All hail, the Queen of Coffee
From the northern reaches of Nicaragua in the mountainous region of San Juan del Rio Coco, Madriz, comes a coffee with a majestic taste and an equally royal handle. It’s called Reyna del Cafe, or “Queen of Coffee” in English.
And, for roaster Eric Shabsove from Mountain View Coffee in Toronto, it has an undeniably regal presence.
“Reyna del Cafe has an exciting caramel-y, buttery smell to it,” says Shabsove, who has curated the entire Headline Coffee collection. “As for taste, it has such a clean, citrus acidity with subtle butterscotch notes, and a silky smooth body. But, above all, I believe the acidity is actually perfect on this one.”
As always, getting such a flavourful bean is all about location, location, location. Shabsove counts the densely tropical forests of northern Nicaragua, where the Reyna del Cafe co-op is situated, among his favorite coffee-growing regions. “The reason I like this area is quite simple: it’s got a very unique microclimate up there.”
It's effectively an area that’s tailor-made for growing coffee. The most impactful characteristics of that microclimate are its rich volcanic soil and getting just the right amount of rain during the summer (hint: lots). The high elevations and cool, dry weather in the autumn allow for the shade-grown beans to mature slowly, which in turn creates a complex flavour profile unlike any other in Nicaragua.
The timing of Reyna del Cafe’s introduction to Headline Coffee members is no coincidence. In fact it couldn’t be better: The beans, harvested between December and February, are released right about now.
The proud growers
The Reyna del Cafe co-op is comprised of 128 members – both men and women – the majority of whom are small producers, working 3.5-hectare farms at most. Through the use of Fairtrade and Organic premiums Reyna del Cafe is able to provide workshops for their members, improve their milling services, and tap into new international markets. The co-op also has a robust sense of environmental stewardship; Madriz and the surrounding departments are recognized for having high bio-diversity and protected forests.
“Most of the farmers within the co-op are small scale producers, so these are very, very small farms. In fact there’s no real large producers,” says Shabsove. “These are farmers who take a great deal of pride in growing their crops, and a lot of care goes into what they're doing every single day.”
Shabsove says the co-op’s connection with Fairtrade has enabled the farmers to vastly improve their operations. “That means developing sustainable practices, and discovering how to grow coffee better, working within their environment, helping them finance projects,” he says. “Fairtrade is extremely important to co-ops in countries like Nicaragua, and even more so, as they are predominantly small farmers. Any form of assistance is greatly appreciated by them.”
Nicaragua: Sky’s the limit
Nicaragua is now considered an emerging coffee-producing nation. It’s already earned and attained a level of respect as a country that’s becoming increasingly better at growing coffees. Not long ago the up-and-coming countries were the likes of Costa Rica and Honduras. “Now Nicaragua is really dedicating a lot of their time and effort to growing great coffee.”
If there was a time when sampling Nicaraguan coffee didn’t exactly elicit great excitement among the expert tasters, Shabsove says that’s now a distant (and fading) memory. The emergence of quality beans like those from the little Reyna Del Cafe co-op is a perfectly tasteful example. “Nicaraguan was never quite as good as the Costa Ricans, the Guatemalans. But now it’s a totally different story.
“What makes me excited about Nicaraguan is that year after year it gets better and better, and every time I drink more and more,” says Shabsove. “So each year I'm excited to try the new crop to see how much better it gets.”