Tucked away in a barrio in Esteli, Nicaragua, on the edge of a dry, dusty stream bed, is the family-owned coffee processing company of Abraham Enrique Castillo, Beneficio Centro America.
It’s not a large facility, although at one time it was twice its current size, before their land was seized and inhabited by others. Nor is it a high-tech operation. But it is a comfortable, homely place, with the delicious aroma of freshly roasted and ground coffee in the air.
Abraham is a gentle, inviting gentleman, getting along in years, but kind and slow-speaking, and easily understood. He’ll welcome you to his shop, invite you in, and show you around.
If you follow him through the building and out the back door, through a small farmyard of coffee plants and tall trees, inhabited by lounging dogs and clucking chickens, you’ll come to an acre of concrete, strewn with swaths of coffee beans. It is here that Abraham and his team dry the coffee beans in the sun, until they are ready to be roasted or packaged, depending on the next step in their journey. The patchwork quilt of coffee varies from green to brown to yellow, depending on whether they’re drying whole beans (ripe or green), or the golden-to-light-green hulled beans.
Abraham steps onto the concrete and makes the rounds, patch to patch, stooping over to slowly to pick up a couple beans, crushing them between his fingers, testing whether or not they’re ready to be brought inside. Occasionally he’ll gaze up at the clouds in the sky, and mumble about whether it’s going to rain today or not. When he finds beans that are ready, he points them out to his assistants, and they begin to rake and bag them and bring them indoors.
Inside, they have several machines, some newer, some that look like they’ve been around since the revolution. With these machines they remove the hulls, sort the beans by size, sort by hand any defective beans or foreign matter (stones, pinto beans, twigs), roast and mill the coffee, and then bag the grounds by hand. In one corner you may see Abran’s wife, Senora Castillo, sitting at an ancient Singer sewing machine, making sackcloth bags for the coffee.
Like most smaller businesses in Nicaragua, the place of business also serves as the family home. By midafternoon, everyone is ready for a break, and we are invited into the dim, low-ceilinged dining room to share in a cup of coffee, served in locally hand-crafted mugs, accompanied by sweet-tangy cookies called rosquillas.
The beneficio is a family affair, dim and dusty, stacked with bags of coffee, littered with wooden seats and sorting bins, filled with several generations of memories, and the sweet smell of freshly ground Nicaraguan coffee.