One thing both my friend and I definitely wanted to do in Nicaragua, was to visit a coffee farm. When ordering a coffee in my local coffee shop I would always look at the different varieties of coffee; ‘Peruvian’, ‘Colombian’, ‘Nicaraguan’ and I could not wait to see where the journey of my latte really begins. So when we arrived to the incredibly beautiful Isla de Ometepe in the middle of Lake Nicaragua we took some time to recover from our rather rough boat trip and then started to plan our coffee farm visit.
We found out that there is a small organic coffee co-op of 24 families who grow coffee on the side of volcano Maderas. This sounded like just the perfect place to get to know coffee! Getting to the farm was a bit of a challenge with a tiny Fiat as there is only one paved road on the whole island and it was certainly not the one that lead to the farm. Eventually we had to abandon the car and walk the rest of they way up to the farm but we felt like winners after it (little did we know that it was just the beginning of our uphill hiking). I have to admit that we did take a moment or two to catch our breath and cool down in the shade with some cold drinks before all the coffee business. Finca Magdalena is not only a coffee farm but also offers hostel accommodation, has a restaurant and arranges walking tours to the top of Maderas so one could easily spend a full day or longer there.
We didn’t have a reservation and just showed up there asking if someone could take us on a tour and tell us more about coffee farming. After a quick chat and around $4 we had a tour and a guide arranged. Our guide, Jose, looked at our outfits of the day (converse and shorts) and then his own (long pants and rubber boots), shrugged and said “vamos” and off we went. Had I known that there are snakes (some of which are poisonous) or that we would be walking in a thick forest I would have chosen to wear something else!
I thought that after reaching the farm that was it for walking uphill for the day. I had this image of neat rows of coffee plants on a flat field, much like a vineyard or an olive tree farm. I was utterly and completely wrong, that is not how you farm coffee. Apparently the higher the altitude, the better the coffee. Like I mentioned, we were at the base of a volcano so there was only one way to go- Up. There was a small path that we followed to find the coffee plants and after about half an hour of walking we finally got to see some. Jose explained the difference between the plants, what happens to the cherries and how they are picked. He even made us taste some raw coffee beans from inside the fruit, which were actually pretty good!
Along the way Jose explained all about coffee and the farm itself and often repeated what he said to make sure we understood his Spanish. He also pointed out a 4km long pipeline that came down from the crater lake on top of the volcano (the reason why hiking up the volcano is popular) and went all the way down to the nearby village where it serves as the water source for local families.
It was clear that this coffee farm was run by and for the community. Jose made a few comments about some coffee farms in Costa Rica that are huge, use chemicals and really just produce the coffee for multinational companies without giving much benefit to the local community. As Finca Magdalena is a completely organic farm, the women who do the quality checking are not allowed to wear nail polish or make-up to make sure no chemicals of any kind get to the coffee. The whole process from growing the plants to collecting the beans is done very carefully and all by hand.
After the coffee plantation tour, which took about 1.5 hours and could have been longer, it is possible to tour the 350 hectare farm some more. We went to look for some ancient hieroglyphs but got scared away by angry monkeys and a snake so we returned to the farm to sit down and relax for a bit. I would definitely recommend visiting Finca Magdalena for an informative coffee tour, it’s well worth it. A couple of tips for anyone heading for a coffee tour though; dress like you were going hiking (because you are) and bring enough water! Good shoes are essential (definitely no sandals) and while you can go explore on your own I highly recommend going with a guide because it’s very easy to get lost and it’s nice to have someone who knows how to look out for snakes!