

Broca Trap

We made our way through the fields of coffee where we saw healthy coffee plants loaded with cherries.  The cherries were just beginning to ripen.  In about a month the farm would be in full harvest season.  We saw broca (coffee borer) traps made out of empty soda bottles and filled with local sugar cane alcohol to kill the broca.  This is just another example of recycling on the farm. Being an organic farm all forms of pesticides and fertilizers are 100% natural with many components coming from farm waste.  The restaurant serves eggs from the farm hens.  The shells from the used eggs are ground up to make a calcium fertilizer for healthy coffee root systems.    This is another example of Mausi’s “Waste Not” philosophy.

Every coffee farm produces wood from pruning the coffee plants and shade trees.  In most cases the wood is used to provide fuel for stoves.  Burning wood produces particulate air pollution.  This is not the case at Selva Negra as they produce their own methane gas for the stoves.  The wood is still used at the farm in a non-polluting manor.  The farm has a carpentry shop.  The shop makes furniture for the restaurant and hotel and many other wood needs.

Vegetable Nursery

Vegetable Nursery

We visited the vegetable and flower green houses.  All of the vegetables grown at the farm are served at the restaurant.  The flowers are picked and used to decorate the tables at the restaurant.

Our next stop was the wet mill and the drying patio.  Even though the water is filtered and recycled the water process is designed to conserve water.  The wet mill has been in operation since 1890.  The farm is also known as Hacienda Harmonia.  The name comes from the city of Hamburg, Germany the home town of the founding farmers.  Next to the drying patio is the family home.  The home along with the hotel cabins are all built with

Drying Patios

Drying Patios

German architectural elements again paying homage to the founders of the farm.

Our last stop was at the workers village.  Once a year the farm hosts a fair for the workers.  The purpose of the fair is to share with the employees all of the jobs and extracurricular activities of the farm.  There were booths for coffee, cheese, flowers, vegetables, sausages, biogas model, Rainforest Alliance, health care, sports teams, school, construction, plant nursery, farm awards, certifications and the farm model.  Children were dressed in their Sunday best.  As an incentive for taking care of their homes there is a completion for the best decorated house.  Many of the workers

Workers Children in their Sunday Best

Workers Children in their Sunday Best

grew up on the farm, were educated during their primary years at the farm, given scholarships for upper and college education and then returned to the farm to work and raise their families.  Jobs aside from farm field work include nurses, teachers, biologists, carpenters, and managers and many other jobs.

This farm is truly amazing.  Our Blue Heron Espresso Nicaragua Selva Negra is our most versatile coffee.  The coffee is sweet and citric as an espresso, smooth and creamy as a cappuccino and is bright and fruity with chocolate notes as a pour over or drip coffee.  This is one of my favorite coffees for not only the incredible taste but for all the sustainable aspects of the farm.

Anne with the Coffee Cherries.

Anne with the Coffee Cherries.

Guatemala Finca Ravanales Visit 2016

During the month of May I was invited to be a judge for the Cup of Excellence Guatemala 2016.  As in past Cup of Excellence events I spent some extra days in Guatemala for farm visits.  This year I wanted to focus on regions that I had not previously visited.  The visits did not disappoint.

My first visit was to Finca Ravanales in the Fraijanes region.  The family owned farm was founded by Don Gregorio Zamora in 1894.  Today the farm is run by 4th generation Rafael Ventura Zamora.  Don Gregorio would be proud of the work Rafael and the family is doing with the quality of the coffee, sustainability, environment and coffee research.  The original home is maintained much the way it was when Don Gregorio Zamora was alive.

For the last 50 years the farm has been working with Anacafe to research the quality and productivity of different varietals.  The farm is divided into lots with each lot consisting of a different varietal.  There is one new lot show casing all of the varieties called “Jardin de Variedades”; Varietal Garden.

Laurina After Flowering

Laurina After Flowering

One of the varieties we stopped at was the Laurina varietal.  This is a short thin tree. It has a small flower and leaf and a low producer and is highly susceptible to disease.  With all of the plants short comings one would wonder why is Laurina an important varietal.  The treasure in the Laurina is its naturally low caffeine content.  Laurina only has .6% caffeine while other Arabicas have 1 – 1.2% caffeine. Robusta coffees can contain up to 2.2% caffeine.

During our tour Rafael explained the different varietals, the age, production and cup quality of each lot.  He knows this 370 acre farm by the back of his hand.  The varietals we saw were Catimor, Cattura, Catuai, Marsellesa Sarchimor, Geisha, Mundo Novo, Enano, Icatu, Laurina, Typica, Bourbon, Pacamara, Marogogipe.  With all of these varietals less than 50% of the farm is planted with coffee.  The remaining farm is a nature reserve.  The coffee plants and nature blend seamlessly into the horizon.

Gravilea Shade Trees

Gravilea Shade Trees

Inga Shade Trees

Inga Shade Trees

Shade is provided by native trees.  Most are the Inga and Gravilea.  Coffee benefits from these trees as the slow the maturation of the cherry resulting in a sweeter more flavorful cup.  By planting a mix of the Inga and Gravilea trees the coffee plant roots are protected, the humidity of the soil is preserved and the nitrogen in the soil is balanced.  Organic materials from the trees reduce erosion.  Not only do these trees protect the coffee from the sun but also excessive wind and in rare cases frost.  Finally, the farm and region benefit from these trees by providing a habitat for biodiversity and sustainability.

As we toured the farm it was noticeable that the plants were very thirsty.  Due to the effects of “El Nino” the area was in a drought.  Normal precipitation is 122 inches per year.  Last year the farm only saw 67 inches of rain.  I was at the farm in mid-May, traditionally a rainy month.  This year the rain did not come until after my farm visit. When I saw Rafael later in the week he was pleased with the rain and his plants were back to normal health.

Wet and Dry Mill

Wet and Dry Mill

The farm has its own wet mill.  The mill is designed to handle all of the different varietals as micro lots.  This allows each coffee to be segregated and treated as micro lots.  Typical of most wet mills during the growing season the mills are cleaned up and modernized.  New equipment was being installed during our visit.

Cupping at Finca Ravanales

Cupping at Finca Ravanales

Our final stop was the cupping lab.  This is where the truth comes out.  How good is the coffee?  The table was set with 9 varietals.  All of the coffees were excellent.  I was amazed at the qualities of the coffees.  My favorite was a sweet floral, fruity, clean Pacamara. My second favorite was a Cattura with a caramel aroma, black cherry notes, and a bright clean acidity.  I knew at that point that this farm had a coffee capable of winning a Cup of Excellence award.  I purposely did not bring up the Cup of Excellence during this visit as I did not want any biased opinions being presented.  I was pleased when the farm received the Cup of Excellence award the following week.  Their award winning coffee was not one of the ones cupped at the farm.

With the Family and their 2016 Cup of Excellence Award

With the Family and their 2016 Cup of Excellence Award

Dry Cups

Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality

The JudgesI had the honor of being one of eight judges invited to the Rainforest Alliance Cupping for Quality. The event was held at the Interamerican Coffees cupping lab in Houston. Nice lab and gracious hosts. For this event Interamerican had to give up their lab for the week.

Our first session was held on the Monday evening was designed to teach the judges and get the judges comfortable with a new cupping app called OpenCup. We were the second group to use the new software. This app was easy to use and understand. Two years ago at this same event I used a different app that was cumbersome and easy to enter a score on the wrong coffee. This new app was logical and informative with numerous reports to evaluate the scores. After reviewing our scores in the deliberation room, we were able to see spider charts of our scores, extensive origin and process detail of each coffee. The app still had a few bugs which will be fixed before its debut at the SCAA Event in Atlanta.

Dry CupsOn Tuesday we started early with a calibration round which also gave us some more time to work with the app. By the time the actual judging started we were all familiar and comfortable with the app. Our first round of cupping was Costa Rica. From Costa Rica we moved onto Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. All in all we found some excellent coffees.

Wednesday we were able to sleep in a little. Once at the lab we cupped Guatemalans, Nicaraguans and Honduras. Again we found some excellent coffees. There were very few issues with some of the coffees but I found my favorite of the event.

Wednesday night we had a group dinner at a Mexican restaurant. Dinner included lots of queso, chips, tortillas, beef, chicken, veggies and pitchers of Margaritas. The meat and veggies we brought to the table on burning coal mini stoves. Throughout the evening we shared our love of coffee.The Beef and Chicken

Mexico was on our first two tables for Thursday morning followed by 3 tables of Nicaraguan coffees. Mexico had an amazing gem. Results of the cupping will be announced at the Rainforest Alliance Breakfast in Atlanta during the SCAA event.

A special thanks goes out to Linda and Marty our head judges, Bob the OpenCup programmer, Sara and Lauren from the Rainforest Alliance, Interamerican Coffee and Rosemary from Interamerican. Without their months of planning and hard work this event would not happen. To all the farmers who submitted samples for the cupping an enormous thank-you.

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