The Coffee Quest Coffee Imports | Nicaragua
Coffee, Import, Europe, Green coffee
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Peralta, a real coffee family.

In 2014, after a short internship in Managua, I came into contact with Julio Peralta. Myself, inexperienced, and interested in coffee, interviewed for a job by a real coffee professional. Together with Octavio Peralta they run a medium-sized export & milling facility (and their own farm) in the North of Nicaragua near the town of Mozonte. Growing up on their fathers coffee farm, the cousins have worked every possible job in coffee production. But one of the things that struck me most is their infinite motivation to grow and continuously innovate. Keeping an open mind, they have started to combine outside knowledge with local experience. This is why I was contracted to my first “real” job, which marked the starting point of an exciting period in Nicaragua. The northern province of Nueva Segovia has an interesting history of Spanish and native influence. The normally quite towns come to life when the coffee season starts in December, as seasonal workers start spending money again. Over the period of two seasons I worked several jobs on the milling facilities in the small town of Mozonte. The so called “beneficio” is where coffee is dried, stored, cupped and processed for coffee export all around the world. My jobs varied from logistics management (my actual background), certification supervisor and more recently accompanying the agronomist to shoot photos & videos on all of the Peralta farms. Next to coffee, the big industries you can find in the North of Nicaragua are cattle and tobacco. Together with the local passion for horse festivals, you will experience a “cowboy” feeling in a completely unique way. It is along the mountain range that splits Nicaragua and Honduras, where you will find the farms of Peraltas. The family has managed to stay in coffee all throughout of Nicaragua’s turbulent last century, even after their farms were taken and formed the stage for guerrilla warfare.

Update 2018

This is already the third year we will be importing the specialty lots from the Peralta family. First news from the farms in the Dipilto-Jalapa mountain range is very promising! The early harvest lots are already scoring well, and we have only just started the peak harvest months. During January and February the majority of all micro lots will be picked and processed, so this is the time to order something special. Check out the below blog post and see what you can do to have a lot tailored to your needs. We go as far as helping you to adopt a farm plot 🙂

The work

The hard work and daily visits to these beautiful farms and its people are still special to me. It also has given me the unique position to tell in detail everything about production and processing in this interesting place. Something that is proving useful, as Fuente is initiating sales with the coffee from the Peraltas. In fact, it feels like I’m still on the job, only do I now work independently and slightly closer to home.

The last decade quite some innovations have been made to improve the quality on the Peralta farms. Check out the video I shot in February ’16 to show the entire process from harvest to export. The video and additional explanations give a good insight into the local craftsmanship. Early on in the process coffee is kept separated to be able to identify the origin of quality (and defective coffee). The availability of coffee traceability is a result of the internal need for quality control. The video follows the coffee beans and the many hands needed to export a container.

Growing

Each of the 5 “fincas” is divided into different plots of land using as much natural barriers as possible. Think of a farm plot as a hillside separated by small streams, cliffs, forest or maybe a neighboring farm. One is bigger than the other, and most of them grow only one variety of coffee. The differences found in each lot of coffee, already start here. Rain, hours of sun, amount of shade trees, temperature, wind, humidity, all of these variables create small micro climates. All of our micro lot coffee comes with extensive production information & farm plot photos.

Harvest

Generally, the seasonal workers start picking at the crack of dawn. Harvesting only mature cherries from the plant, and selecting defective cherries before handing in their baskets. Workers are paid per basket, and given 50% extra for handing in fully mature cherries. The experienced workers know how to benefit from this deal, as they find a good balance between speed and selection. The micro lots are an excellent example of keeping quality separated from the first moment, creating coffee with a unique the set of variables. These smaller quantity lots are picked in the peak months of the harvest season, manually selecting only the ripest cherries. A refractometer is used to measure Brix sugar values and determine cherry maturity. Each micro lot represents coffee from one farm plot, picked on one particular day. Lot sizes are therefore influenced by daily logistics, as sometimes pickers finish a plot early, and start a new one (creating 2 smaller lots).

Wet milling

In Nicaragua you will find that all producers take care of washing their own coffee. From big to small farmer, everyone takes care of the first step of post-harvest processing. Either by having their own wet mill or on a neighbors farm. After sinking (bad coffee cherries float) and pulping coffee, overnight fermentation is used to soften the mucilage skin for washing. Fermentation is different on each farm as altitude influences the effect of fermentation on flavor. All of the farms have their own “chef’s recipe” for the length of fermentation, which the Peraltas have adapted using extensive experimentation.

Drying

Alongside the patios on the dry mill Don Octavio, the Peraltas use the old family mill San Ignacio process micro lots on raised African beds. A fixed team of workers from the town of Mozonte takes care of the premium lots each year. The local experience together with the installations (e.g. the greenhouse installed 2 years ago) contribute to a controlled drying environment.

Quality Control

Throughout the entire process, from harvest to the warehouse, each coffee lot gathers new information. Starting with harvest dates, traceability and fermentation hours at the farm, to the final humidity and the cupping profile. During the peak of the season around 80 coffee lots are cupped every day.