By Beth Ann Caspersen, Quality Control Manager
Recently, I received fantastic news from my friend and fellow cupper Julio Obregon that a small group of coffee tasters have founded the first-ever Nicaraguan coffee cuppers’ co-operative called COCAFENIC. The primary objective of the coffee cuppers’ co-op is to share the craft of tasting coffee and to continue to build on the knowledge and experience of individual coffee tasters in Nicaragua.
Julio Obregon is the Quality Manger for CECOCAFEN in Nicaragua and the President of COCAFENIC. He says, “The goal of our organization is to create value for all of the tasters through solidarity, honesty, openness, social responsibility; to preserve and defend the prestige of coffee, increase the knowledge of our tasters by establishing training projects for both assessors, producers, processors and exporters and to hold meetings with international tasters to share knowledge and experiences.” Although it seems like a tall order, it is a necessary step in the right direction for specialty coffee in Nicaragua and I believe it will inspire coffee tasters from around the world.
COCAFENIC was founded on the seven principles of cooperation and is representative of coffee cuppers from all over Nicaragua. This is the first coffee cuppers’ co-operative of its kind in Nicaragua. There are 61 members; 51 men and 10 women which represent approximately 85% of the cuppers nationwide! I think that this kind of participation is a testament to the growing interest in specialty coffee in Nicaragua and future work to advance the craft.
Equal Exchange’s roots run deep in Nicaragua. As many of you probably know, the first coffee we ever sourced and offered to our customers was from Nicaragua and over the last two decades we have seen significant changes in coffee as a specialty beverage. We have seen cupping labs pop up all over the country, cooperative efforts like Café Nica – a small farmer organization that works to align small famer co-operatives – and international coffee tasting competitions like the Cup of Excellence™ which have shown the world how delicious coffee from Nicargua can be. These advancements have elevated the importance of cupping and the skills of the coffee cupper.
I have seen significant changes in the roles and responsibilities of coffee cuppers; men and women. These cuppers have become instrumental in making decisions within their own organizations and are working to promote the great quality that comes from this small Central American country. During our first Cooperación en Calidad (Cooperation in Quality) seminar at Equal Exchange in 2004, I began connecting with many of these Nicaraguan coffee cuppers – off the cupping table – about topics like organic fertilization, coffee drying and contentious theories around the origin of a horrible flavor defects called phenolic (it tastes like drinking water from a swimming pool- yuck!).
The reality of being a cupper is that, in some ways, we are expected to be a jack of all trades in order to really understand the flavor in the cup, and many coffee cuppers yearn for more technical coffee knowledge. Then the question becomes, “How do you learn more about coffee or share what you already know with other coffee cuppers?” Aside from individual relationships and a few annual trade shows, the craft of cupping was in need of a larger organization to offer training and advancement in Nicaragua. I can remember sitting outside of the PRODECOOP cupping laboratory in 2007 during the Café Nica Zonification project talking about the advantages of organizing cuppers into a group and sharing vital cupping knowledge within a network of cuppers.
Today there are 61 cuppers participating in this historic organization. To watch the process come to fruition is amazing and I am really excited to see what it will become. Good luck to you, COCAFENIC! We look forward to supporting your work for years to come.
Julio Obregon at Cooperacion en Calidad at Equal Exchange in 2004
Beth Ann with Nicaraguan Coffee Cuppers outside of Prodecoop after the 2007 Café Nica Zonification Project
Julio, President of COCAFENIC shows off his I heart my barista t-shirt
We love you too Julio!