This month we’re showcasing a new connection, in a country less familiar to us.
This is the first time we have released a coffee from Nicaragua, a country we have been watching for some time now.
Luis Emilio Valladarez farms coffee in the Nueva Segovia region, not far from the border with Honduras.
Both of these lots are of the Java varietal, which tends to produce floral and vibrant cups.
The first coffee is the natural Java, a softly floral cup with tropical fruit notes on a creamy chocolate base.
The washed Java is more delicate, with crisp jasmine florals, fresh and mineral with a tea-like body.
1 x coffee
Buenos Aires - Natural Java
(250g / 5.3oz)
2 x coffee
Buenos Aires - Natural Java
(250g / 5.3oz)
Buenos Aires - Washed Java
(250g / 5.3oz)
In a similar vein to last month, these two coffees are a result of our exploration of new coffee origins. We found these two lots on a blind cupping table from our friends at Belco, and knew we wanted to share them through our subscription programme. Both the washed and natural coffee showcase clear characteristics from the Java varietal, which has become rather popular amongst quality-focussed producers in Nicaragua. Nicaragua is one of the poorest countries in all of the Americas, with 80% of the population living with less than $2 a day. The economy is highly agriculturally reliant, with agriculture composing over 15% of the country’s GDP and 60% of its exports. Of this, coffee is the largest contributor, with 17% of total exports. Therefore the current move towards higher quality coffee and higher prices could have a positive effect on the Nicaraguan economy and workers’ conditions in rural areas.
Luis Emilio Valladarez has been working in the coffee industry for 60 years. Buenos Aires is the first farm he ever purchased, followed by two other farms named La Laguna and El Suyatal. At this time the Nicaraguan coffee market was rather different, there was little to no direct access to roasters willing to pay good prices for traceable high quality coffee, so Luis sold all of his production to a local cooperative as cherries. Today he works closely with his son Olman, mainly on two of the farms, Buenos Aires and La Laguna. This family set-up began in 2004, when Olman started to help his father and brother manage and run the family’s farms. In 2005, Olman observed the first signs of the wave of speciality coffee starting to break over Nicaragua, and encouraged the rest of the family to take more control over their value chain. It was due to this that this enthusiastic group of producers decided to build their own mill, Cafetalera Buenos Aires, in order to more effectively control coffee production and export. Cafetalera Buenos Aires is now a family business covering just over 200 hectares, producing several processes of mainly Caturra, Maracaturra and Villa Sarchi varietals, alongside some small experimental plots. Buenos Aires, the flagship of the project, is located high in the Dipilto mountains, near the border with Honduras in the Nueva Segovia region. The steep mountainous terrain here means that even within this one farm, coffees are planted from 1,200 all the way up to 1,700 metres above sea level. Most of the coffee is grown under native shade trees, and the soil and plants are fertilised using environmentally-friendly techniques, with minimal non-organic products used. The whole family is constantly striving to make a name for themselves in the world of specialty coffee, for example participating on several occasions in Nicaragua’s Cup of Excellence competition. In fact, in 2015 they won the competition with a lot of Maracaturra from Buenos Aires, a very impressive feat in a competitive country with many established producers.
Both coffees this month are of the Java varietal, an Ethiopian heirloom strain introduced to the Indonesian island of Java by the Dutch in the early 19th Century. Since then, it has been grown in several countries, but the current varietal was introduced to Costa Rica in 1991 after selection by a breeder in Cameroon during the 1980’s. This was mainly due to the varietal’s tolerance of coffee berry disease, but it was soon found to perform well and produce very high quality in the Central American coffee lands. However, in Nicaragua, the varietal was never distributed so widely due to the defunding of the coffee research institute UNICAFE in the late 90’s, before wider trials had been carried out. Rumour has it that an employee of the institute was given the last Java seeds and some tools as his severance package, which he then sold to a well-known producer in the area, the Mierisch family. From here, the reputation of these Java or ‘Longberry’ seeds spread, and soon quality-focussed producers across the country were growing them. It was initially thought that Java was descended from Typica, given the similar cup characteristics and lengthened seed, but genetic sequencing found that it was closer to another Ethiopian heirloom strain known as Absynia. These varieties are all of the ‘Ethiopian Long Berry’ classification, which also includes Geisha, and tend to produce floral and delicate cups. Both coffees here showcase these characteristics, but the different processing techniques create rather different expressions of these.
First coffee - Nicaragua
Honeysuckle, Mango and Milk Chocolate
(250g / 8.8oz)
Olman selects cherries from low areas of the farm to process using the natural method, as he feels this gives more intensity in the cup. In this lot, the characteristics of the Java varietal shine through in the honeysuckle florals, but the natural process increases the mouthfeel and sweetness in the cup, with flavours of rich mango and creamy milk chocolate.
Second coffee - Nicaragua
Jasmine, Cantaloupe and Black Tea
(250g / 8.8oz)
The washed process preserves the characteristics of the Java varietal in the most transparent way, meaning that they’re able to shine clearly throughout, with jasmine florals spilling from the brew, followed by a crisp and clean cup with fresh melon and a delicate black tea finish.
Nicaragua is an inspiring and resilient country, with a rather chaotic history alongside some present day challenges. The coffee industry here is mainly growing rather low quality coffee and selling at low prices, but the Valladarez family are an example of breaking this vicious cycle and creating a sustainable business. One of the ways they have done this is by pushing boundaries and creating unique microlots which can fetch a high price, like both coffees in this month’s pack. These Java lots showcase clear varietal character, and quite simply represent some of the best coffees we’ve tasted yet from Nicaragua.
Our Discovery Subscription allows us the opportunity to share new experiences with you every month, taking you with us on our journey through the changing seasons of coffee. This allows you the opportunity to taste new lots from across the coffee landscape as they arrive at our roastery, when they’re fresh and in season. We strive to find the most delicious and thought-provoking coffees we can get our hands on, working together with a group of innovative and dedicated partners we have met over our years in the industry. We are inspired not only by sharing their painstakingly created raw material, but by conveying how each step of its journey has led to what you find in your cup, be it terroir, varietal, post-harvest processing, or something else entirely.
One of the best ways to appreciate the effect of these factors is to taste coffees side by side. Our most popular option allows you to experience two coffees every month, maybe different varietals or processes from the same farm or region, or maybe two parallel lots from producers at opposite ends of the coffee belt. We always aim to tell a story with our coffee choice, focusing on a different aspect of what we’re finding exciting in coffee right now. Sharing these experiences each month allows us to expand our coffee horizons together, and develop a shared vocabulary within both taste and preference in coffee.
We’re always happy to continue our conversation with you through our webshop portal, whether it be purely practical, or discussions about this month’s coffees. We see our role as simply a middleman between you and some of the best coffees in the world, and the people who produce them. These people inspire us, and we do our utmost to share both their coffees and their stories with the people who appreciate them most.