By Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager
My first experience in coffee was on an Equal Exchange delegation to visit coffee farmers in El Salvador in 1994. That trip changed my life and little did I know then, at the age of 20, the impact it would have on me and how it would shape my future in coffee.
For those of you that don’t know me, I am Beth Ann Caspersen, and I have been with Equal Exchange for 13 years. I am the Quality Control Manager – this basically means I manage the quality for all of our products – for coffee, from the point of origin through to the finished product. I admit, it’s a wonderful job and I love it. But to find the best tasting coffee, you can’t sit in an office; you have to go get it. So, I get on the road and fly to wherever the coffee harvest takes me. I meet with producers and export managers, and spend a lot of time cupping coffee. It’s hard to describe what I do and who I work with, so here is the first of many blog posts to come.
Nicaragua is such a special place for me; I first participated as a judge for the Cup of Excellence in 2003, and each year I return to cup the coffees we will buy from the Nicaraguan harvest.
I recently took my eighth trip to Nicaragua and each time I go back I feel like I am returning home to see old friends. I want to share a few highlights from this year’s trip and give a few shout outs, too. If you’ve traveled with Equal Exchange to Nicaragua, you are probably curious about the people you met there. You probably remember some of the funny things that happened during your trip and how it all impacted you. So, if you’ve been to Nicaragua – or not – I hope you enjoy this look into the world of Nicaraguan small farmer coffee.
We always start in the lab to see what the coffee harvest has to present on the cupping table. Here Alex and I are going through a table of 10 coffees; we did about 24 that day and picked out some of our favorites.
For those of you that know the PRODECOOP dry beneficio, you probably remember two extraordinary cuppers: Alex and Fatima. Alex is the proud father of a 2 1/2 year old boy named Joshua, who is just cute as can be! Although shy at first, he really warmed up to me after a few tickling games. Here is Joshua with his dad, Alex, and mom, Marilec. (Marilec is also a fabulous cupper and spent 3 years working with CESMACH in Chiapas, Mexico. She worked on the CESMACH project we featured this winter in our Sierra Madre Limited Edition coffee. She moved back to Nicaragua last March to be closer to her partner, Alex, and her family. Everyone jokes that their son Joshua will also be an amazing cupper like his mom and dad.)
Fatima is eight months pregnant with her first child – a little girl. She is really excited to be a mom and we are waiting – the baby is due in the next couple of weeks. I gave her so many hugs while I was there, so send your good vibrations and wish her luck!
You probably also remember our super fun friend, Ligia Lopez, the Export Manager – her son Ian is now 2 1/2 as well. She has the energy of the energizer bunny and took me out with her to visit our friends in Jose Alfredo Zeledon to the town of Las Vegas.
Check out Ligia and Alex sporting the cool new I heart my barista T’s available at the Equal Exchange Café in Boston.
Jose Alfredo Zeledon
I got to spend some time with a few of our mutual friends a few weeks ago and here are some of the things that have been happening in the city of Las Vegas. I think pictures speak louder than words so here we go.
Upon arriving, the first person I met was Carla. She was very sweet and not even five minutes into my visit, she was bringing me to the back of her home to show me the new kitchen she had built, thanks to a loan she got from the co-op. Unfortunately, I don’t have a picture of the kitchen – but here we are posing for the camera: Carla, me and Ligia. She was thrilled to get copies of some of the pictures you sent down, Lilla – “mil gracias.”
I next caught up with Alcidez who brought us to the newly constructed wet beneficio. It was a really beautiful sight, complete with new cement fermentation tanks and a long washing channel. Gorgeous indeed. Not to mention the lush vivero (coffee nursery) that occupies the farm right next to the new beneficio. There were easily 1,000 Caturra trees ready to be planted in the coming months on his farm and other members of the co-op. JAZ is really encouraging members to renovate and create farm plans – necessary and important steps to produce fantastic coffee.
We walked down the road to check in with Francisco – for those of you that know him, you know that it is like pulling teeth to get him to talk. He was busy washing and drying the last bits from the harvest in his new (stunning, I must say) wet beneficio, complete with cement tanks and washing channel. Everything looked and smelled great. We walked down to the sediment pond where the honey water was slowly filtering through plants to its final resting pond and there I saw that some of the coffee trees were just starting to flower, which is always a good sign for the next harvest.
I also found the always charming and very curious organic promoter, “Kenny,” at Francisco’s house in JAZ. He of course says “hello” to everyone! He remembers you guys and was reminiscing about the fun he had with some of you in 2007 at the local disco – Terry that one’s for you!
I was able to spend a little bit of time with “Tacho,” the guy I like to say knows it all because he just seems to be a fountain of knowledge about anything and everything in San Juan del Rio Coco. Here he is showing us a small coffee seedling beginning to sprout from the new centralized coffee nursery they had built to support the renovation of coffee farms.
I then headed over to Matagalpa to visit our partners CECOCAFEN and spent my 36th Birthday cupping coffee with my old friend, Julio, (he was part of the first Cooperation in Quality Seminar in 2004) and checking in with Celso and Ernesto from PROCOCER. This year’s harvest is especially delicious and it was clear to me that their work to improve quality and invest in additional storage for their coffee had yielded excellent results.
I had never really spent my birthday at origin before and I was pleasantly surprised in the CECOCAFEN offices by Alvaro and Marta who thought it would be good idea to throw me a surprise birthday party! I walked into an office filled with the staff singing and clapping- which made me cry (of course). We finished our day with some great Mariachi music at the local Italian restaurant (I know it sounds weird – but this is a hot little touristy place with yummy food) and a little red wine to celebrate.
For those of you that have journeyed south to spend time with our friends in Boaco, you will be happy to hear about a few of their successes in the last two years. As Susan Sklar mentioned in her last post – the new beneficio is awesome! There is space for processing equipment, storage and a new cupping and roasting laboratory. Not to mention, there are a few new faces, a young cupper named Jacqueline, a young agronomist named Ramiro (it’s always good to see the agronomists taking the time to learn how to cup) and the first female boss of the dry beneficio, Magdiela. The new and immense drying patio they have been hoping to construct was well on its way to completion and it will be a huge bonus for them in the next harvest.
I just happened to be at Tierra Nueva the day before their annual meeting, so I got to hang out with the Board of Directors and share what is happening here in the U.S. and learn about their work in Boaco. Each of the Board members remembered delegations from years past and many of them asked when more people would be coming back!
Coffee producers and the staff of the export coffee co-operatives that we do business with have really enjoyed getting to know many of you over the years. The power in connecting you with them is an experience that has helped the producers to know where their coffee is sold and why our work in sourcing delicious coffee is so important. We are a movement. Your visits and stories help to shape the way consumers think about our coffee and for this I say thank you. And on behalf of the coffee producers, I say thank you.
That’s it for now-