Back in January 2016, whilst on a sourcing trip in Nicaragua, I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Ben Weiner from Gold Mountain Coffee Growers. After cupping at his HQ, we spent the morning visiting partner producers in the mountains of Jinotega and witnessing the day’s harvest at Miraflor, the farm of Manuel Centeno and his wife Yesenia. As well as extra staff overseeing the process, pickers are issued with coloured bracelets that match the colour of perfectly ripe coffee to ensure that only the best cherries are collected. After hand sorting through some freshly picked pacamara, which had been transported by donkey from the fields, the full sacks of ripe cherry were carefully loaded onto the back of Ben’s pickup and we began the long drive back down to the mill in Matagalpa. Gold Mountain will either purchase whole, freshly picked cherry for natural or honey processing, or washed parchment, which is ready to be dried at the mill where there is more space available and less humidity.
Sweet donkeys transporting even sweeter coffee
Upon arrival at the mill we had a short wait whilst the paperwork was being completed which gave Ben a chance to show me the raised beds which he had been building. These are especially good for drying naturals as they allow air to pass beneath the cherry. As long as the cherry is spread quite thinly, the extra airflow will help to reduce the chance of fermentation. Once the paperwork was complete I got my hands dirty (literally) helping to spread out on the drying tables what would become a super fruity natural microlot. From our discussion, I got the feeling that the Mill were somewhat ambivalent towards Ben’s extremely thorough approach to processing as it far exceeds their normal customer’s requirements. His fastidious approach is not just good for the cup quality but the extra work involved means employment for more people and so has real social impact as well. When it comes to milling, Ben employs around 80 women to help remove defects on conveyor belts under UV lights which help to identify any underripe beans.
The sun was beginning to set, and not wanting to waste any time we headed back up the mountain range between Matagalpa and Jinotega to visit Ben’s own farm, Finca Idealista. Wanting to go way beyond the sustainability requirements of certifications such as Rainforest Alliance, they have built sophisticated wastewater treatment utilising volcanic rock and have also purchased a rainforest in order to protect endangered species. After inspecting the well maintained washing facilities we had a walk around the garden where as many varietals as they can access seeds for are being cultivated. It was getting quite dark by this point, unfortunately, so I didn’t get to see either the rainforest or the coffee plantation but I’m hoping to spend some extra time there this coming season.
Fast forward to May 2017 and we receive word that Ben and his wife Davinia are visiting the UK and we jumped at the chance to host a cupping at our sister coffee shop, Bond St., in Brighton. Ben talked us through the basics of what Gold Mountain do, from coffee processing and connecting producers with international markets they would otherwise be unable to access, to social projects such as free computer lessons for girls and lines of credit in order to improve living conditions and facilities.
The night was rounded off with a cupping of 14 lots from this year’s harvest. Firm favourites on the table were a honey processed microlot from Ben’s own farm which was packed full of tropical fruit flavours, a couple of very clean tasting naturals and some superbly juicy, sweet, washed microlots. Keep your eyes peeled for these arriving later this year!