A couple of weeks ago, when Halfwit participated in the Epic Coffee Exchange of 2013 as my contribution, they also sent me home with a bag of their first Nicaraguan offering.
We’re really going deep here at the Table lately, trying out regions that are notoriously sub-par (Bolivia, Mexico, and Panama all come to mind), but being pleasantly surprised every time. For me, personally, as is well-documented here, another one of those regions that I find “notoriously sub-par” is Nicaragua.
Many roasters have attempted to sway my opinion of this region over the past couple years (my goodness, has it really been that long?), and some have come very close (Bluebeard and Passion House come to mind), but none have really provided me with that one Nicaraguan coffee that really pushed me into the believer realm.
Will today be the day…?
Welcome to my Table, here in the corner of this cafe. Today we’re a sipping a cup of Nicaragua Los Congos, from Halfwit Coffee Roasters in Chicago, Illinois. Feel free to pull up a chair.
This Nicaragua comes to us from the Paguaga family’s Los Congos farm in San Jose, San Fernando, in northern Nicaragua, just south of the Honduran border. Coffees from this region (as opposed to Matagalpa/Jinotega) have, for the most part, proved to be superior in the cup due to the higher altitude. On the other side of the mountain, in Honduran soil, is the town of El Paraiso, which produces some of the best coffee in Honduras.
Three generations of the Paguaga family participate in all aspects of coffee production, from harvesting to milling to exporting. The patriarch, 86-year-old Rene Paguaga, started working in coffee at the age of 16 until the Nicaraguan revolution forced him and most of his family to leave the country for almost 20 years. Rene came back in 1997 after the government returned his beneficio (mill), St. Lucila, to him. He immediately started to rebuild, and his family bought farms around the Dipilto region, including Los Congos.
The farm, which tops out at around 1550 meters, produces some of the best Pacamara variety coffee we’ve tasted. The coffee is picked, depulped, and then processed in the traditional washed manner. The coffee is then moved down the mountain to finish drying at Rene’s own St. Lucila.
Jose Rene planted about 32 hectares of Pacamara (70%) and Caturra in Los Congos. This is a bit of a rarity for Nicaragua, because there really isn’t much Pacamara trees planted in the country and probably no other plantation with a production of this size! So why Pacamara? A friend of Jose Rene suggested he use Pacamara due to its productivity and hardiness so he got seeds from El Salvador and has been enjoying the results ever since.
Let’s see for ourselves if Rene’s commitment to this cultivar has paid off.
Origins: San Jose, San Fernando, Nueva Segovia, Nicaragua
Farm: Los Congos
Elevation: 1300 – 1550 meters above sea level
Process: fully washed, patio dried
The aroma of the Nicaragua Los Congos is complex. It’s herbaceous; it’s savory, with notes of caramel and buttered crust; and it’s tropically fruity with a cavalcade of citrus, berries, and cotton candy
The flavor immediately post-brew is certainly unique. It’s light and crisp, savory and citric, juicy and creamy, all at once. It has a smooth vanilla and caramel mouthfeel that slips and slides over the palate carrying with it light hints of macadamia or pistachio. It’s just starting to cool off—just a little bit—and I’m already getting a tart, juicy red ruby grapefruit acidity (with a spoonful of white sugar lightly dusted on) flying in over the top, swirling around the roof of the mouth, crashing into the sides of the cheeks, polishing the front of the teeth, and leaving behind a sparkling, clean, fresh aftertaste that lingers for a few moments.
The flavor is intensely tropical and acidic with notes of lime, tangerine, lemon, mango, cherry, star fruit, strawberry, and blackberry.
Closer to room temperature, the cup’s intensity backs off quite a bit; I, for one, am glad because this coffee has been super flavorful, super bright, and super lively. My palate could use a rest. The effervescence of the tropical fruits and ruby red grapefruit has calmed down, letting that soothing vanilla and salted caramel take creaminess take center stage and crusty, savory, delicious pecan pie.
Light body; creamy mouthfeel; grapefruit acidity; clean finish.
the bottom line:
The Nicaragua Los Congos, from Halfwit Coffee Roasters, definitely provides a unique experience—particularly immediately post-brew. There were an awful lot of flavors happening at that point in the cup, and that could have led to an overwhelming coffee, but it didn’t. It was just the right amount of crazy.
Halfwit writes on their site:
We asked our resident Coffee Educator for three words that describe Los Congos. His response? “Awesome, Awesome, Smooth.”
Yeah—that seems about right. This really is an awesome coffee—one that will challenge your palate, but won’t overload it or… break it.
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