Located in the highlands of Nicaragua, between the cities of Matagalpa and Jinotega, Selva Negra leads the way when it comes to sustainable coffee production.
The beginnings of Selva Negra stretch back to 1891, when German immigrants settled in the area. They recognized the potential of the land so planted coffee on what they named La Hammonia farm. More than three quarters of a century later, the farm was sold in 1974 to the current owners, Eddy and Mausi Kühl. Both descendants of German farmers, the Kühls refurbished the La Hammonia farm and made it totally diversified and sustainable in less than a decade. They have preserved a third of the property–renamed Selva Negra Ecolodge–as virgin forest, another third as shade sustainable coffee forest, and the last third as intensive rotational pastures for cattle and organic farming. The Kühls also built a hotel and complex of cabins for eco-tourists.
Over the last 30 years, alternative sources of production have been developed, whether for in-house consumption or income generation. These include organic meat and milk products (including cheese, sausages, eggs, etc.) as well as vegetables and fruit crops.Environmental projects are carried out each year always seeking for new, better, and more efficient systems. Some of these projects include having earth tubs decontaminate coffee wastewater, improved systems for treating sewage, reforestation, methane gas production, microorganism production to improve soil quality, etc.
For all of their hard work and dedication, Selva Negra won the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) Sustainability Award in both 2007 and 2008, the Sempervirens Award from the Environmental Protection Information Center, and has received many other sustainability accolades.
Stockton Graham coffee roster Chris Bennett was able to visit Selva Negra in January on a tour with a small group of other coffee industry professionals. He shared a few thoughts about his experiences:
“My first impression was that it was beautiful. The ecolodge part that helped sustain the whole business in general was beautiful but they do an amazing job of making everything look nice. They have a lake, beautiful orchids everywhere, banana trees and orange trees. There are some coffee trees grown close to the lodge but the main lots are a walk away. Coffee isn’t the only crop; they had a lot of sheltered growing areas for all the food they produced on the farm for the hotel as well as the workers.
Chris Bennett tries his hand at coffee picking.
“It’s a big property so they drove us around to different areas where people were picking the coffee. They let us pick coffee cherries for about an hour but we were all really bad at it. Then they had someone come show us how to do it properly and he was much faster. It’s definitely hard work.
“The sustainable coffee operation was amazing. I want to say they estimate four million coffee plants on the property, grown in the shade of larger trees. They also had a couple of greenhouses where they showed us the seedlings and small plants that they were getting ready to plant for the next season. Selva Negra wasn’t the only coffee plantation in that part of Nicaragua; when we were driving down the main road, towards Managua, we would see these massive farms and mills with coffee laid out on tarps to dry.
“I’d never been to an origin country before so it was an overall awesome experience. I’d love to go back.”
If you’re not familiar with the coffee of Selva Negra, call 800-835-5943 to find out more or email email@example.com.
The best part of working at a coffee roastery is the morning. As you walk in, the aroma alone warms you. There’s no monotony in the ritual either, as there’s always something new in the roaster.
This week we’re working with Selva Negra, our coffee from Nicaragua. This beloved coffee has been away from us for almost a year, but it’s back and better than ever. We slipped some away from Friday’s roast to do a little sampling.
So what makes our Selva Negra so special? Here’s the lowdown:
1. Selva Negra tastes great
Coffee from Selva Negra is mostly the Arabica Bourbon varietal, mixed with some Caturra. The Bourbon varietal, named after the island of Bourbon where it was first cultivated, is fragile and doesn’t produce as many cherries as other varietals; but the coffee it does produce is sweet, lush and complex.
Caturra is a mutation of Bourbon discovered in Brazil. It is distinguished by its bright acidity and low-to-medium body. With less sweetness than its parent, Bourbon, the addition of the Caturra bean helps create a more balanced cup when brewed.
“Selva Negra produces a cup that balances a mild tanginess with a toasty sweetness,” said Brandon Riggs, head roastmaster for Stockton Graham & Co. in Raleigh, NC. “Its bright acidity gives way to a softly sweet yet brisk flavor.”
Riggs points to the coffee’s medium body and smooth mouth feel, a combination that is familiar to the American palate. “Our Selva Negra is a very accessible coffee with flavors of bright summer fruit and sweet milk chocolate. The sweet chocolate carries into a delicate finish.”
To bring out these flavors, we recommend brewing Selva Negra using a Bee House Ceramic Coffee Dripper. Use it with the Melitta #4 filter.
Water temperature between 195-205F
16:1 (grams) water to coffee ratio
Drip Grind (Medium Grind)
30 second bloom
3 minute brew time
Tasting Notes: Creamy milk chocolate with a nutty pairing met with a bright acidity. For those who like a stronger body, this versatile coffee also does well with a Chemex or V60 and a finer grind.
2. Selva Negra is truly sustainable
When I first started researching the Selva Negra coffee, which is shade grown, I was immediately immersed in its history.
Selva Negra is grown on La Hammonia, a 1500-acre farm located in the Isabelia Sierra region of Matagalpa Nicaragua. The estate is run by Mausi Hayn Kühl and Eddy Kühl, who are decedents of the Bösche family from Germany who settled the land in the late 1800s.
The Kühl-Hayn family is so committed to ecological agriculture that it has preserved over 300 acres of the estate that features a vast virgin rain forest. The land also includes a mountain resort, howler monkeys, organic gardens, cattle and hiking trails. It is in this idyllic environment that Selva Negra coffee is grown, harvested, processed and dried.
Matriarch of the Selva Negra family, Mausi Kühl has devoted her life to innovative and sustainable practices, employee empowerment, and improving the quality of life for the people who work the coffee farms and process the coffee.
As a result, the La Hammonia farm on the Selva Negra estate is truly sustainable. Multiple reuse and conservation efforts make it a model coffee farm where nothing is wasted and every waste product is used to a benefit.
“Selva Negra is pioneering new ways to minimize the use of industrial pesticides and herbicides,” Mausi proudly reports. “For example, we mulch the rows between the coffee trees with coffee husks and algae from the estate ponds to prevent weeds from taking root.
To repel pests we spray our plants, trees and veggies with tea-like solutions fortified by natural repellents which we grow ourselves, such as the seeds and leaves of the neem tree, madero, chili and garlic.”
Refuse from the community is composed and used as fertilizer for not only the coffee farm but for vast plots of corn, beans, tomatoes, onions and avocados that grow on the estate to feed the workers and their families. “We have so many California earthworms that we actually beg for trash because we don’t have enough to feed them with,” said daughter Heddy Kühl, who imports Selva Negra to the United States through her Atlanta-based store JavaVino.
“My mom is the dreamer behind Selva Negra,” Heddy says. “She’s the one that comes up with all the ideas. My father is an engineer, and together they host scientists, interns, and students. They’re the ones that implement and execute the designs my dad creates based off my mom’s ideas.”
This partnership helps support the local ecosystem, as well as provides means for the 200 employees who work there year round. During harvest season, that number can raise anywhere from 600 to 700 workers. Selva Negra not only feeds and houses the workers, but also provides medical care and schooling for the community.
“We offer school up until middle school, and after that, kids will either move on to a trade, or technical, school on campus,” Heddy Kühl said. “Otherwise, if they want to continue with school and have the grades to cut it, Selva Negra will sponsor them to go to the private high school in Matagalpa. They’ll even sponsor you through college.”
Take a visual tour of the coffee estate by clicking below.
3. Selva Negra is part of the Stockton Graham family
Stockton Graham & Co. has developed a strong personal relationship with the Kühls over the years. Our roasters and staff members have spent time at Selva Negra, and we are one of only two roasters in North Carolina with access to beans from the La Hammonia farm.
“When Heddy and her husband Steve opened their coffee shop, JavaVino, they toured the southeast region to talk to small roasters about buying Selva Negra,” said Stockton Graham roastmaster Brandon Riggs said. “We tasted the coffee and took a deep dive into their farming, processing and drying practices before we agreed to supply the coffee. Needless to say, we were very impressed.”
In addition to visiting the estate, Stockton Graham & Co. has provided textbooks and computers to Selva Negra schools. “As responsible roasters, we are actively involved in maintaining the quality of the coffee that we purchase, which includes making positive contributions to coffee-producing communities.”
If this is something you’re looking to be a part of, better buy the coffee soon because, as Heddy told me, what’s special about this crop is that there isn’t much of it. The Roya Fungus, a coffee rust, continues to hurt coffee production in South and Central America.
“The Roya is a coffee plague that’s hit Central America really hard so we’ve lost a large part of our crop,” she said. “Unfortunately, you have to pull up and dig out the trees that are infected.”
It’s this transparency, and these stories, that has really set apart the Selva Negra coffee and made our partnership with them meaningful. There’s still more to know and we encourage you, if you can, to take a trip out there or support them in any way.
To order Selva Negra coffee, call a Customer Care Associate at 800 835 5943 today.
The Selva Negra in Nicaragua does things differently.
Nestled high in a mountainous region blanketed in rainforests, Selva Negra is well over 100 years old. Northeast of Volcan Momotombo, the farm is part of a larger resort that is entirely self-sustaining.
The resort provides ecolodging and includes: animal reserves, restaurants, eco-tourism and a newer wind farming initiative. The local Nicaraguans who work on the farm are providedwith housing, healthcare, schools for their children and scholarship opportunities. Selva Negra has earned international recognition for their sustainable efforts.
The estate is committed to economic, social and environmental sustainability through biodiversity conservation, reducing their carbon footprint and using alternative energy. In addition to these efforts, the estate recycles and reuses whenever possible and teaches other farms in the area how to be more sustainable.
Eddy and Mausi Kühl operate the estate with the spirit of Nicaragua in mind. Born and raised in the mountains of Matagalpa, Eddy is a leading historian of the region and country. He has authored the definitive history of coffee in Nicaragua and is passionate about preserving native culture. Mausi has devoted her life to producing one of the best-tasting coffees in the world through innovative and sustainable practices. She is continually improving the estate’s environmental practices by learning and exchanging new ways to save natural resources.
While many coffee farms in Nicaragua utilize clear cutting techniques, Selva Negra farmers follow strict standards of shade growing; leaving the rainforest and Natural habitats intact. The award-winning farm produces delicious Rainforest Alliance Certified coffee, which is available through Stockton Graham & Co.
The coffee is wet processed, highlighting a caramel and honey flavor which is balanced by moderate acidity and a full, creamy body. Find out more about this farm here.
To order this flavorful, sustainably produced coffee, give us a call at 800.835.5943.