Like many other fine coffees, our beans are shade-grown, fair-traded, and certified organic. But there’s more to Café Oro than that.

When you buy our coffee, you directly support a wonderful cultural exchange between Bainbridge Island and Ometepe, our sister island in Nicaragua. You help fund a wide array of school, health and community programs important to people on Ometepe, and you help broaden the worldview of many people on Bainbridge.

How we got started

The Sister Islands Association got into the coffee business after a medical delegation from Bainbridge heard from farmers near Balgüe in 1988 that they had no market for their coffee and might lose land they had farmed since the revolution. So the delegates loaded their suitcases with 3,200 pounds of green coffee beans to bring back to Bainbridge. A trade embargo delayed the shipment, but it finally arrived in 1991. David Desinger, owner of Pegasus Coffee Shop on the island, agreed to roast the beans. The coffee caught on, as did the idea of providing a market for the cooperative and helping the members keep their land. After dozens of Bainbridge residents and others made small loans, the Sister Islands Association bought an entire year’s crop, and we were off and running with our unique coffee business.

Every Café Oro coffee bean starts as a cherrylike fruit, picked by hand and carried down the mountainside by mule.

Members of the 2010 Coffee Delegation sample ripe coffee berries at Finca Magdalena.

Where we’re at today

Shipping green beans to Bainbridge in suitcases was a one-time thing. Today, we import a container load each year, in partnership with a non-profit in Canada that has values similar to ours.

We continue to buy coffee from the same farmers. Organized as Cooperativa Carlos Díaz Cajina, this group of 29 families owns Finca Magdalena, which now also provides lodging and a restaurant for tourists. We also buy from Cooperativa de Productores Orgánicos de Ometepe, a coop that operates on a different business model. It has 45 member farmers with plots scattered through the communities of Madronal, Balgüe, Las Cuchillas, El Corozal, La Palma, San Pedro, Merida, Urbaite, and La Flor.

We’re pleased to call many of the farmers our friends. Many Bainbridge delegates to Ometepe have stayed at Finca Magdalena. Farmers in El Corozal who are members of Productores Orgánicos opened their homes to members of our 2010 Coffee Delegation. Several coffee growers have visited Bainbridge as part of our anniversary delegations.

Agronomist Rafael Cruz (center) and coffee farmers Santiago Murillo and Carlos Centena visited Bainbridge Island during our 25th anniversary celebration.

Since 2011, we have employed Rafael Cruz, an agronomist, to work with Ometepe’s organic coffee farmers, improving the size and quality of their crops. Rafael provides training — such as workshops on worm-composting and other organic practices — and advice, including ways to reduce the devastating impact of coffee rust on plants.

On Bainbridge, the beans are now roasted once a week by Pegasus Coffee Company. A crew of volunteers takes turns bagging the roasted beans, distributing them to local grocery stores and other big customers, and shipping bags to our growing array of internet customers.

Because of the thousands of volunteer hours donated by Bainbridge residents, we have been able to make enough money from coffee sales to build water systems and schools, support public health projects, equip school libraries, employ an agronomist, and contribute to many other projects undertaken jointly by residents of our two sister islands.

One fine brew

We call this remarkable coffee Café Oro de Ometepe. It meets all the important standards:

  • It is fair traded. When market prices are low, we pay more than the going rate because we want to make sure the growers always receive a profit.
  • It is shade grown. Growing coffee in the shade of a forest’s taller trees preserves habitat for animals and birds, reduces erosion, and protects native plants.
  • It is certified organic. Bio Latina, based in Peru, inspects the fields and certifies that the coffee meets USDA organic standards. The farmers use no artificial fertilizers or pesticides on their coffee crops.
  • It is delicious. Café Oro is a rich, low-acid coffee that makes a great morning cup and a smooth espresso. Coffee aficionados compare it to Kona and Jamaican Blue Mountain coffees. Maybe island growing conditions make coffee especially mellow. Being surrounded by water does mean temperatures are cooler at lower elevations than they are on inland farms at the same latitude.

See video from 2010 Coffee Delegation

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