The harvest has begun! After one full year of constant training, technical assistance, and hard work on the coffee farms, the moment has finally arrived. The coffee harvest is like a festival celebrated each year on the farms. Many families from other departments, cities and remote parts of the country come together for only one purpose: to pick the coffee harvest of Nicaragua. As a result of two years of work with the producers, the traditional way of picking coffee has been replaced with a “new technique”: picking cherries only when they are completely ripe. We’re happy to see that producers are constantly improving at their steps in the process.
At Beneficio La Estrella, we believe proper drying is fundamental to maintain the quality that producers have worked so hard to achieve throughout the year; we take our responsibility to protect this precious product very seriously. To cover the drying needs of the producers we work with, last year we constructed 6,000 square meters of raised drying beds which are covered with 80% shade. After last year’s experience, for this new harvest we decided to create a special area to pre-dry the coffee, building 1,800 square meters of new structure that would provide zero sunlight, consistently low temperatures and great airflow.
This new pre-drying structure has a wood frame with a zinc roof, creating total shade and temperatures that vary between 18°- 26°Celsius (65°-80° Fahrenheit) thanks to constant airflow. The purpose of this area is to better pre-dry all the lots received at Beneficio La Estrella, removing the excess moisture that the bean acquired during the washing process as naturally as possible. In order to maximize control of the drying process, La Estrella requires all coffee to be delivered in a completely undried state.
Traditionally, producers dry their coffee on top of black plastic or concrete patios, a process that considerably deteriorates the quality of the parchment. When using these methods and materials, temperatures can reach up to 54° Celsius (130° Fahrenheit), causing extreme dehydration of the bean and damaging the parchment through exposure to direct sunlight and contact with hot surfaces. These traditional practices can also cause the beans to dry unevenly and develop irreversible damage such as mold, over-fermentation, crystallized beans, etc.
Our new pre-drying structure addresses these concerns. When the coffee is visually wet, it is kept in complete shade until it reaches 30-35% humidity, commonly known in Nicaragua as Arabe Pergamino Oreado (APO). The purpose of this initial drying stage is to avoid the parchment from breaking due to excessive heat, removing excess water naturally with air, thereby protecting the seed inside. Once the pre-drying stage is complete, the coffee is sent to raised drying beds with 80% shade.
The coffee is dried on these raised, shaded beds until it reaches 10.5% humidity and between 0.50 and 0.55 water activity. These parameters can be achieved relatively easy if the coffee is dried in a controlled environment like the one we have built at La Estrella. The average drying time at La Estrella is between 12 and 15 days. Once proper humidity and water activity levels have been reached, parchment coffee is stored in GrainPro bags until it is dry milled. The end result of this attention to detail will be increased longevity, as well as better physical and cup quality, bringing a higher return for coffee producers and roasters.
We at Virmax Nicaragua are committed to providing the best Nicaraguan coffees to our customers. We are constantly learning and innovating to improve our processes, with the aim of delivering the most delicious Nicaraguan coffee to the most demanding coffee connoisseurs in the world.
Virmax Nicaragua has been working with specialty coffee producers in the Nueva Segovia and Jinotega departments of Nicaragua since 2013. We work with coffee producers in Dipilto, La Union, Cerro de la Explosion, San Jose, Nubarrones, El Limon in Nueva Segovia and Las Cuchillas in Jinotega. Virmax Nicaragua S.A. is part of the Caravela Coffee Group.