Raising the Profile of Nicaraguan Coffee

Cuppers from Las Carpas, Nicaragua, learn their trade.
Cuppers from Las Carpas, Nicaragua, learn their trade.
Improved Quality Control Opens New Markets for Small Coffee Farmers
"The program taught me how to manage the lab and how to cup so that we could produce better coffee,” says Lexania.

Lexania Marín is a self-described coffee addict, who has been drinking coffee all her life. Now she gets to do it for a living. Through a USAID-supported program to boost Nicaragua’s coffee industry, the university student from a small coffee farm in Dipilto Viejo, Nicaragua, has become a cupper — a specialist in evaluating the taste and aroma of coffee.

“The crisis is not only over-supply of coffee,” said Byron Corrales, a coffee grower and vice-president of Cafenica, a 6,000-member federation of small growers’ cooperatives. “It’s also about protecting our environment and establishing a relationship between producers, buyers and consumers that will benefit everyone.”

Taking a big step in that direction, USAID signed an agreement with Cafenica, Thanksgiving Coffee and the Inter-American Institute for Agricultural Cooperation to give farms lasting market linkages with specialty coffee buyers willing to pay fair prices for high-quality, sustainably produced coffee. In addition, USAID has trained producers in better farming and processing methods that will help them meet higher international standards. It has also trained 65 cuppers — specialists in evaluating the taste and aroma of coffee — and helped build a roasting company and 21 cupping labs countrywide to ensure a quality product.

Less than a week after the agreement was signed, specialty coffee buyers toured Cafenica’s cupping labs and met with farmers. Scott Merle, a coffee buyer at Baddorf and Bronson Coffee Roasters in Olympia, Washington, was making his first trip to Nicaragua to get a better understanding of how the cooperatives work. “Nicaraguan coffee is a good, solid cup of coffee,” said Merle. “If they can keep the quality consistent, I’ll definitely be buying more.”

Paul Katzeff, head of Thanksgiving Coffee, is optimistic about the industry’s recent strides. “The entire coffee industry in the world is looking at Nicaragua and these cupping labs,” he said. “The Nicaraguans have presented a model of hope because quality and price are related, and the only way you can get quality is if the farmers understand what the target market wants and the target profile and taste that you are aiming for.”

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Last updated: August 16, 2013

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