francisco noel zeledon - cima del cielo

Field report

Ocotal, 20/05/2017

A visit to Francisco Noel Zeledon was long overdue this entire harvest. I do not make the trip to San Juan de Río Coco often, but I had to meet this gentleman. Lot 101 was one of the first AAA coffees we cupped this harvest and has stood out on the cupping table ever since. Getting 86 points in Nicaragua is a very difficult task, more than 87 is outstanding. 

Francisco Noel Zeledon is a second generation coffee farmer and the owner of Finca Cima Del Cielo. The farm is a 30 minute uphill drive from San Juan de Río Coco, where Francisco lives. From his garage he also runs a basic supplies shop and when he's not on the farm he can be found on the porch chatting with other villagers. Most people in the town make a living because of coffee, over the last couple of months Francisco's success story has spread and the interest in specialty coffee has grown significantly. 

Coffee runs in Francisco's blood, he grew up on his father's coffee farm and would later work closely together to make the most out of the farm. Nevertheless, Francisco wanted to do something for himself, so he decided to make the switch the cattle. He moved to the next village, Telpenaca, and started a diary farm. Around this time Nicaragua's civil war broke out. In these mountains both soldiers and rebels patrolled. In a very airy and openhearted manner Francisco told me that his philosophy was very simple: ´´if someone comes to my farm and is hungry i will feed them´´. A noble way of thinking which he carries on with to this day. 

Diary farming was a good way to make a living, a man can easily be happy with plenty of queso, cuajada y tortillas. However, to be a good diary farmer you need to give your cows plenty of food and water. Fifteen years ago it stopped raining making it impossible maintain the diary farm. Coffee wasn't a very attractive business either with prices as low as $0.60 per pound. Nevertheless, when the opportunity arose to get back into coffee Francisco took it with both hands and traded his diary farm for 17 hectares of mountain of mixed coffee and virgin forests. 

From the highest part of the farm you can look down on the river valley, a vista which simply forces one to mumble 'wow'. You feel as if you were on top of the sky, or better said: 'Cima del Cielo'. Francisco started producing coffee in one of the toughest times in the history of coffee, but persevered until prices rose again. At some point the prices even rose to $3.00 per pound. With those profits the real work could begin. First of all the accommodations were improved, although most workers come walking from the community, some of them come from further away and stay at the farm for several days. Afterwards investments were made the wet milling equipment, basic drying beds and a relaxation area. Finally, Francisco invested in himself and attended a coffee seminar in Guatemala to learn more about quality production and cupping. For the future he would like to invest in a viewpoint at the top of the farm and work to attract tourism to this unspoiled area of Nicaragua. 

When asked about his outstanding quality in a mediocre coffee producing Francisco told me the following:

''To produce good quality a lot of extra work is needed, a lot of extra care for the coffee plants. For example, in cold zones likes theses mosses affect the plants, preventing them to breathe properly. Those need be removed by hand. For commercial coffees small details like those don't matter, but for specialty all those small details matters. I've got 10 hectares of coffee on very steep terrain, I can never do all that work by myself. So, to remove mosses, pick coffee, stump trees, clean the ground, chop banana trees, I need to hire people for all the work. I don't go around to farm to check every single coffee tree to see if they do a good job. I need to trust them. The most important thing here is to make sure these people are happy and comfortable. They can eat how much they want, they have good accommodations and we create a friendly atmosphere. Nobody tells them to go to work in the morning, but every morning they wake up and go to work. Taking good care of the people is the most important thing in a coffee farm.''

farm facts

Location

San Juan de Río Coco, Madrís

Altitude

1250 - 1350 meters above sea level

cultivars

Caturra, maragogype, catimor

age

15 years

Size

17. hectares, 10.5 cultivated, 7 virgin forest