Read of Robbie's trip summary from his January visit to the Selva Negra family coffee estate in Nicaragua.
Matagalpa, Nicaragua January 2014
The morning sun sneaks between the branches and the slanted roof that covers the outdoor patio of the restaurant at the Selva Negra Estate, high above Matagalpa, Nicaragua.
Eddy Kuhl’s always mischevious eyes glint in that sun and he tells the history of the estate to a group of coffee professionals gathered there for their last breakfast after four days at the farm. Eddy is an historian and a storyteller and a charmer.
But it’s his wife Mausi who is the farmer.
The Kuhl’s heritage is German, and their mountaintop Black Forest — their Selva Negra Estate — is Mausi’s passion and mission. But it is also a family business. Daughter Heddy and son-in-law Steve Franklin import the coffee into the states, through their coffee business Beaneology in Atlanta. And daughters Karen and Vicki live on the estate, where they and their husbands raise their families and work in the varied aspects of a working farm.
From livestock to cheese-making to on-site pastries. From bread-baking to sausage-making to roasting coffee in the on-site tostaderia. From checking in guests into their world-famous eco-lodge to driving them down the mountain to the airport, someone in the Kuhl family is hands-on.
The Specialty Coffee Association of America bestowed its sustainabilty award on Selva Negra in 2007, and seven years on, Mausi has seen to it that her 1,500-acre coffee farm just gets better and better.
I have bought coffee from Mausi and Selva Negra for more than a decade, and she has visited us in Chapel Hill twice in that time. And I’ve seen her at coffee industry events at least twice more. Always, as each harvest season approached, she would say, “You have to come to the farm. You are invited.”
And always I would say soon, soon. I probably said soon so many times that its translation became “never”.
But soon finally came, and my wife Angie and our three children endured two flight delays (one from Raleigh to Atlanta, the next from Atlanta to Managua), that put us in the Nicaraguan capital at one in the morning and had us driving up to the estate at 4 a.m.
Mausi met us at the airport, personally drove the Toyota bus (18 of us) from the city back into the mountains, and then delivered each party to its cottage on the farm, while the trees swayed ominously in the pre-dawn storm and wind-driven rain made for a wet and cold journey’s end.
Mausi keeps the pulse of Selva Negra, from the coffee at the top of the farm to the hotel in the middle to the hydroelectric plant at the bottom, she knows the status of each ongoing project and is likely to originate something new tomorrow or the day after.
Two months since arriving home from our trip, Selva Negra remains vivid in my mind. And now that I’ve spent more than 20 years in the coffee business, it is by far the most efficient, sustainable and inspiring farm I know.
I’ve mentioned the on-site production of roasted coffee (of course) and sausage and cheese and bread and pastries.
But Selva Negra goes so far as to capture methane from decomposing waste and recycle that into fuel for cooking. It runs a lab on site to create natural insect repellents from various plants on the farm and then rotates application of those repellents on the coffee so that the pests don’t build a tolerance or strategy for any single remedy.
Its nursery is constantly nurturing the seedlings that will replace a diseased or dying tree. It hostel is nearly complete — separate from the hotel and the cottages — for travelers of a certain age or budget.
And at the bottom of the mountain, in Chaguitillo, Selva Negra has its own patios and mill, where the coffee is dried, sorted, processed, bagged and prepared for export.
And for any of the farmers, or their children, who have academic interests, Selva Negra will find a way for them to continue their education to high school, university and beyond. At this point, a couple of the resident families have three generations working on the farm, and many more have two.
Mausi took my daughter to play with the considerable collection of dolls she keeps at her house. My sons rode horses all over the estate with one of Mausi’s grandchildren. We heard howler monkeys on the wild night we arrived and saw them gliding through the high, rainforest canopy in the gloaming the night before we left.
This is all a longwinded way of saying that I really can’t say enough about this farm or this family.
And, oh yeah, Steve Franklin, of Beaneology in Atlanta, and one of Mausi’s sons-in-law, and I sample roasted some of this year’s coffee. And I can’t say enough about the lemony, clean round taste of that either.
What I can say is that it won’t take me another decade to get back.
– Robbie Roberts