El Corona Coffee Plantation, Matagalpa, Nicaragua

All coffee grown in the world today had its origins in Ethiopia.

Nicaragua produces three percent of the world’s Arabica coffee, ranking it 4th in world production. The best Arabica coffee in Nicaragua comes from the northern highlands of Matagalpa and Jinotega at altitudes of 1,000 – 1,500 m above sea level.

It was Germans who introduced coffee growing to Nicaragua in the 1850s. They found the higher altitude produced better quality coffee. Today coffee is a principal crop for export; fifty-four percent of coffee produced in Nicaragua is exported as green beans (i.e, unroasted) to the United States of America.

During the Sandinista revolution (1979-1990), which pitted poor peasants against the fascist dictatorship of the Somoza family, many Nicaraguan men took up arms leaving the coffee plantations short of labor. During the revolutionary war European, American, Canadian and Central American workers came to Nicaragua to harvest coffee as volunteers. They paid their own way over and were given free room and board to work the coffee plantations. Today in the northern highlands you see the European features amongst the indigenous Mayan faces.

Coffee is a labor intensive crop. Coffee beans must be picked by hand since the coffee plant yields quality coffee for up to 50 years – a machine process would ruin the coffee plant. Coffee is started as seeds in a nursery and it takes six months before the seedling is ready to plant.

Here we see the nursery and the coffee plants ready for transplant

Coffee harvesting season runs from November through February, which is  summer in Nicaragua. Coffee beans ripen in intervals such that the fruit (the coffee bean) is picked throughout the summer. Summer vacation for all levels of school coincide with school vacation so that there is extra hands to help in harvesting.

Children working their parents picking coffee
There are ripe red beans and unripe green ones on the same plant
Red fruit ready to pick
Father picking ripe coffee fruit
A neighbor helps in the picking

You can suck on the fruit to extract a sweet nectar. Inside you find two beans.

Once the coffee fruit is picked it is put in sacks and brought to a hand-cranked machine for hulling.
A very Mayan-looking boy cranking beans through the huller
The hulls are set aside and used as compost
The still-wet beans are left in sacks for 24 hours to ferment. The fermentation separates off a gelatinous goo from the beans.
After fermentation, the beans are washed and sorted into three grades- high, medium, and low grade. It is done by placing the hulled beans into a water sluice; high grade beans are heavy and sink to the bottom, second grade float over a small dam made of sticks and the low grade beans end up at the end of the channel.
The sluice channel after the sluicing process. It’s quite simple
Here is a bag of the high grade beans ready for drying
Here are drying racks filled with beans. The workers inspect the beans and remove any that do not meet a high grade standard
Once the beans are dry, they are packed in big sacks and trucked into town and sold.
Coffee is susceptible to pests and fungal disease.
Here are beans that have been invaded by insects

A type of fungus called “rust” affects the leaves, killing them off. Without the leaves, the coffee plant will die. In recent years due to climate change, coffee production is at risk. The most recent endemic of rust affected 40 percent of coffee production throughout the world, driving the price of coffee up and devastating countries that depend on coffee for income.

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