In 2013, Virmax started an initiative to develop a specialty coffee program in Nicaragua. We started with 2 departments that are known for their quality of coffee: Jinotega and Nueva Segovia, located in the north of Nicaragua. With much enthusiasm, we visited producers in the Dipilto-Jalapa mountain range, a region that has optimal conditions for specialty coffee. With altitudes ranging between 1,200 and 1,800 meters above sea level and varieties such as Caturra, Red Catuai, Maracaturra, Maragogype and Bourbon, the quality potential of this area is huge. Add to those growing conditions producers willing to learn and do what is necessary to improve the quality of their coffee, and you’ve got a gold mine.
During the 2013 harvest, we had the opportunity to cup lots delivered by producers from Dipilto, Mozonte, Cerro de la Explosión, Nubarrones and other communities in Nueva Segovia. We were able to find a wide variety of cup profiles, most of them rich in floral, citric acidity and, of course, excellent sweetness. At the same time, we realized that there there was a lot more potential, but that to achieve full potential it was necessary to improve harvesting practices as well as wet and dry milling processes.
For the 2014 harvest, we have been educating our producing partners about managing the harvest and on wet milling and dry milling best-practices. We have hired and trained 10 “promotores” who constantly provide producers with on-the-ground advisory services, educating them on the best strategies and practices to produce high quality coffee. The objective of the coffee quality promotores is to assure that all of the lots that these producers deliver to Virmax Nicaragua comply with our strict quality control criteria, that they are high scoring and that the producers are properly compensated for the quality of their product. Part of the responsibility of the promotores is the supervision of the collection of the coffee cherry and to advise pickers, team leaders and owners of the farms the best practices for picking only the ripest cherries. They also advise producers on how to improve the conditions of the wet mill to deliver the best product possible.
Normally in Nicaragua, the majority of the coffee produced is dried on patios of concrete and plastic, causing a deterioration of the quality which is seen in the physical appearance of the bean as well as tasted in the cup. We have taken the initiative to renovate an abandoned mill in Ocotal, Nueva Segovia, where we are constructing 5,000 square meters of “Secaderos Nicas” (shaded-raised-bed-drying-structures). We have renamed this dry mill as “Beneficio La Estrella”. In this new facility we will offer drying services to the producers with whom we work to assure that the coffee is dried slowly, evenly and progressively, avoiding blazing fast drying by controlling sunlight exposure and high temperatures to protect the bean, which will ensure longevity of the peak flavor of the coffee.
“Beneficio La Estrella” is the only beneficio in Nicaragua that can offer shaded drying services with various degrees of shade cover in order to properly profile dry the coffee depending on the weather and the coffee’s moisture level. As of January 3, 2,000 square meters of Secaderos Nicas are already finished and we estimate that the remaining 3,000 meters will be finished by the end of January, just in time for peak harvest period.
We are also moving our laboratory and buying station to Beneficio La Estrella where we are building a fully equipped, professional cupping lab. We will be performing our quality control analysis on every lot delivered, like we do in all Virmax origin countries. We expect the lab to be up and running by mid-January. Our goal is to begin exporting the first lots by March 2014 with our newly established company, Virmax Nicaragua S.A.
According to the promotores, most of the producers in Dipilto and the zone around the Cerro Mogoton will begin picking coffee on January 1. Producers in Mozonte, Cerro de La Explosión and Nubarrones will begin picking coffee on January 15, 2014. We expect to have samples beginning to be submitted for quality analysis by the third week in January.
For any of our customers that will be passing through Nicaragua during the 2014 crop, we encourage you to plan on visiting Beneficio La Estrella from February 1 onwards. By this time, we should have many lots to cup and the beneficio will be fully operational for you to see the new and unique way that we are processing Nicaraguan coffee.
Happy New Year!
Saludos, Virmax Nicaragua.