Coffee, Family, and Community in Central Nicaragua
Tucked away in a barrio in Esteli, Nicaragua, on the edge of a dry stream bed, is the Beneficio Centro America. It’s a rambling, homely place, with the delicious aroma of freshly ground coffee floating in the dusty air.
This family-owned coffee processing company is run by Abraham Enrique Castillo. Abraham is a gentle, inviting man, getting along in years, kind and easily understood. He’ll gaze at you over his glasses, welcome you to his shop, offer you a refresco or coffee, and show you around.
If you follow him through the building and out the back door, through the small farmyard of coffee plants and tall trees, lounging dogs and clucking chickens, you’ll come to an acre of concrete. Strewn with swaths of coffee beans—a patchwork quilt of green, gold, and brown—it’s here that Abraham and his crew begin the process by drying the beans in the sun.
Abraham steps onto the concrete and makes the rounds, from patch to patch. He stoops over to pick up a couple beans, crushing them between his fingers, testing whether 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 a batch that’s ready, he points them out to his assistants, who begin to rake and bag and carry them indoors.
Inside sit several machines; some are new, while others look like they’ve been around since before the revolution. Here they remove the coffee bean hulls, sort the beans by size, remove any defective beans or foreign matter (stones, twigs, pinto beans) by hand, roast and mill the coffee, then bag the grounds.
Like most small businesses in Nicaragua, the place of business is also the family home. By midafternoon, everyone is hot, sweating, and caked in dust. Everyone is 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; neighbors and cousins and customers come and go. The space is dim and dusty, stacked with bags of coffee and beans, littered with wooden seats and sorting bins and lounging dogs, and filled with several generations of memories—and the sweet smell of freshly ground Nicaraguan coffee.
Sadly, Abraham is no longer present among the dust and bustle. Just 8 months after my time in Nicaragua, he passed away at 74 years of age. His legacy as a firefighter, Lion, businessman, radio aficionado, husband of 48 years, father, grandfather, and coffee lover will be sorely missed in his lifelong home of Esteli.