Tales from abroad: Miraflor

Nestled within the scenic countryside of Nicaragua, a rustic coffee industry flourishes. (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil) Nestled within the scenic countryside of Nicaragua, a rustic coffee industry flourishes. (credit: Courtesy of Manasi Patil)

How many cups of coffee do you drink per semester?

Coffee is a significant part of not only our lives, but also the lives of Nicaraguans — in a very different way, of course. We went on a unique study abroad experience with our floor-mates as a part of the Global Studies Program during the spring break of our first year. Instead of the coffee bean traveling to us, we got to travel to the coffee bean, and since we had the time of our lives there, we want to give you a taste of the flavor of Nicaragua.

Coffee is one of the prime exports of and the means of livelihood in Nicaragua. We not only witnessed this, but also immersed ourselves in the Nicaraguan way of life for a few days. Miraflor is a small village in the north of Nicaragua where we stayed with local families, learning all about their lives and about coffee, which is their life.

The houses in Miraflor were very humble, with a kitchen, a living room, and a guest room. There was no sewage system. To us, this meant that we had to walk for about a hundred meters before we could use the facilities. During the day, this wasn’t too bad — but imagine taking the walk when it is pitch black outside. Yes, it was pitch black, because electricity isn’t supplied to this community. They charged the one light in the house using solar power during the day, and because our hosts were exceedingly hospitable, this light was mounted in the guest rooms during our stay.

That wasn’t the only exception they made for us. There’s nothing like a good meal at the end of a hard day’s work, and our meals in Miraflor were no exception. Naturally, due to their limited means, their daily meals weren’t very elaborate. And although we didn’t work half as hard as our host parents did, we did get a delicious reward for it. Our host mom prepared some fresh tortillas, soup, some plantains, dessert, and of course gallo pinto. Gallo pinto is the staple food of Nicaragua and is a delectable, yet simple, dish of rice and beans. We weren’t tired of it even after eating it for every meal for more than a week.

What touched us most were the people of Nicaragua. Their spirit was inspiring. They were always eager to learn about new things, to cooperate and help each other, and they had a very strong sense of community.

During one of our dinners, our host dad told us that he likes to attend the training sessions that the agricultural university, located four to five hours of travel away, organizes so that he can learn new practices like vermi-compost, the use of solar panels, etc., and does so whenever he can. He proudly gave us a tour of his backyard, explaining in detail how he applies these newly learned organic and eco-friendly practices. Also, even though he and his wife were illiterate and they needed more hands for farm work, they sent all their children to school and college. Now, their children not only have jobs, but also travel internationally. Eventually, our host parents learned to read and write Spanish from their own children. This attitude is rare to come by and impossible to forget.
Over the course of the week, we learned about how coffee is grown and how it is dried, processed, and packaged. We toured the Las Segovias Coffee Mill of PRODECOOP, a cooperative that helps the farmers of Miraflor sell their coffee. This is where we participated in a coffee-cupping session, in which coffee was tasted and smelled for richness, quality, and consistency.

Coffee-cupping is a very specific procedure in which there are three samples of each coffee. More than 10 such different coffees are graded at one time. First one smells all the samples, then adds some hot water to them, carefully sucking it to splash it at the back of the mouth for a burst of taste before spitting it out. What is remarkable is that the professionals grade about 300 different coffees per day — and we thought we drank a lot of coffee.

Cooperatives seem to be commonplace in this country, which relatively recently ended a war. We observed that they always try to work together to help themselves, each other, and the community as a whole. Actually, that is how the coffee farmers can afford to even have their own farmland. Every individual farmer in a cooperative owns a small piece of land. However, in order to be certified as organic or fair and free trade zones, they need to have a minimum area of land, which an individual farmer cannot afford. Hence, they register it under one cooperative and work on each other’s lands to get maximum yield for the cooperative. In Nicaragua, we witnessed that unity is strength.

Our trip to Nicaragua helped us reach out to a bigger world, but it also brought us closer to each other. Now every cup of coffee reminds me of our trip to Nicaragua, about what we learned and experienced there.

Every coffee bean has a story to tell, if you are willing to taste it.