Farmers & Cooperatives
Nicaragua in March – Everything starts to change: cupping coffees during a crisis
by Jonah Katzeff
As I reflect back on the past several weeks in my life, I feel extremely grateful to be back in my office overlooking the Noyo Harbor. Thanksgiving Coffee remains a viable, although much smaller, business on the North Coast. I’m hopeful that it will survive these challenging times and remain an activist company for years to come. My family and I are blessed with a dedicated staff that has followed very strict protocols the last few weeks at our home office. We are a lean crew right now, but everyone remains upbeat and focused on roasting, packaging, and delivering coffee.
I want to communicate my recent experience in Nicaragua as everything started to change rapidly with the advance of Covid-19 throughout the world. I left the United States and arrived in Costa Rica on February 24. I spent two and half weeks on vacation there! Then, I traveled to Nicaragua with the intention to spend two weeks in Nicaragua working remotely for the business before returning home. I arrived a few weeks before the coffee harvest finished and my plan was to visit the farmers and cooperatives that we purchase from with Nicholas Hoskyns, a key ally of Thanksgiving Coffee. He is the Managing Director of Etico, which supplies our green coffees from Nicaragua, Mexico, Guatemala Nicaragua, and Uganda.
I arrived by bus from Costa Rica on March 11th. My temperature was taken and a basic health screening done. This was the first real indication of change that I experienced as a result of COVID-19. I arrived safely in Leon and Nick picked me up outside the bus station office. The speed at which events unfolded over the next week was mind blowing. The two distinct events for me were the travel ban with Europe and the Costa Rica and Honduras border closings. I realize for most people these closings were not significant, but they made it abundantly clear that this crisis was real and the world was shutting down. As the week progressed more and more flights were canceled and my window for leaving Nicaragua was getting smaller. I purchased a ticket back to San Francisco on March 22nd for Sunday March 29th.
Our plan was to visit several of the farms and cooperatives Thanksgiving Coffee purchases from, but this was becoming increasingly unlikely. Sara Corales, the daughter of Byron, has taken over the sales and marketing of his coffee. She arranged to come meet us at Nick’s house on Sunday March 22nd to cup the Corrales’ family coffees, as they needed to make export arrangements. This was just 8 days after the travel ban from Europe went into effect.
Sara brought all the supplies for the tasting: roasted samples, a kettle, and proper cups. This was our first cupping in the COVID-19 era. We exhibited caution by having our own dedicated cups for each sample. There were no known cases in Leon and four total in all of Nicaragua at that moment in time, so no one in our group was highly concerned. However, we did our best to keep space during the cupping so as to minimize risk. Sara brought the usual array of coffees we purchase, which showcased Byron’s ability to process coffees in a number of different ways: Arabica washed, Arabica natural, Maracaturra washed, Maracaturra natural and an Anerobic coffee (yeast fermentation). The four coffees we typically purchase tasted great – bright, lively, floral, fruity and clean! We anticipate these coffees arriving in June or July depending on when they ship.
Although it was different than our normal procedure for tasting coffees, I found the experience uplifting and enjoyable. Coming together during a time of crisis in community is a blessing. I have known the Corales’ for over 20 years and they are an important part of the Thanksgiving Coffee family! We enjoyed a delicious lunch and conversation outside before Sara parted ways for Managua.
Nick and I were still contemplating a trip to Matagalpa to visit some of the farmers and co-ops on Wednesday and Thursday, but the hotel we usually stay at was closed. This was a sign. Nick made the executive decision for us to stay put and we went to the beach Wednesday afternoon instead! It was a good call for peace of mind, but disappointing to not be visiting the coffee region for the first time in nine trips to Nicaragua since 1999. I am confident that I will have an opportunity to visit the farmers and co-ops again and I feel grateful for a successful journey and to be back in a familiar and safe environment: HOME!
I hope everyone remains safe, healthy and mostly happy during this time of transition. We look forward to being your coffee of choice now and into the future. Thank you so much for your continued support! It means the world to me.
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