Coffee was first discovered around 575 B.C. in Abysinia, now known as Ethiopia.
- Catholic missionaries and political refugees brought it from the Caribbean Islands to Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Mexico in the 1780’s, and Nicaragua by in the 1790’s.
- 1820´s. While visiting the city of Leon, an Englishman named Orlando Roberts wrote: Shortly after daybreak we had a half a pint of excellent chocolate or strong coffee with a slice of bread
- 1825. According to a report, Manuel Matus was the first person to plant coffee for commercial reasons. His plantations were on his farm La Ceiba, near Jinotepe.
- In 1837 the English Vice consul in Realejo, John Foster, reported to the British Crown that:
In Nicaragua coffee and cotton cultivation are having the attention of the Government.
1846. A report on the Departamento Oriental states that:
(Jinotepe) is known for the fertility of the terrain, for its climate and the abundance of landowners, being a numerous and rich people. The cultivation of coffee, which has produced such riches in Costa Rica, could be established in this town, where they have experimented with pleasing prospects. Registro Oficial, No. 60, p. 251, Leon, 14 marzo 1846.
- In 1849 the American Ambassador George E. Squier mentions in his book Nicaragua, its people: in lodgings you can get coffee, tortillas, and also get some fleas for free.
- 1849. German colonists made efforts to cultivate coffee with commercial aims in Bluefields, on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, but they didn’t succeed.
- Coffee export prices went down from 20 cents in 1875, to 9 cents dollar per pound in 1885.
- An Englishman named Arthur Vaughan, planted coffee in the Meseta de los Pueblos in 1888, and also established new pruning techniques called “Vaughan pruning”.
- By 1860´s coffee growers and exporters from the emerging Managua and Meseta de los Pueblos region made it possible to consider Managua as Nicaragua’s main city, rather than Leon or Granada.
- In 1848 the government tried to bring German immigrants to Matagalpa region but they were not succesful.
- In 1853 the Legislative Assembly’s declaration to promote immigration among others things declared that: “all those immigrants must renounce to their nationality, demonstrate good behavior, be laborious and catholic”. But it didn’t succeed either.
- In 1865 Louis Elster (1814-1916) arrived in Matagalpa from Hannover, with his wife Katharina Braun (1830-1886) from the Black Forest in Germany, searching for gold.
- Elster made several trips Managua to sell gold nuggets, where he used to buy groceries for his farm. In one on those trips he bought coffee beans and took them to his wife in Matagalpa who planted them in their farm La Lima.
- Their first coffee harvest in Matagalpa may have been in 1868.
- In 1877 President Pedro J. Chamorro approved decrees to help increase coffee cultivation in northern Nicaragua and promote immigration.
- In 1890 Nicaragua exported coffee valued $178,818 pesos fuertes (same value as US dollars).
The Pioneers (1852-1899)
- The story in the Matagalpa area is that Katharina Braun Elster planted the first beans in 1854 in the horticulture garden of their farm La Lima, near San Ramon. After the harvest they noticed that the coffee beans from the Matagalpa highlands were bigger and more aromatic than those harvested in the farms on Nicaragua’s Pacific range.
- Wilhelm Jericho (1838-1896) founded the farms Las Lajas and La Rosa de Jericho. Jericho was the first person to plant and harvest coffee in commercial amounts in northern Nicaragua.
- In 1891, the German immigrant Otto Kühl built the first coffee pulper for Elster. It was a custom-made hand operated machine with wood cylinders to depulp ripe coffee beans. A historical photograph of this machine is in the Museum of Coffee in Matagalpa. This was the beginning of the coffee processing method known as: “Café lavado de Matagalpa” (Matagalpa Washed Coffee).
- In farms located on the Pacific range of Nicaragua, coffee growers used less water to wash their coffee due to water scarcity and their lands were lower in altitude than Matagalpa´s. Their coffee, which was a bit different, was known as “Nicaragua Coffee”.
The first coffee pulper.
- Coffee growers from the Pacific range of Nicaragua transported their coffee to the port of Corinto by the railroad and steam boat services in Managua lake, both established in 1878.
- However, coffee growers from northern Nicaragua transported their green coffee on mules from the processing facilities in Matagalpa to the city of Leon, where coffee continued the journey to the port by train.
- In 1903 they formed the “Matagalpa Transportation Company”. They imported a steam locomotive that ran on dirt road and did not have rails which people called “Terrocarril”. It was probably unique in the world.
- That was a temporary solution that lasted only from 1903 to 1905, when the heavy structure finally collapsed on those muddy roads.
- However, Matagalpa Washed Coffee obtained high prices in the international market for its quality. It compensated to the expensive transportation costs from the mountains of northern Nicaragua to the Pacific port of Corinto.
Oh, coffee flower!
This poem was written in Spanish by poet Father Angel Martínez Baigori, S.J.
while retired in the mountains of Matagalpa, 1976:
Flor del Café, flor del Café, todo el año te esperé y solo un día te gocé
Translated to English by Cody Anderson Kuhl:
Coffee flower, coffee flower
For a year I long to see you,
For a day will I enjoy you.