La Familia Rivas
Chatting with the Rivas Family over a cup of coffee is like experiencing a little piece of Nicaraguan coffee history. The story of this 4th generation farming family includes civil wars, hurricanes, near-migrations to the US, plagues that took out nearly all of their coffee trees. They’ll also tell you about fond early memories amongst the coffee trees, trailing after their parents and grandparents filling baskets full of cherries, and finishing each day sipping coffee together around their kitchen table.
More than a window to the past, our conversation with the Rivas family creates a doorway to the future of coffee. They test innovative farming practices to protect against climate change and ensure the highest degree of quality, all while remaining organic and GMO-free. The Rivas family captures the perfect balance of tradition and transformation—and it’s a story we’re excited to have them share with you in their words.
Heberto: Our coffee-growing tradition began many years ago.
Elvia: My parents planted the first coffee farm in San Juan Rio de Coco. They taught me about coffee, yes, but more importantly they taught me about the hard work it takes to build a successful coffee farm. My father told my siblings and I that whoever brings home firewood gets to eat dinner—if you don’t bring firewood, you don’t eat. Needless to say, we all brought home firewood.
Heberto: When we married, we started planning our farm right away. But the Revolution put our plans on hold as the countryside turned into a battlefield. Our first farm was in the heart of the conflict zone; after it burned down, we negotiated with the state to exchange our parcel for a piece of land that was in a slightly safer area. From there, the hard work of rebuilding the farm began.
Each parcel of land that we own is named after the person that we bought it from. But we named this piece of land Los Ángeles (my wife’s suggestion) because it was purchased with the money we had originally saved for my trip to Los Angeles, California. There’s something beautiful and sentimental about the name—it reminds us that life is like a raffle, that it comes and goes and you don’t know how things will turn out.
Heberto Rivas and Elvia Rivas Melgara started their farm Finca Los Angeles over almost four decades ago. Together with their daughter Rebeca they produce some of the finest coffee in Nicaragua.
Rebeca: Everyone in the family helps out in their own way.
My dad is in charge of agronomy and day-to-day management of the farm. I work in administration and lead quality control during the harvest. My mom typically oversees quality assessment, make purchases, shipments, plans nutritious meals for the workers—she juggles so many things.
My older brother works as a liaison with coffee shops in Managua. One coffee shop, “De La Finca” exclusively sells coffee from our farm. My other brother lives outside Nicaragua, but he always makes himself available to give advice on running the business. We’re trying to establish a niche market here. For now, we sell to friends and people in our network.
[The land] was purchased with the money we had originally saved for my trip to Los Angeles, California. There’s something beautiful and sentimental about the name, Finca Los Angeles. It reminds us that life is like a raffle, that it comes and goes and you don’t know how things will turn out.
Our team gets ready to go out to the farm early, from six in the morning until four in the afternoon. Everyone comes to eat around lunchtime. At four, we intake all the coffee that was harvested, we measure it and run it through the siphon to select the best cherries to be de-pulped. We spend the day on the drying patio, and the coffee is washed, placed in boxes, dried and prepared for processing. We remove the cherry skins overnight, and wait until the next day to wash off the pulp.
This is the Rivas family farm. At nearly 4,000 feet in altitude, their organic family farm is hidden fog-filled mountains with a microclimate that is ideal for producing specialty coffee .
At the end of the day, our family gathers to talk about how the day went, what our plan is for the next day, what went well, what didn’t, what to correct. We review all this with Don Efrain, who’s in charge of the farm. Around 4pm, we return to the house where Doña Elbia is waiting for us with a cup of coffee.
This year, Rebeca has been excited to experiment with new strategies around pruning and fermentation.
“Coffee connects you to so many people around the world. It’s an aspect of the work that motivates me to keep improving. Coffee has given me the opportunity to travel, learn, and see things from different perspectives.” — Rebeca Rivas
For every single cup of coffee, we put in unimaginable effort, dedication and sacrifice. We pay close attention to every step of production because we know that even a small shift can have a big effect on the final product. From the seedlings at nursery to the cherries we select at harvest, we treat every part of the coffee plant with the highest degree of care.
For me coffee symbolizes hard work, dedication, sacrifice, continuous learning and hope. Above all, hope, because in all the time that I have spent immersed in the world of coffee, every harvest is different. Coffee growers face so many challenges; plagues, La Roya, high production costs, low international prices, and this year a new challenge, harvest during a global pandemic.
We have been working hard since last March, nervous and under so much pressure. Resources were limited and we had to let some people go to prevent exposure to the virus. So for me, coffee means constantly learning—every harvest is different.