In the 2 weeks leading up to Nicaragua, I found myself struggling to prepare myself for this trip. It was the first time I have traveled completely alone, the first time visiting a coffee producing country, and the first time teaching a class. A lot of “firsts” and I realized that there is much more to learn than to teach.
I remember listening to a podcast on the plane ride to Dallas from LA. The man that was being interviewed mentioned this idea of “Interdependence” concerning the nature of reality. The idea basically explains the relationship to everything that exists in the universe as we know it, from the connection to everything from soil to water, human to human, light to rainbow. He starts his explanation with an example taken from science. He explained that if any particle or photon were to be separated, even at any distance, they still remain a part of a whole; there is still something holding them together. A tree does not exist without the sun or water, and could not exist without the soil and the nutrients in the soil. This idea of interdependence is important not only to better understand the relationship between different elements or particles but to understand how it can be used towards our relationship as human beings.
As a coffee roaster, one of my most important goals has been to visit a coffee farm and hear farmers speak about coffee through a completely different lens than I am able to. Before this trip, I always believed that I knew the significance and importance of coffee farming and cultivation but never have been able to apprehend the significance of the relationship that we, as coffee roasters and cafe owners, have with coffee farmers. What I was learning on this trip is that so often coffee roasters, baristas, and cafe owners forget the connection we have with the farmers. Unfortunately, the farming/cultivation side is used as marketing material and the actual relationship and impact we have with each person in the coffee chain is forgotten. I was fortunate enough to get to have a handful of conversations with farmers in Nicaragua and get to hear how our connection to each other and to the earth is so important.
The last two days of my trip was spent hiking through Miraflor, a mountainous region where most of the coffee farms in that area are located, as well as many other crops such as vegetables, corn, tobacco, etc. Agusto, a coffee farmer and one of the most generous host, led us through miles of mud and farmland. We took backroads through other farms while talking about Reggaeton (if you don’t know what that is, think of the song “Despacito") and how much money in royalties the guys that created “who let the dogs out” make. It was a memorable hike and one that I will work hard to never forget.
After the long hike, we arrived at Agusto’s farm. I was blown away. It was my first time ever seeing a coffee farm/washing mill. He took us to where it all starts; the place where they plant the little coffee beans and wait 90-100 days for it to sprout leaves. Then he took us to the place where they put it in a bag to germinate and grow in a nursery for about 6 months. After the little sprout is done growing and is strong and healthy, it’s planted and they wait another 3 years for it to bear fruit.
All in all, it’s a long process. I had an idea of the amount of time that goes into growing a healthy coffee tree (especially organically) but was never quite able to grasp the work and heart that goes into it. Agusto started to explain the trials, errors, patience and the commitment that is required for growing coffee trees. He talked about their recovery from a horrible disease that destroyed 80% of their coffee plants about 4-5 years ago and how using chemicals/pesticides could have helped prevent it. Agusto only works with organic pesticides, fungicides, etc. He believes that he owes that to the environment, and using chemicals affect not only the coffee but the earth and animals around him. Birds, important insects, and other animals living in the area will flee if chemicals are used, therefore effecting pollination of plants, habitats, and the natural order of life. The farmers that I met pay so much attention to every detail in the cultivation process, it was inspiring.
I kept going back to what I heard on that podcast while flying to Nicaragua. It is so important to realize interdependence in the coffee chain and how important relationships with farmers, roasters, cafe owners, and baristas are. It can be easy to forget that the final product, your cup of coffee, involved so many different individuals, with so many different passions and stories. It is us, humans, coming together and playing our part in producing a beverage that we all love and that can create relationships and shared moments. It’s the patience and care that the farmers put into growing and processing the green coffee. It’s the roaster receiving it and putting the time and attention to roast it. It’s the barista understanding this and giving focus to brew and extract this coffee to highlight the work and intentionality that went into the coffee.
This trip has been such a life-changing experience for me, from being able to share my passion with the farmer-roaster team at Vega HQ in Esteli to learning an incredible amount about coffee cultivation from Agusto in Miraflor. The hospitality and kindness I experienced were so welcoming. I came to teach about what I know about coffee and came back having learned so much. It made me realize that the roasting I’m doing back at home is really just highlighting the work that is done at the farm. One day, Arcade will be in a place where we can support farmers directly and build more intimate relationships. But, for now, we will continue to strive towards supporting farmers through great importers and cooperatives. We will strive to roast the best we can to highlight the art on the farming side. We will strive to highlight the unique stories of every coffee we work with and we will strive to develop and cultivate shared moments that connect us to each other, even though we are thousands of miles apart.
Click on the photos below to scroll through the ones I took during my trip to Miraflor.
The podcast mentioned was Krista Tippett's On Being interview of Matthieu Ricard. Check it out here: https://onbeing.org/programs/matthieu-ricard-happiness-as-human-flourishing-jul2017/
Written by Shane Levario