If you’re looking for a great coffee tour in Matagalpa, The Creation of Pinolillo and Mocha tour by Matagalpa Tours is the perfect option. Visit a local chocolate factory, learn to make the traditional drink Pinolillo and tour a beautiful family-run coffee plantation. Explore the world of coffee and chocolate and get a behind-the-scenes look at small-scale production of two of Nicaragua’s most important crops.
Our first stop was a chocolate factory to learn about the rich history of chocolate production in Nicaragua and to see how just two women could turn a bitter bean into deliciously sweet chocolate bar.
We were picked up at our hotel by our guide Marlon and driver Eduardo and made the short drive out to the Castillo del Cacao, the Cocoa Castle. Chocolate plays a large role in the history of Nicaragua and was even considered the Nica version of ambrosia, the food of the Gods. Only the most elite were allowed to eat it, with a penalty of death for greedy chocoholics who disobeyed. It was so valuable that it was even used as currency, and there were even counterfeit beans on the black market.
Castillo del Cacao was started in 2004 by a Dutch man named Harm van Oudenhove, who moved to Nicaragua with his family after falling in love with the country. But, while he embraced the adventure of moving to a different country, there was one bit of home he just couldn’t live without…chocolate. And not just any chocolate, the good stuff he had grown accustomed to back in the Netherlands. After seeing an untapped potential in northern Nicaragua, he began experimenting with chocolate recipes at home. After a few less than desirable batches, he struck gold. Now, a decade later, he produces a line of quality chocolate that is becoming a household name throughout the country.
Most chocolate you find in Europe and North America comes from countries like Nicaragua, with only the lowest quality beans left behind for consumption by the local population. Castillo del Cacao wants to change that by selling their world class chocolates in supermarkets around the country.
The beautiful castle serves as a museum and shrine to all things chocolate, but also the factory where the chocolate is made. They buy organic beans from a nearby farm and roast them in a large machine at the back of the house. Two women are in charge of the chocolate-making process from roasting to grinding, pouring to hand-packaging. They are meticulous in their work and the result is a chocolate that would bring tears to Willy Wanka’s eyes.
After the tour, and way too much chocolate tasting, we got back into the van for the scenic 45-minute drive to the rural community of La Corona.
Here we would learn how to make Pinolillo, the delectable chocolate and corn drink enjoyed in Nicaragua for centuries. Marlon introduced us to Maura, the inspiring 17 year old daughter of the coffee plantation owner and our guide for the rest of the tour. A bright and smiling girl, her professionalism and knowledgeability was truly impressive.
Pinolillo is made by toasting cocao beans and corn, and then grinding them into a powder along with cinnamon, black pepper and clove. The drink is then mixed with milk or water and enjoyed with or after meals.
Our pinolillo was enjoyed after a delicious meal prepared by Maura and her family.
After lunch, we wound our way through the family’s coffee plantation following the intricate process that turns a small berry into the world’s most beloved beverage.
Maura explained that her parents moved from the drier and more arid southern part of the Matagalpa region to the north in search of a better life. They started out with a small plot of land and a little plastic hut. Today, Guayabo Farm spreads over 7 hectares. Like many farmers in the region, they work with the Fair Trade system to ensure they get a fair price for their product. But, word of their quality beans has spread all the way to the Czech Republic where Czech coffee chain, Mama Coffee, has offered to buy all of their next harvest directly from the farm. This will increase their profit exponentially and allow them to buy more land and expand their business.
Guayabo farm got its name from the lone white Guayabo tree that was one of the few plants on the property when they bought it almost 20 years ago. This tall albino tree is the fruitless male counterpart to the Guayaba, or Guava, tree. They reforested the entire property in order to provide the shade required by the coffee plants, and we were astounded to find out that the lush forest we were walking in was only 20 years old!
They avoid pesticides when possible, instead using the toxic runoff created naturally when washing the fermented beans to treat most of the pests and diseases that attack their crop. The rest of the runoff is filtered before being used to water the crops. The crops are also watered with filtered lake water instead of chemically treated water to avoid harm to the crops and a chlorinated taste in the beans. When chemicals are necessary, they opt for eco-labeled varieties to minimize contamination of the plants and the land.
We followed the trail through the plantation, so lush it seemed more like a rainforest than a coffee plantation. We got to see every step of the growing process – from the outdoor nursery to the fermentation pit – with Maura’s expert commentary deepening our understanding and appreciation of the patience, passion and attention to detail that it takes to produce the perfect coffee bean.
The trip to this beautiful plantation and the chance to meet and learn from Maura and her family were undoubtedly the highlight of our day. And, knowing that a large portion of the tour money went to them made the experience all the more gratifying.
After a coffee break, featuring a freshly brewed cup of their homegrown coffee, and buying a pound of coffee to take home with us, we said our goodbyes to the family and head back to the city.
We finished off the day with an ice cold mocha shake in one of the country’s best cafes, Barista Coffee, buzzing from the day’s activities and the copious amounts of coffee we had consumed.
Read the post on Matagalpa Tours to find out more about this pioneer of the north and the many activities they offer.