Jinotega , Nicaragua
January 27 , 2011
Ernesto Somarriba: Photography
Paul Katzeff :Text
The Harvest in Nicaragua as in most of Central America and Mexico will be over in about a month. From November to March, depending on Latitude and altitude, the harvest continues as the cherries ripen . Unlike grapes that ripen all at once, coffee cherries ripen over a 3 month period on each tree. Thus , the farmer must return many times to the same tree to complete his/her harvest.
The first two photos show two very different coffee farmers. The first is a campacino who might be just a landless picker w0rking on a plantation and getting about $3-4 dollars a day picking cherries. The second appears to be a small scale coffee farmer working his own land and obviously, he is allot better off then the first guy. Who is happier and living a more spiritual life is unknown.
Animal power is much more personal then relating to an auto engine but there is a price to pay and that price is paid in time(things move more slowly), in work(it’s harder on the back) and in the amount of land a farmer needs to set aside for pasture. But the rewards come from the fact that you are in a vehicle powered by the sun that produces waste product that feed the coffee trees. The next photo I can almost smell from here. Sweet fruit and crushed skins after the coffee has been depulped and is off to the washing troths and fermentation tanks. It is a messy job to clean up but in the tropics , which is a bacteria and yeast rich environment , cleanliness is more then essential. This is a motor driven machine capable of removing the skins and pulp from 100,000 lbs of cherries in a harvest season.
The pulp is either a problem (Pollutes the rivers) or a gift to the land (Mulch) . I hope we are looking at a farmer who is seeing that red biomass as the gift that it is, (Pulp is 80% of the weight of the cherry. It takes five pounds of cherries to produce one pound of dry green coffee beans. In this next picture, the cherry pulp and skins are all red, which means that this farmer harvested only ripe cherries. His coffee will be sweet, with good acidity and flavor (if altitude, latitude, and farm practices were good too) We will receive our Nicaraguan coffees in June. For now they are “en reposa” or at rest in the warehouses at the various farmer cooperatives we purchase from. Raw coffees need about 60 days to mellow and have the 12 % moisture even itself out throughout the sacks so that roasting will produce an even color later on when we get our chance to be artisans in the roasting room.
Paul Katzeff : Text
Ernesto Somarriba : Photography
A new years message from Ernesto Somarriba
Jinotega , Jan.1, 2011
When the old year was gone maybe you were happy because another year was coming. At that moment you were with the ones who you love and when the 2010 ended you problebly gave them a tight hug and kiss and celebrated with them.
If you were a person who felt sastified because you had completed all your goals for the last year, I think that you were feeling more confortable.
It is very commun that when a new year is starting, you plan to reach those goals that you didn’t get to achieve in the previous year, or to plan your new goals for this year. I think that almost everybody does the same thing all over the world.
At the same time you wonder if this year will be a good or a bad for you. But it is true that most of the people feel and think positive and some time it doesn’t depend on you.
Here in Nicaragua the people do the same thing,we plan what to do for the well being of our family and ourselves. For that reason the people who don’t have work, they look for it; others who have a work; they look for another one better in order to get better incomes to support their family; others who have the possibility to study at the university in order to become a profesional, they go there; some others who don’t have a house, they look for it; other Nicaraguans who came back from United States, Spain, Costa Rica and another countries for the Christmas Holidays and New Year’s vacation, they went back to those countries because they don’t have any choice. They have to continue supporting their families here in Nicaragua.
It is sad that you see that some families have to be separated again because that’s their destiny.
But what can I say, that is the way it is, and I think that the same situation happens in the rest of the world as well.
This year will be very important for the Nicaraguans because in this year we will have the Presidential election and the history is the same . The Sandinistas against the Liberales. Daniel Ortega will nominate himself again. He wants to continue being the Nicaraguan president ,and the liberals, they don’t have a clear candidate yet because all of them want to become a president. There is a guy whose name is Favio Gadea Mantilla. He wants to be nominated for President for the liberales but he won’t get enough votes from the leaders of the liberal party. There is another guy, his name is Eduardo Montealegre. He also wants to become President. This guy lost the last election against Daniel. I think that this guy intends to hold together the liberal party but he is deviding it. I think that in this moment Daniel Ortega is taking advantage of this situation, but anyway, that’s their problem. I only can say that the person who will be the next president of Nicaragua has to do the right things for the well being of the Nicaraguan population and for the well being of this country.
Well the old year is gone, the good food, the drinks and parties are gone, and some members of your famly are gone too.So we don’t have to continue thinking about that any more. We have to start working now in order to complete our goals from last year or to reach those goals that we aim for this year because only like that will we feel sastified again at the end of this year,
The only advice that I can give you is to work hard and don’t wait for someone else to help you to reach those goals. Good Luck in 2011.
HAPPY NEW YEAR from Nicaragua !
Byron Martinez submitted this report and photographs from his farm north west of Matagalpa . He is probably the most noted organic coffee farmer in all of Nicaragua and is responsible for the introduction of organic coffee cultivation in Nicaragua. His award winning Maracaturra variety, which he and his father Arnolfo hybridized two decades ago is my favorite coffee and when it comes to flavor, is perhaps the worlds finest. Although his farm and family produce 150,000 pounds of fantastic organic coffees of traditional varieties, only 7500 pounds of Maracaturra are produced and we buy it all each year for the past 10 years. It will be available in June . Below is the original correspondence from me to him and his reply in both Spanish and English. Byron is not only a dynamic artisan biodynamic coffee farmer and former Sandanista revolutionary, but also a campacino (Peasant farmer) and scholar. Paul Katzeff
Here Byron inspects a coffee variety that ripens in yellow.
Hola Paul , We are just ending the crop for this year, everything has changed, the plants started to show their red beans in november,(very early) at this time we have flowers on the plants.
This year the 50% of our crop is natural proccess, This is the way to save money and oil, without pollude the waters. Is a coffee very creamy and chocolate, very delicious, I enjoy working in this way because it remains to my GrandFather , he used to work in this way too.
I am organazing two bags of coffee this year for you, this bags will contain coffee of differents moons, varieties, natural process cherry beans, and you will share with your friends a cup of coffee after each baseball game that you win. Greetings to all your family. Byron
THIS WAS MY LETTER TO HIM LAST WEEK :
“Hello Byron, My love to your family . We are well and the company is still in Business after the fire back in July. Ben is now President ! I am retired from running operations. This is good. I am 73 . I have only a few good years left . I want to play Baseball more. I have a new team to play on called The Dirt Dogs ! I will be the starting catcher when we start our season in April. I am also studying guitar. I have played for many years but now I will be able to play in a band in another year , maybe even, in Nicagagua! My life is good. How about yours?”
Paul…..Here are some more coffee harvest photos taken by the farmer himself and digitally sent . Only ten years ago this communication would have taken 3 weeks and cost many unaffordable dollars.
Unlike grapes which ripen all at once, making harvest time just one picking, coffee cherries ripen over a 3 month harvest period . In Nicaragua that is from November to February.
Here is an example of how Byron controls bad insects wirh good insects. This relative of the praying mantis patrols the coffee plant looking for aliens from inner space. Such biodynamic insect control is Byron’s response to oil based insecticides. These cherries look like they enjoyed their season. I think the coffee will be spectacular in June when we get our shipment. PK
Text by Paul Katzeff : Mendocino ,California
Photos by Ernesto Somarriba: Chinandega, Nicaragua
One tree will produce five pounds of Coffee cherries.
Five pounds of cherries will produce 1 pound of beans
One pound of beans when roasted will produce .8/10 of a pound of roasted coffee. The coffee trees in this photo are shaded by indigenous Inga trees which have Nitrogen fixing root systems. These trees average six feet in height
You can get 400-600 trees per acre on the shaded and steep forest slopes. But the coffee trees love the altitude, maturing slowly to produce exotic flavors.
Here is a typical farm road through the coffee forest. The dark green trees on the right going up the hill are coffee trees. Imagine picking cherries, one by one , 500 to the pound, while balancing on that slope !
All this effort for the beautiful cherries contents, two seeds that nature has built out of 1600 chemical compounds. One of the more complex pieces of work in the vegetable kingdom. In the photo below there are enough cherries to produce beans for about two cups of coffee.
When you sit down in a bar, restaurant or cafe and maybe you ask for a cup of coffee and then perhaps, wait for about five minutes and your cup of coffee appears with the waitress. You start sipping and maybe you are speaking with someone . You finish your coffee and pay the $2.00 dollars or maybe more, and then you leave without knowing what was behind that cup of beautiful flavor.
Well the whole cycle of the coffee process from the coffee tree to the cup that you have in your hands with the best quality of body, aroma,color and flavor is quite dependent on people .
Now I’m going to speak about the coffee picker.
They are a very important part of this coffee cycle process, because a coffee picking machine invented has not yet been invented for mountainside coffee . For this reason you have to pick the coffee by hand. Most of the lands that are used for the coffee production are mountainous , not flat.
The days work starts very early (4:00AM ) every day of the harvesting season and y finishes around 5:00PM .
Some of this people have many years doing this beatiful labor, we can say that they are artisians because the way they pick the coffee is an art. They are very careful, they don’t want to damage the coffee tree or even the cherry.
I went to a farm and I spoke with some of them, I asked some questions and now I want to share with you the anwers that they gave me.
I asked, how much coffee one person can pick at day?
They said from 80 pound to 120 pound of cherry.
I asked how much money the earn at day?
they said a litte bit than $5.00 dollars per day.
I also asked what is the most difficult part of the picking?
they said that there are two. The first one is when the weather . Itis very cold in the morning. (about 8 or 9 celcius) , They said that is hard to pick the coffee because their fingers are so cold and it doen’t matter if they use gloves. And the other is when the land where the coffee plantation is, has huges slopes which means that they have to climb, and if they don’t take care, they fall and roll down causing injuries, and also, they said that some time they get snake bit.
I also asked them why do they do this kind of work?
I had many answers. One of them was because it is the only thing that they know how to do. Other anwers were, ” because our family has been doing this for generations”, and another anwer was because they like to do it. Tis next picture shows the terrain that a coffee picker works on. Pretty steep !
The life of the coffee pickers is very hard, hope next time you sit to drink a cup of coffee think about this and you may enjoy your coffee more, knowing that you are supporting the people who are making sure the coffee in your cup tastes as good as it smells.
Reporting from Jinotega