2016 Hostplus Hospitality Scholarship: Central America

Here's the second stop of Elika Rowell's caffinated whirldwind world trip in Central America. Read on as she gives a taste of how coffee is produced in Nicaragua and Guatemala...  

Originally when we booked my trip I was going to be visiting Colombia, but for some unforeseen problems, just five days before I left my itinerary was changed and I was heading central to Nicaragua and Guatemala.

The reason I was heading to Colombia was to visit Caravela and get to know a program they run named PECA. Caravela are a company that are both exporters and importers, and are on the ground throughout central and south America. They have created a very special grading system (out of 100) that recognises the quality and pays the farmer according to that, which in return creates an incentive to grow and produce high quality coffee. Not only this, but in each country they work in, they have PECA. This program offers support for the small farm-holders in terms of feedback of their coffee, sending agronomists to the farm to help with growing and give some helpful guidelines that they know are foolproof in producing great quality coffee. All in all, what Caravel want is for the farmer to produce delicious coffee so the farmers fetch a higher price for their coffee. 

This was a whirlwind trip. First I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua, where I was met by a driver who took me three hours to Ocotal. This city is the home of Caravela’s Beneficio Estralla, a station where farmers deliver pre-washed coffee (as opposed to cherry), for Caravela to dry on raised beds. Caravela then score the coffee once it’s been fully processed. If it receives above 82, Caravela will purchase the coffee and commit to finding a buyer for it. Whilst I was at Beneficio Estralla I had the opportunity to grade with the Caravela buyers, understand what each score means, and get to know the different profiles of different varietals grown in Nicaragua.

Next! Off to Guatemala City and more cupping! Guatemala is a very interesting producing country. They have great altitude and many, many hills creating very vastly different micro climates, which in return results in a huge variance in cup profile. Again, a big day of cupping was had and many wonderful coffees were discovered – I might even bring some home with me!

Whist we were cupping, my wonderful hosts Hector and Salome described the personality and farm of each of the producers in detail, showing a side of Caravela that I was hoping to see! These humble yet highly experienced coffee professionals spend their lives tasting coffees, visiting farms and getting to know the producers on a very personal level. They speak to them often, visit for lunch and even attend their weddings. It’s an amazing community that exists and I had the pleasure of being part of it for one day, in Olapa.

Salome and I jumped on a bus at 5:30am the next day to travel towards the boarder of Honduras and Guatemala – a three-hour bus ride along very steep mountain sides. We arrived in Zacapa (the home of Ron Zacapa for all of you rum drinkers) and met Carlos, one of PECA’s agronomists. We drove to a small farm of 30 hectares named Liquidambar, owned by a very charismatic man named Orland Lemous. He was gracious and kind, showed us around some of his lots, spoke about production challenges – both past, present and future – and received advice from Carlos. It being Easter Saturday, his family were enjoying a large lunch, of which we were invited to, and it was a feast! 

Despite the fact that I cannot speak the language, and for most of the part I was trying to finish the giant meal that they served me, there was one great observation I made. The joy this family had was extraordinary. Their laughter was contagious, their love for one another was heart-warming and their hospitality was totally unexpected.  

When I spoke to Orlando about the changes he has made on his farm in the last few years he said “We were fine, until the cuppers [from Caravela] came along! But thanks to them we now produce better coffee and we make more money. Yes, it is harder work, but now I can say I am proud of what I do”.

Next, Elika will be heading to her third and final stop in America - watch this space. 

Grace Dorman