| Geography of Coffee
Matagalpa Study Tour -- 2010
James Hayes-Bohanan , Ph.D.
Bridgewater State College Geography
UPDATED January 16, 2010
I have expanded this site's information about coffee shops, coffee roasters, coffee tours, health effects, and coffee preparation, and have moved that information to other pages. You can continue the exploration at my main coffee page.
This page is about my January 4--16, 2010 study tour in León, Jinotega, Matagalpa, and Granada. See my Coffee-Nicaragua page for stories, insights, and photographs from the 2006, 2007, and 2009 study tours.
Cafezinho in Florianópolis
The Coffeeland Landmine Victims' Trust connects the coffee industry to landmine victims throughout the coffee-growing areas of the world. Unfortunately, this includes the Contra War area of Nicaragua. This year the journey takes us back to Ben Linder's grave in Matagalpa, but also to the Ben Linder café in León, which was established with the help of Deans Beans. It honors the martyred North American engineer while helping farmers and victims of land mines. It is also a source of something rare in commercial establishments in Nicaragua: a decent cup of coffee!
"To know the unexplored of northern Nicaragua"
January 4: Managua
Introduction to Nicaraguan civil society
January 5 to 6: León and community of El Porvenir
Visit with the mayor and vice-mayor of La Paz Centro; Projects of the Polus Center, including PLUSAA, Walking Unidos, and the Ben Linder Café; Community of El Porvenir; Cerro Negro volcano
January 7 to 8: Matagalpa
City of Matagalpa and Ben Linder grave site; indigenous community of El Chile and women's weaving cooperative; CECOCAFEN farmer-owned cooperative
January 8 to 10: Selva Negra
Selva Negra coffee estate and retreat; hiking in the Cerro El Arenal reserve; conventional farming for Starbucks; BSC classroom time
January 10 to 11: Jinotega
Organic coffee farm and Campesino-to-Campesino program; SOPPEXCCA cooperative; Rancho Grande; Apanas Lake, and cacao cooperative
January 11 to 13: La Corona Community
Home stays with coffee-growing families; community-wide cultural activities; coffee harvest
These communities are far from the nearest phone or internet connection
January 13 to 14: Matagalpa
Association of Coffee Workers at San Francisco Farm; SOLCAFE coffee dry mill
January 14 to 15: Granada
Masaya volcano and market; island tour in Lake Nicaragua
January 16: Granada to Boston
Morning free time in Granada; afternoon in transit through Miami; late evening arrival at Logan
On our visit to the textile cooperative in El Chile -- near San Ramon, Matagalpa -- we were captivated by the enchanting Marta, an Argentine woman who moved to Nicaragua early in the revolution to establish a network in which many women have learned to produce and market their weavings over nearly thirty years. As she contemplates moving to Europe to retire near her children, she inspired us with her incredible dedication and the wisdom that has come from her work
A statue of Sandino faces the plaza in front of the ceremonial presidential residence in Managua. Current political tensions are manifest in the selections of historic and other symbolic representations in public spaces, particularly in the national capital.
Soon after our arrival in Managua, a representative of Coordinatora Civil presented an overview of the challenges facing Nicaragua, and the efforts of civil organizations. The group enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion of efforts related to health, domestic violence, education, energy, and environmental quality.
The geography of coffee is best understood as it relates to the this broader context.
This tank was abandoned along the road from Jinotega to Matagalpa, after being ambushed during the Sandinista Revolution in 1979. It now serves as a landmark identifying the entrance to Selva Negra, one of the world's premier coffee estates. For years I've been driving by it without taking a photo. Thanks to my student Jess for taking the initiative to get both this photo and more of the story. Time, graffiti, and the Molotov cocktail have prevented even the consummate historian Eddy Kuhl from making an identification. Please see the photos beginning here in my Flickr set if you know something about old tanks. The tank would have been about 7 feet tall at the top of the turret and about 12 feet long.
|Coffee historian Mark
Pendergrast has called Paul Katzeff "God's Gift to Coffee." Along the
road from Matagalpa to Jinotega lies the farm of God's Gift to Paul
Katzeff: the profound, poetic, and essential Byron Corales. We had the
privilege of spending several hours with Byron - I call him "Lord
Byron" after the British poet. (See photos of that visit begining here
in the Nica2010 Flickr set.)
Byron's coffee has been judged the best in the world in 2004, and second best in 2005. This result is not accidental: it arises from his understanding of water, sun, microorganisms, enzymes, and minerals.
He understands his farm as an ecosystem, and knows how the feed is connected to the cows, the cows to the coffee, the coffee husks to humus, and all of this to water, the life-blood of the earth.
Because of his work and his beautiful way with words, he attracts hundreds of visitors per year to his farm, where they learn both the "why" and the "how" of integrated coffee production. He speaks so beautifully that even visitors who speak very llittle Spanish can stay ahead of the translator, gathering his wisdom.
This was the first Geography of Coffee study tour to include a significant amount of education about the production of cocoa. As with coffee, cocoa undergoes a complex series of changes from the field to the final product. Both crops are also subject to the vagaries of fluxtuating market prices, with many producers earning the slimmest proportions of their products' value.
In terms of the production process itself, coffee, cocoa, and many teas all require some process of fermentation. In the case of cocoa, the fermentation lasts a week or more and requires mixing the product. At this cooperative in Rancho Grande, the product is mixed by hand in shallow trays. The sticky sweetness can be overwhelming for some observers!