Nicaraguan coffee growers are preserving ecosystems that nurture banana trees, sloths, and a new breed of tourists
The mist was clearing, revealing forested hilltops that mark the edge of a protected national forest in Nicaragua’s northern highlands. With a trio of toucans in a tall tree looking down their long, green banana beaks at us, I walked with Flora Montenegro, a coffee farmer, as she inspected her crop. Montenegro is always smiling. Her black hair flows in a bushy ponytail from under her baseball cap. She is descended from the German settlers who first brought coffee to this region, and her blue eyes scanned the scene around us: coffee and more coffee, shade trees protecting it from the sun, and above us the verdant forest. I’ve been drinking coffee for years. I love the way a warming mug of the stuff marks my daily transition to wakefulness. But I knew there was more to my morning jolt than just caffeine. I had come to the mountains of Nicaragua to peer into coffee’s murky depths.
I’m not alone. At its most precious, coffee is becoming like wine: attracting connoisseurs so obsessed with terroir that they adjust their travels accordingly, eager to experience the rustic–and incredibly warm–hospitality of small coffee farms. As I discovered, Central American growers are increasingly eager to accommodate.