Darlington's Visits Nicaragua
We wake in darkness. We've slept well but we would need to be deaf not to hear the cacophony of squawking Mandador birds, transistor radios and early breakfast television in the adjoining community kitchen. From 5am hundreds of coffee pickers start to arrive, taking full advantage of Henry's & Gabriella's hospitality and partaking in a pre- dawn breakfast to set themselves up for the day's work.
It's a dull morning, the dirt paths are muddy, and a third open truck moves up the mountain roadway and deposits another 40 workers. Jumping overboard they grab a few tortillas and stand in line until one of the Capataz tells them which area of the farm they will be heading to that day. By 6.30am there are 500 coffee pickers assembled.
La Virigen estate is the permanent home to about 80 pickers, others come from nearby La Dahila, while still more come from much further away. Those that travel a long way may spend up to three weeks on the estate, where in peak season they can earn more than a Doctor's salary for their labour. Food and board is part of the deal, as well as access to the on-site medical clinic which includes a dental surgery. Those with young children drop their offspring at Gabriella's summer camp for the day.
A blast from a hunting horn encourages stragglers to assemble for orientation at 6.15am and after a few minutes groups scatter to three different parts of the farm. We take our turn too, but after an hour of bending and stooping over Catura and Bourbon bushes the locals seem unimpressed with our efforts; neither our speed or bean selection matches even their lowest expectations.
Politely, Gabriella suggests we might prefer to cup some of their new lots from different parts of the farm. Seems like a plan.
Nine coffees are to be sampled in the new purpose built, naturally-lit tasting room, which is set against the beautiful backdrop of the La Virigen estate. Each is excellent, one barely, but subtly, different…..eventually as the coffees cool one emerges with just an edge of distinction above all the others. Henry smiles at our selection: a micro lot from La Tatiana, a blend of Catura and Bourbon, grown in an allotment named after his eldest daughter. Sweet. Perfect.
Henry and Gabriella Hueck are amongst Central America's foremost specialty coffee producers and are great and old friends of Bewley's, and now Darlington's. Together with Bewley's Masteroaster, Paul O'Toole, who established the relationship in 2003, I took a small group to visit them in Jan 2013. Theirs is a wonderful story of magnificent coffee and great community care, set in the most breathtaking of locations . We are truly grateful for their friendship and greatly value their amazing coffees. To find out more about them , visit www.ramacafe.com or visit their facebook page