Farewell, Nicaragua… Hello, M'lissa!

It’s hard to believe that we’re back in Portland. In many ways, this trip to Nicaragua for me and Ken was one of the most important coffee ventures we’ve been on. Nicaragua is a beautiful, complex, poverty-stricken, vast, friendly, and unforgettable place.

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It will take me many more days to process what I saw, the wonderful and the terrible. But mainly it was wonderful– we had some incredible coffees and met some leaders in the industry, as well as the many organizers, producers and pickers who make the incredible coffees coming out of Nicaragua possible. Here is one of them: Claudia Castellon, the opinionated, energetic, fascinating, and FUNNY Executive Director of Cafes de Nicaragua. She and I became fast friends.

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Here is another one: Our most generous host, our gracious, considerate friend, and a man who devotes every day to shaping a better future for Nicaraguan coffee and the people who produce it, Roberto Bendaña of Cafe Don Paco.

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That picture documents one of the countless times on this week-long trip that Roberto gave a TV interview, or a radio discussion or appeared in a newspaper. The trip and the presence of these impressive Nordic baristas, was truly news in Nicaragua, and good news at that. Just look how many baristas showed up at the last of three trainings led by the Swedish, Norwegian, Danish, Estonian, Icelandic, and Finnish baristas in Managua:

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Although everywhere we traveled within the country — and believe me, there were a LOT of stops along the way — locals thanked us for taking the time to learn about Nicaragua and take the time to train their baristas, we couldn’t help shaking our heads and thinking that WE were the lucky ones.

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Above, Heili of Estonia, and Michael of Denmark instruct baristas at a training outside of Ocotal.

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What the heck would we have done without Erwin? Above, he lends Costas and Anne of Sweden a hand with translation at a training in Managua, but man, Erwin had our backs for whatever we needed every step along the way. He’s a totally awesome dude.

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That sun was NICE. Above from left, Torkel (now known as “Torkelito”); Imma; Addy; Jonina; Emma; Petra; and Margrethe relaxing at the mill in Ocotal.

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Back in Managua, the Swedish Barista Team and the Nicaraguan Barista Team took part in an impromptu team barista challenge, with judges from the Nordic countries and U.S. (me & Ken) judging the Nicaraguan team, and judges from Nicaragua judging the Swedish team. The drinks pictured above were submitted by Team Nicaragua.

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It was really close! Team Sweden won by less than one point!

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It was a time of celebration for both teams (above), who high-fived each other at the end of the event.

(Note: forgive me for not going exactly chronologically — we’re sorting through several thousand photos right now!)

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The incredible house pictured above was where we stayed in Matagalpa, thanks to the abundant generosity of our hosts, Jorge and Marcia. This is their coffee farm, Santa María de Ostuma, and ecolodge.

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Above, another lovely vista from the mill at Ocotal…

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A peek at the tagging system at the Ocotal mill.

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Above, Richard from Sweden cups at the mill.

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An incredible amount of coffee is processed at this mill…

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The barista training was held on an outdoor patio at the mill — perhaps the most scenic site for a barista training I’ve ever seen…

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But as I’m not a barista myself, and there are only so many photos one can take, I had some time to sneak off with Claudia to visit this truly magnificent local pottery center completely off the beaten path. Inside, we found countless artists displaying their wares and firing new stuff.

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Near Ocotal is Dipilto, where we visited a very well run organization for local producers. The Dipilto region is where more Cup of Excellence coffees have come from than any other region.

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After a very successful barista training, we visited this horse stable and performance area near Dipilto. The sun worshippers (above) enjoyed the warm weather and breezes before a fantastic lunch, dancing and a horse show.

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And this little guy (above) was named “lunch.”

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Ken and I were stoked to run into our friends Jim and Aleco from Stumptown while they, too, were in Ocotal. Jim (above) came to the horse show BBQ, too.

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I used to ride horses when I was a kid, but what these folks were able to do was simply unbelievable. Above, a 16-year-old walks her horse from behind, signaling him with incredibly subtle hand movements to do a dance.

After the horse show, we piled into our vans for the long drive back to Managua

On the last night of the trip, we were treated to a formal dinner at the site of Roberto’s new Cafe Don Paco coffee lounge, and folks, it was one of the most incredible cafe sites we’ve seen in the world. For more information, you’ll have to watch out for the April/May 2008 issue of Barista Magazine (which we will give away the the SCAA and USBC in Minneapolis). Not only will we have a lot of info on this coffee lounge, but tons more photos and stories about our unforgettable time in Nicaragua with our dear friends from the Nordic countries.

Viva Nicaragua!!

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Oh…. are you still here? And you want to hear more about barista adventures? Well, we’ve got just the thing for you. How’s about a

BRAND NEW ISSUE OF BARISTA MAGAZINE??

The February/March 2008 issue, featuring the amazing Octane Coffee Boss M’lissa Muckerman on the cover and in a feature article inside will be arriving in your mailboxes soon, but if you want to check it out right away, you can always view it online for FREE right here.
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Adios!

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