Most of Nicaragua’s coffee is grown at altitudes between 800 and 1400 metres, falling into the Strictly High Grown (SHG) categorisation used in several Central American countries. Key growing regions include the mountainous areas of Matagalpa and Jinotega, though it is Nueva Segovia that is heralded as Nicaragua’s premier growing region, particularly the Cordillera de Dipilto – a mountainous area which runs along the Honduran border. This region regularly produces Cup of Excellence winning lots as the farms here are blessed with altitudes of up to 1500 masl and excellent climatic conditions. The close proximity of the mills to the farms in this region also proves to be highly advantageous in terms of maintaining quality.
Producers are now starting to focus on alternative processing methods such as honey and naturals in order to add value, with the standard washed coffee not having the same distinctive characteristics that other origins do, and not commanding the same prices. Many producers are also planting new varietals, such as Pacamara and Geisha and replanting Java – an Ethiopian varietal originally brought to Central America in the 1800’s.
Kleymer Jose Ortez Agurcia owns Koa farm and works with his dad Jose Angel Ortez who is the primary caretaker of the farm.
Koa is a big farm of 88 manzanas (62 hectares) running from 1,200 masl up to 1,760. 45 manzanas are planted with coffee (32 ha). The Ortez family grows Caturra, Maracaturra, Catuaí Amarillo and `Villalobo and different processes are used for the beans: washed, honey and natural.
The farm has existed since 2001 and Kleymer bought it in 2016 and the family worked hard to be able to produce speciality coffee. In 2020, a lot from the farm placed 13 in the Cup Of Excellence.
This lot is a washed Maracaturra, a variety that was introduced to Nicaragua in the '90s by research centres to help producers fight the leaf rust. Many producers were not trained on farming this variety and the yields were pretty low which led to a lot of Maracaturra trees being replaced by other varieties. The increased knowledge about the variety and its farming has helped Maracaturra regain some fame and a few producers now cherish these trees that produce a very floral profile.
Once the cherries are harvested they are either pulped on the farm and taken as wet parchment to Cafetos de Segovia for honeys and washed lots or taken straight as cherries to Cafetos to make naturals.
Cafetos de Segovia is a dry mill located in Ocotal and surrounded by coffee land, making it easy for producers to deliver the wet parchment the same day as they harvest and process it.
In 2015, a local producer family realised that the prices paid for coffee cherries in the region were too low and that they could produce high-quality coffee on their farm. They decided to create a dry mill to add value to their product, and that mill is now run by sisters Martha and Ana, along with their team.
The family own a few farms that were inherited from Martha and Ana’s father. Like many properties in the area (in the north, bordering Honduras), the story of the farms’ ownership is a complex one. From 1975-1979 the Nicaraguan revolution hit the entire country, but it was even more intense at the Honduran border, forcing the family to emigrate to the USA. They returned to Ocotal six years later to find that their house and much of their farmland had been seized by the government. Only the house was returned to them – they had lost more than 100 manzanas (70ha) of the coffee farm.
The dry mill services their farms and greenhouse – which they built-in 2020 to grow experimental lots and more delicate varieties – but also the coffee of some relatives and a few non-related producers from the area. In total, 47 other producers work with Cafetos de Segovia. During peak harvest, up to 300 quintales per day is delivered to the mill, which has a drying capacity of 3,000 quintales at any one time (1 quintal = approximately 46kg green beans). Up to 30 people work at the mill during the season.
Most of the coffee is delivered as wet parchment or cherries and 80% of the lots are washed. The drying is usually started on a patio, in the shade for 5-6 days and then in full sun. All patios are covered with a black net so that the coffee is not laid directly on the floor. Shade drying is necessary as the sun hits hard at this lower altitude (less than 900masl). The naturals are moved every 3-4 hours and the coffee is piled during the hottest hours of the day.
Cafetos de Segovia submits lots to the national Cup of Excellence every year, and always ranks highly.