Farm: Finca El Amparo
Varietal: 100% Caturra
Processing: Fully washed & dried on raised beds
Altitude: 1,250 metres above sea level
Owner: Ivania del Carmen
Town / City: Balsamo Centro, San Juan de Río Coco
Overall: Chocolate, nuts, medium sweetness
Finca El Amparo - Nicaragua
Coming upon Finca El Amparo, you experience a riot of colour amidst vivid green surroundings. This is the work of Ivania del Carmen, current owner of Finca El Amparo. Seven years ago, Ivania’s husband passed away, leaving her in charge of a large part of what had been his farm. Ivania had been less involved with coffee matters before this, so there was a steep learning curve. With the help of her family, over the last seven years, Ivania's primary goal has been to significantly increase the farm’s productivity. Her first move was to invest in education as she needed to learn about coffee cultivation and soil fertility – really all matters of agronomic knowledge. She has been a model student, bringing the farm to ever new heights, and has even opened an agricultural supply and hardware store in town so that other farmers would have access to the inputs that she has discovered and begun using.
‘El Amparo’ means ‘Protection’ in Spanish, and the secluded courtyard is a haven for a host of wildlife and fauna. Three large brick wells are homed in the garden, each up to 10 meters deep and 2 meters in diameters. During harvest season, all waste water from wet processing is delivered into these wells to filter and decontaminate, so as not to pollute any water sources. Efforts like these are essential in this part of Nicaragua, enabling it to remain the protected, natural wonder it is.
The 2016-17 harvest marks the first year that Ivania has sold her coffee as specialty, and she has excelled at this, as well. Many specialty coffee farms in Nicaragua still have a significant percentage of their harvest that ends up categorised as commercial grade – say around15% of their harvest on average. For 2016-17, Ivania has managed to produce no more than 5% commercial grade – meaning that she has been able to place 95%+ of her coffee with buyers of speciality coffee … which is to say, at much higher prices. This incredible achievement illustrates her dedication to coffee production and quality.
Some areas of El Amparo have been under cultivation for more than fifty years and still feature the original Bourbon trees, which have become uncommon in Nicaragua since the rise of more disease resistant varieties such as Caturra, Catuaí and Catimor. This particular lot of coffee is made up of 100% Caturra cherries, but in addition to these old Bourbon trees the farm is also home to a substantial section of Maragogype. In all cases, every agricultural practice on the farm is done with stringent attention to detail and with the aim of producing the very best coffee cherries possible.
Furthermore, Ivania is very strict with regards to processing at the farm’s wet mill, ensuring lot separation and quality assurance. In the future, this is also the area in which Ivania would most like to invest for cleaner and more efficient processing.
All El Amparo’s coffee is processed at the farm’s own wet mill. Only the ripest and most perfect cherries are picked during the harvest. These are delivered immediately to the wet mill and are sorted again to remove any renegade underripe or damaged cherries. The cherries are then pulped and fermented in wooden tanks for between 12 to 24 hours depending on the climate at the time. After fermentation, the coffee is fully washed in tiled channels with clean water until all traces of mucilage are removed. Special attention is given to separating the different parts of each day's production as it is washed through the washing channel. The 'head' and 'tail' of each lot are considered to be of inferior quality and are kept separate from the other parchment.
The wet parchment is delivered daily to a collection centre in San Juan de Río Coco (15 minutes away). From there it is delivered, together with the parchment of other coffee farmers in the area, to the dry mill in Ocotal (2 hours drive). Here, in the dry mill’s pristine conditions, the parchment is dried on shaded African beds. The cooler temperature created by the shade allows the coffee to dry slowly, hastened along by airflow as opposed to direct heat from the sun. Direct heat can cause stress to the beans and reduce shelf life.