Organic Nicaraguan Coffee
A Brief History of Nicaraguan Coffee:
Matagalpa, an indigenous name meaning “let’s go where the rocks are” was the first region in northern Nicaragua to grow coffee. It was discovered in 1542 by Spanish explorers who were searching for gold. After briefly surveying the region, they concluded that there was no gold and went looking elsewhere, leaving it to the Catholic missionaries, who set about trying to convert the indigenous peoples. It wasn’t 1808 that gold was discovered in Matagalpa and the Spanish-speaking population boomed.
Nicaragua was not known for coffee until the middle of the 1800’s, when a spike in the price of Brazilian coffee led suppliers to look for cheaper alternatives. Seizing on this opportunity, the Nicaraguan government invited young Germans to settle in the region with the goal of promoting coffee growing. In 1853, the German couple Louis Elster and Katharina Braun became the first people to plant coffee trees in the area. After several successful harvests, word got around about the good soil (and generous government subsidies) and European and North American planters settled and built estates. Matagalpa soon become famous as a coffee-growing region. By the 1870s coffee was the nation’s biggest export crop and would be for the next one-hundred years.
The economic success of coffee as a commodity led to rising value and demand for the land. As a response, the Nicaraguan government seized land from the indigenous peoples, which disrupted their way of life. Formerly self-sufficient, the peasants were forced into tenancy arrangements with the big, predominantly German land owners. They were generally treated poorly and often rebelled against the working conditions and land policies. Many violent peasant uprisings were put down by the Nicaraguan government in the 1880s. These contributed to a large decline in the native population.
Nicaragua was home of one of the most curious forms of coffee transportation in history. From 1903 to 1905 a peculiar steam locomotive with six wagons started transporting coffee from Matagalpa to the port town of Corinto, on the Pacific coast. The locomotive was unique in that it did not run on steel rails, but rather right on dirt itself, leading people to dub it “Terrocarril” (land train). It might have been the only of its kind to exist in the world, and it was certainly a curiosity in the history of coffee.
Many of the descendants of the first coffee planters were German. During WWII, Nicaragua declared war on Germany on the side of the Allies. The Somoza government used widespread anti-German sentiment to seize the German coffee plantations and add them to his own personal wealth. This confiscation made President Somoza and his family the largest producers of coffee in the country, growing over 20% of all Nicaraguan coffee at their peak.
For decades Nicaragua was seen as one of the best Latin American coffee producers. However, a series of natural disasters and political problems led to its falling off as a major coffee exporter. In 1972, a massive earthquake hit the country. This destroyed much of the infrastructure of the coffee economy. In the late 1970s and all through the 1980s a civil war between the Sandinistas and the Contras halted production. In 1998, Nicaragua suffered another blow: Hurricane Mitch. The Hurricane, and a drought that followed shortly after, had devastating effects on the lives and economy of the region. Forty-percent of the coffee cooperatives in Nicaragua folded and millions of work hours were lost during the first two years of the crisis. Banks and schools shut down and there was mass migration out of the country.
Today, Nicaragua is faring much better. The Nicaraguan coffee industry supports 45,000 farming families, of which an estimated 95% are small-holders. The revival occurred for several reasons. First, Nicaragua has found their niche in the international gourmet coffee market and are sought out around the world for their unique flavor. Fair trade practices have improved the economic prospects of the farmers, as well. In addition to growing and selling coffee as a commodity, Nicaragua has become a big destination for agritourism. Coffee lovers from all over the world come to Nicaragua to visit the fincas, to see first-hand how the organic coffee is grown and processed, to spend time with the farmers, and to take in the natural beauty of the area.
Sweet nutty flavor, sweet citric acidity, and a silky body