In the 2 weeks leading up to my trip to Nicaragua, I found myself struggling to prepare. It was the first time I was travelling alone, the first time visiting a coffee producing country, and the first time teaching a class. This trip had a lot of “firsts”, and made me realize that there is much more to learn than teach.
On the plane from Los Angeles to Dallas, I listened to an episode of the podcast ‘On Being’. The man that was being interviewed was discussing the 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 soil to water, human to human, light to rainbow, and so on. He starts his explanation with an example taken from science, explaining 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 was 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 believed that I knew the significance and importance of coffee farming and cultivation, but have never been able to comprehend 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 participate in 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 were spent hiking through Miraflor, a mountainous region where a majority of the coffee farms are located. Agusto, a coffee farmer and one of the most generous hosts, led us through miles of mud and farmland. We took back roads through other farms and talked about Reggaeton (if you don’t know what that is, think of the song “Despacito"), namely about 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 or washing mill. He walked us through the entire process from start to finish, from germination to fruit bearing. First, they plant coffee beans and wait 90-100 days to sprout. They then put the sprouts in bags to germinate, growing them in a nursery for approximately 6 months. Lastly, the sprout is planted and in about three years, it bears 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 commitment that is required for growing coffee trees. He talked about the recovery from a horrible disease that destroyed 80% of his 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., believing that he owes it to the environment. Using chemicals affects both the coffee and the wildlife that surrounds it. 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 I met pay so much attention to every detail in the cultivation process, it was inspiring.
All trip, I kept going back to what I heard on that podcast. 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 was so inviting and warm. I came to teach what I know about coffee, and came back feeling like I was the one who was taught something. It made me realize that the roasting I’m doing here in Riverside is only one part of the process, highlighting all the hard work that’s done on the farm. One day, Arcade will be in a place where we can support farmers directly and build more intimate relationships. For now, we will strive to support farmers through importers and cooperative programs, roast to the best of our ability to highlight the art of farming, share the stories of the coffee we work with, and continue to develop and cultivate shared moments that bring us together, regardless of distance.
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