Selva Negra is a unique, award winning estate coffee farm located in the hills of Matagalpa, Nicaragua at about 1500m. I spent five days there over the past week participating in the Q Grader Training as part of Let’s Talk Coffee 2009 and would like to share a little of the experience. I’m a bit behind on blogging because there is just so much going on down here – but I’ve managed to find some time this afternoon in between the many presentations by coffee luminaries and production innovators that help define this special event.
More on Let’s Talk Coffee later – for now I want to write about Selva Negra. It is recognized as one of the most sustainable organic coffee farms around, and as I discovered from meeting people who had visited the farm decades ago it has been quite renowned for some time. The sounds and vivid surroundings that visitors experience there are rarely paralleled in the coffee world. Dense rainforests with more species than can possibly be counted are interspersed with carefully tended coffee fields. One roaster and I counted 13 species of large trees alone in our immediate area at one point. There is a constant serenade of bird calls often paired with the booming laughter of howler monkeys – the loudest mammals on the planet. At night the noise of the crickets makes one think they are sitting in an Imax presentation of the latest in surround sound technology. The area is properly known as a cloudforest, and one of the more striking memories I have is the layers of cloud cover occasionally giving way to views of the surrounding lush, green mountains.
One participant in the events pointed at that Selva Nega is like a throwback to Feudal landholding as the property features a town of I believe dozens or more permanent families. There is a school, a carpentry and metalworking shop and all of the other necessary utilities. The families that live there are constantly involved in maintaining the farm’s infrastructure and carrying out innovative agricultural tasks such as harvesting algae and fungus for increased compost and fertilizer productivity, laying Broca traps (for beetles that attack coffee) and deploying natural fungus resistors like lemongrass leaf infusions.
I didn’t get to see too much of the farm despite the fact that I was there for 5 days because I was involved in an intense “Q Grader” course that involved 10-12 hour days of sensory testing. The purpose of the “Q” as it’s called is to calibrate members of the coffee supply chain from producers to importers to roasters and even retailers. We completed I believe 22 tests of varying degrees of difficulty and it was a tremendous learning experience for all. At the same time a number of national champion baristas from Hungary, Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Brazil were staying on the farm and living as the workers do. They were part of the “Seed to Cup” challenge, charged with picking and processing enough coffee to compete in a barista competition that will be held in a day or two. For more on that check out The Seed to Cup Challenge.
We’ll be going back to Selva Negra on Sunday to do a proper tour, and I’ll have more to talk about with regards to coffee production then. For now I’ll share a few photos of the farm that I’ve taken so far.