Nicaragua

FEV Coffee Experience…my cup of Joe will never be the same

Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) produces organic certified, shade-grown coffee. Various trees, including productive fruit trees (bananas and papaya) provide vital nitrogen while the oak and ‘barazan’ are planted for reforestation.

Coffee Plants

Coffee plant with ripening beans

Coffee plants take 2-3 years to produce their first fruit, blooming 2-3 times per year, but producing fruit one time per year. Each plant is productive for 8-10 years before replanting must occur. FEV utilizes the husks, leaves etc. to produce their own worm compost for their organic coffee farm.

Red, ripe coffee beans

Picking Coffee Beans
There are many coffee farms in Nicaragua, but unlike American farms, coffee workers walk long distances to get to the fields where they will pick anywhere from 8-10, 5-gallon bags per person, per day. Larger farms can harvest up to 15-20, 5-gallon bags per person, per day. In most cases, the coffee workers and their family members then carry the bags of coffee beans to the farm or market for sale.  At the time of our visit, the average pay per bag was $2, or anywhere from $16 to $40 per person, per day.

My harvest coffee bean harvest

During our ecotour excursion, about 20 novices picked 3/4 of a gallon of coffee beans in 1.5 hours. I am in awe at the skill and efficiency of  the Nicaraguan coffee worker.

It’s a manual job.  There are no John Deere Combines that do this job in the steep, rainforest conditions.   Each coffee bean must be carefully picked to assure that the stem will produce another fruit next year. And the processing has yet to begin.

Coffee Processing
The coffee beans are put in water, to sort the floating inferior beans.  The beans are then hulled to remove the red, outer husk. The coffee beans inside the husk are typically beige in color and are covered in a slightly sweet, sticky gel.  At this stage they taste nothing like the dark, sometimes bitter coffee we drink each morning.

bags of coffee ready to be hulled and processed

The beans are wet processed, removing the skin of the coffee bean, then followed by a fermentation bath that eats away the pulp, leaving the bean. The beans are dried in the sun, with any remaining residue removed by the coffee workers.  The beans are then sorted by grade.

Sorting the coffee beans by grade, drying the beans
Different grades of coffee beans

Coffee Roasting & Grinding
The FEV cooking staff spent an afternoon showing us how the locals roast the dried coffee beans over a wood stove, until the beans reach the desired richness.  As the beans roasted over the fire, another paper-like shell was released and blown away from the roasting beans.

Roasting coffee beans over wood stove
Roasted Coffee Beans

At this point, the beans are ready for the grinder.  At home, I would throw them in my electric coffee grinder and be done in a few seconds. The locals use a heavy duty hand grinder that builds muscle, and a little character.  In rural Nicaragua, you have to work hard to have your morning cup a Joe.

grinding coffee beans

Coffee Cupping
Coffee cupping is another term for coffee tasting, experiencing the flavors of different brewed coffees. The grounds are often left in the coffee. The coffee, after being sniffed, is then slurped into the mouth allowing the back of tongue to experience the full tasting detecting body, acidity and sweetness. Experienced coffee cuppers can distinguish the coffee origin in this tasting experience.

We had the unique experience of visiting another local coffee farmer and his family for a cupping experience. Can’t say I’m a big fan…couldn’t get over the coffee grounds but appreciate the process!

Coffee Cupping in Nicaragua

Cathy’s Coffee Comments:
For years I have purchased coffee at the local grocery store without a thought as to how it was grown, harvested and prepared. It was just…coffee…my morning ‘pick me up’. Coffee growing and processing is, in so many ways, primitive to our way of thinking.  Farm life in the USA is hard work but we have so many tools in our toolbox. The coffee farmers and workers have 1) their feet, 2) their hands and their backs. They make it work.

I’ll think of that every morning the rest of my life as I sip on my morning coffee. Thank you coffee workers.  Where would we be without you?

Related Links:
http://san-ramon.org/coffee

Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Lunch, Dinner and Nature

After a busy morning with the local children, we were ready to sit, eat and share stories of our busy, busy morning. Again, the FEV cooking staff did not disappoint.

Lunch of pork with vegetables, potato, rice and pasta salad
Yummy Flan for Dessert

The afternoon ahead included coffee picking.  (My June 12 post will address  my Nicaragua coffee experience).  Our hostess discovered a red eyed tree frog near the dining room. I didn’t kiss it (no prince needed at this time), but I did hold it.  So colorful and amazing!

Red Eyed Tree Frog in Nicaragua

The grounds of Finca Esperanza Verde have beautiful flowers everywhere.  This day a large white orchid was blooming, for one day only, and graced our table in the dining room.

Large White Orchid that blooms one day only

After the coffee hike, it was time to eat again…oh shoot! (I jest).  Even in the  small, efficient kitchen of FEV, the cooking staff got creative.  I love, in the photo below, the presentation of the sliced squash with melted cheese to resemble a cooked egg. Makes me smile to look at it again!

Final Dinner at FEV

Tomorrow morning we will say good-bye to the wonderful staff of Finca Esperanza Verde and continue our adventure in San Ramon with local hosts.

www.fincaesperanzaverde.com

Nicaragua

Nicaraguan Breakfast, Children and Admiration

Day four at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) began with a wonderful, local breakfast, presented beautifully.  The traditional gallo pinto, along with fried plantains, ham salad rolled in a sliced of ham and a slice of local cheese.  With a glass of fresh Jamaican flower juice, hot cup of FEV coffee and fruit, we were fueled for a full morning of activities with local children coming to FEV.

Nicaraguan Breakfast of Gallo Pinto, Fried Plantains, ham salad roll and local cheese
Fresh Jamaican Flower (Hibiscus) Juice with lime and cinnamon

The children were to arrive at 9 a.m. but the skies were dark and it was raining. Nothing.  My travel companions from ERUUF were prepared to do paper crafts, games, and musical activities.  Would the children even go out in these conditions.  Oh ye of little faith!

These children, and their parents, are strong.  They are used to the rain, the muddy conditions and walking miles (truly uphill) to reach their destinations.

Local children begin to arrive for a morning at FEV

Before long, more children arrived on foot, many wearing their much-needed rubber boots, others in street shoes.  After almost two hours, a truck full of children arrived, hitching a ride from a local driver.  We hustled around to assure that we had activities for the 85+ children that were our guests.  Activities included multiple paper crafts, games, music (bells, musical chairs) and more.  The children were anxious to participate in all of the activities as were their parents.

– The children gather for good-byes at FEV

The FEV staff prepared sandwiches and drinks for each guest that joined us for their long walk home.  For the final 35 or so, a local pickup provided transportation back down the long road.  This would never happen in the States.  We watched in amazement as the parents, and perhaps teachers, jammed about 35 children in the back of the pickup to return home.

Children departing via pickup truck from FEV

Reflecting on the morning, I admired the children for their respectful and patient behavior.  Their parents were kind and supportive.  Would our children in the States spend their summer holiday walking miles to visit strangers to partake in a morning of crafts and art?  These families have so little in material things, yet are so rich in community and family.  Perhaps the greatest souvenir from this trip will be gratefulness and admiration of the Nicaraguan people of Managua.

Related Articles:

https://fork-lore.com/2012/03/23/plantains-not-an-ordinary-banana/

 

Nicaragua

Hammocks, Sunsets and Soup in Nicaragua

Returning from our picnic and hike, free time awaited and it was time to hit the hammock and soak in the amazing beauty of Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV).  Truly a slice of paradise.

Hammock time in Nicaragua

Every time I looked at the horizon from FEV’s dining area, it looked different.  It was a magical experience.  Again, this evening there was a wonderful sunset and shadows not to be missed.

Sunset at Finca Esperanza Verde
Good Night Nicaragua

A wonderful day, with wonderful people, in a wonderful place.  The air was cool and the vegetable soup for dinner hit the spot.  It reminded me that vegetable soup is a world staple, using local vegetables, spices and traditions.  Comfort food for the soul.

Vegetable Soup for dinner!

As the sun set, so did our eyelids, tired but satisfied with another wonderful day in the beauty of Nicaragua.  Tomorrow we would host local school children, on holiday, for a morning of music, art and fellowship.

Note:  The stories of Nicaragua continue for the next several Tuesday postings.  

Nicaragua

Hiking and a Picnic … Kicking back in Nicaragua

Our tummies were full from breakfast and we were off to another local coffee farm, followed by a wonderful picnic lunch at a local river.

Our ‘back of the pickup’ excursion to the picnic location

Our local transportation was either by foot or in the back of a pickup. I love the open air experience, reminding me of riding in the back of my Dad’s 1958 Chevy Pickup around the Iowa farm.

The final leg of our picnic excursion was by foot, across a pasture and down to the local river for swimming, bird-watching, and howler monkey scouting. The weather was sunny and gorgeous. Local cattle watched the gringos pass through their green pastures with a curious eye.

The final hike down to the river bed was shaded by a canopy of beautiful trees, bubbling waters and water falls.

River bed in Nicaragua
Waterfall at local Nicaragua river

We put down our packs, marveling at the tremendous work it took for our hosts and staff to coordinate and transport all of the fixings for our gourmet lunch by the river. While our lunch was being prepared, some of our group enjoyed soaking in the river while other settled in on the rock of choice enjoying the splendor of our surroundings.

After relaxing for a bit, lunch was served.  (I am yearning a ‘do over’ as I write this.) The grilled kabobs, rice, cabbage salad, Pico de Gallo, homemade tortillas, and juice were delicious. Everything tastes better when enjoyed in the outdoors!

kabobs, cabbage salad, tortillas and rice at our river picnic
Fresh Pico de Gallo

Again, our tummies were full and….what’s that noise. Howler monkeys! This was our first experience hearing and seeing them. My dinky point and shoot camera was up to the challenge to capture a silhouette of these funny creatures.

A rain storm was moving in and we got moving, too! A quick hike back to the truck for our ride back to Finca Esperanza Verde. Free time awaited us…what to do? Hike, siesta, read? Decisions, decisions!

Nicaragua · Vegetarian

Nicaragua…Introduction to Banana Jam…YUM!

What a delight to get up in the morning, dress and not worry about applying cosmetics or blow-drying my hair.  At least that is what I thought until I looked at my pictures when I returned home. YIKES!  That is why you are seeing more photos of food and scenery than of me.

Bananas and Poinsettas growing at FEV

I would wander to the dining area in the morning to enjoy a fresh banana (craving one now) and a hot cup of that coffee!  I take a moment to soak in the beautiful morning view while my travel buddies wander in, one by one, to convene for breakfast.

Morning view of the cloud forest from Tucan Lodge

This particular morning, we were served wonderful pancakes with fresh jams.  My absolute favorite was the banana jam.  Again, I wonder how I’ve never tasted banana jam.  Genius!

Pancakes with jams

When I returned home, I searched for Banana Jam recipes and found the following recipe in the Jamlady’s cookbook.  I made it.  I liked it.  We served it at daughter Sarah’s bridal shower along with scones and clotted cream.  It’s a cherished member of my growing collection of recipes.

Ingredients for Banana Jam

BANANA JAM

3 1/2 pounds of peeled bananas
3 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon butter
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

l
Cooking Banana Jam

Mash the bananas and cook with the rest of the ingredients for 20 minutes. Stir continuously so the jam does not stick or burn. Cool. Jam will thicken. Optional: use food processor to blend.

I did not freeze or can the jam but ate it all fresh! My next experiment will be to use banana jam in homemade ice cream. YUM!

IMG_1391

Recipe adapted from Jamlady, ‘Jellies, Jams, and Preserves’

Nicaragua

Nicaragua Butterfly Conservatory … and Spaghetti Nic style!

The tortillas were made and the coffee roasted. Now we were off to the 600 square foot Butterfly Conservatory on the FEV property.

The Conservatory is magical for visitors and is also used to teach local children about the lifecycle of the butterfly.  I thoroughly enjoyed it but my daughters would probably freak out…they aren’t big on any flying insects.

The foliage that surrounds us every waking moment is magical, as if we have arrived in a fantasy world.  Everywhere I look there are flowers more beautiful and unusual than the last.

Beehive Ginger (Zingiberaceae)

Beehive Ginger (micrófono in Spanish) is a spectacular plant.  The plant can grow 6 to 8 foot tall, beginning yellow in color, and turning red as they age, particularly if they are exposed to sunlight.

Pink Buds opening to yellow flower (name unknown)
Hydrangea growing wild at FEV

I was in awe looking at the Hydrangeas, thinking back to the white Hydrangeas that graced the tables at daughter Megan’s wedding.

Heliconia psittacorum

A busy afternoon and we were ready for dinner.  Spaghetti was on the menu, topped with a boiled egg, complimented by a glass of Tribu Merlot from Argentina.  I am curious about the egg on top of Spaghetti.  My web search has been futile so my theory is an egg adds protein to an otherwise carb-rich meal.  I call it Spaghetti Nic Style.

Spaghetti with Boiled Egg
Tribu Merlot, Argentina

The sun was down, the woodstove burning hot, and my head was ready to rest on my pillow in Tucan Lodge.

Buenas Noches. Hasta Manana.

Nicaragua · Vegan · Vegetarian

Nicaragua … lunch and tortilla making!

As we hiked back up the hill to the dining lodge, I was anxious for fresh fruit juice and a delightful lunch. Today, we enjoyed fresh juice and salad, and chicken/vegetable curry over rice.  Notice the gorgeous fresh flowers that graced our tables.

Fresh salad for lunch

Chicken curry over rice

Our afternoon activity was right up my alley. We were making corn tortillas with the staff over a wood stove as well as roasting and grinding coffee beans from the farm (coffee grinding to be covered in a future post of my full coffee experience).  I will never take corn tortilla making for granted!

Step one for authentic corn tortillas involves Masa, Spanish for dough. Masa is made from field corn which is dried and treated with a lime water solution.

Dried Corn prepared for Masa

Next, we ground the corn by hand with a grinder.  If we Americans did this every day, there would no more flabby upper arms…this is hard work!

Grinding the corn for Masa

After the corn was ground it was time to make the tortillas.  Our teacher was a pro but this virgin tortilla maker failed miserably.  I’ll spare you a photo of my alien-shaped wonder.

Cooking the tortilla over a wood stove

The final step was the taste test. The packaged corn tortillas from the grocery store don’t stand a chance compared to the real thing.

The women of Nicaragua are amazing.  Many do not enjoy the modern conveniences that we take for granted, yet are full of joy working hard to serve their families and guests wonderful food and hospitality.  I feel so blessed to experience this with our wonderful teacher.  I yearn for more!

Next week…more from Nicaragua!

Nicaragua

Nicaragua … Tropical Food, Foliage and Fun!

My first full day in Nicaragua and I was almost bright-eyed and bushy-tailed…but could I use a cup of coffee! Not only was I going to have coffee but I was having organic coffee raised and roasted at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV), made with certified mountain spring water. You haven’t had coffee like this at your local coffee shop! My coffee adventure was only beginning.

Path to Tucan Lodge
Tucan Lodge

As I walked down the path from our lodge, which I shared with five other wonderful women, I marveled at the views and the foliage, pinching myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

The covered, open-air, dining room at FEV overlooks a beautiful tropical forest allowing the diners to take in the view yet enjoy the fresh air.  Our tables were set, as they were the night before, with our name on a clothes pin attached to the napkin. The staff moved our napkin and clothes pin at each meal, giving us a chance to get to sit with everyone in the group. Genius!

We were served fresh, local fruit from the farm including watermelon, pineapple, papaya in addition to fresh local maracuya (passion fruit) juice.

Passion Fruit
Fresh Fruit, Coffee and Juice at FEV

Next we were served Gallo Pinto, fresh tortillas made by the staff over a wood stove, and scrambled eggs topped with crumbled cuajada cheese and pico de gallo. The farm-fresh eggs are from the FEV chickens! (Reminded me of home and the fresh eggs on our Iowa farm.)

Breakfast at FEV Day One

What a wonderful experience to eat local, eat fresh in the splendor of the tropics.

GALLO PINTO

3 cups of cooked rice
2 cups of cooked black beans
1 onion, finely chopped
1 chopped red pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1-2 tablespoons oil
¼ cup chopped cilantro
4 tablespoons Salsa Lizano  (or Worcestershire Sauce)
salt and pepper to taste

  • Fry onion, red pepper, and garlic in the vegetable oil, about 3 minutes.
  •  Pour in the beans and sauce, black pepper and seasoning. Let it cook for a few minutes, but keep it moist.
  • Pour in the cooked rice and mix with the beans.  Sprinkle with crumbled cuajada cheese.  Optional:  sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro.

After breakfast, we were scheduled for a nature hike to begin to explore the gorgeous plants and flowers of the tropical forest and our first introduction to how coffee is grown.  Our guide took care to highlight local birds and foliage.

Coming from the high desert of Colorado, I was amazed at the plant life.  How can so many plants live on one tree?  This is the trunk of the Ceiba tree, which was a mystical tree in pre-Columbian cultures.  This photo captures the mystical experience of the tropical forest hike.

FEV Blue Trail photo

After a wonderful morning out, it was time to return to the lodge and lunch…what wonderful treat would be awaiting us?

Nicaragua

Nicaragua…one crazy, divine adventure!

It all started with an email from my sister-in-law, Betty, asking me if I wanted to go to Nicaragua.  With a flip ‘sure, when and how much’, she replied with pricing and the news that I would need to be on a red-eye flight THAT NIGHT in order to meet the eco tour group in Managua.  Are you kidding me?  I’m ‘Ms. Gotta Have a Plan’ and yet I’m considering this?  The more I talked to Betty and then to my daughters, it WAS going to happen.

Since the tour was a hands-on experience at Finca Esperanza Verde (FEV) for 4 days and another 3 days in San Ramon with a local family, the attire was very casual so a current passport, T-shirts, jeans, hiking boots, socks, rain gear, and bare personal essentials in a borrowed carry-on from my new son-in-law and I was ready to roll.  A quick call to my trusty PA and the Doxycycline was called into the pharmacy.   I was on a flight that evening at 11:55 p.m., arriving in Miami at 5:30 a.m. with a connecting flight at 10:29 a.m. and final arrival in Managua at 11:55 a.m.  WHEW!  I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

The flights were uneventful, the layover long but the views flying into Nicaragua were stunning!  My seat mate thought me crazy for taking pictures from the plane, but wouldn’t you take a picture of this,  Lake Managua with volcanoes Momotombo and Momotombito.

Flying into NIcaragua
Flying into Nicaragua

Keep in mind, the only people I would know on this tour were my sister-in-law Betty, and her husband George. Their flight arrived 2 hours after mine.  I was to look for a sign at the door for Finca Esperanza Verde, which I did not see.  Am I CRAZY?  I’m in a strange country, trying to meet strangers to go a destination I know little about. Somehow, there was no fear (mind you, there was also NO sleep) but rather a sense of great adventure.

After wandering around the exit for about 30 minutes, walking up to strangers asking if they were part of a group going to FEV, I learned there were a lot of groups coming to volunteer, to vacation and to get the heck away from me!  Finally, I saw a group of women that were congregating at a bus stop and kindly asked if they were with a group going to FEV.  I was so relieved when I found my group and delighted by their immediate acceptance of this one, bedraggled traveler.

It was time for lunch so we followed our fearless FEV guides, Gustavo and Everisto, inside to the food court.  Now this was not your normal airport food court.  We were set to try the local cuisine.  I so wish I could tell you what I ate that day, but that brain cell floated away before the last bite was swallowed.  It was wonderful…trust me on that.

After the final ecotour travelers arrived we were on our way toward San Ramon, in our mini bus, approximately 99 miles (160 Km) from the Managua airport.  As I recall, the bus trip took about 4 hours and was a wonderful introduction to the landscape, the people, the culture.

About halfway through the bus trip, we stopped for a quick break and were delighted to see a local food stand.  I snapped a few photos of the wonderful, local produce:

Fresh Peppers on roadside stand in Nicaragua
Roadside stand in Nicaragua

Fresh Carrots in Nicaragua

When we were within about a half mile from FEV, the sun was setting and we were to transfer from the mini bus to a smaller vehicle.  It was a beautiful night and many of us decided to stretch our legs and walk to the lodge.  The sky was beautiful and the tropical forest serene!

We arrived at FEV in time for dinner in the open-air dining area.  It was dark when we arrived, but the wood stove was burning, the beer was cold, and the food was scrumptious.  We were greeted by the gracious staff and our hosts (and FEV co-founders), Lonna and Richard Hardraker.  I wish I could tell you what I ate that evening, but I cannot.  The best I can do is share a picture of Toña, my first Nicaraguan beer.  Quite tasty and refreshing!

Cold bottle of Toña Nicaraguan beer

With a full tummy and an almost non-functional brain, I hiked the short distance to Tucan Lodge to rest my weary Colorado head down for a peaceful slumber in the tropical forest at Finca Esperanza Verde, not knowing what adventures were awaiting me in the morning.

For more information on Finca Esperanza Verde, check out their website:

http://www.fincaesperanzaverde.org/

Update: 1/2021 new website is fincaesperanzaverde.com

NOTE:  I will be posting about my Nicaraguan adventures on Tuesdays for the next several weeks.  Join me as I relive this crazy, wonderful trip.  Did you say there was a flight to Nicaragua leaving tonight????