"A Gift From God"

By: Chris Davidson

Luis Alberto Balladarez comes from a long legacy of coffee farming in northern Nicaragua. While several millers and exporters are established in Nueva Segovia’s main city Ocotal, Luis Alberto’s Beneficio Las Segovias clearly stands out for their focus on specialty coffees and microlots. One of the things that makes Luis Alberto unique among mill owners is that he owns and manages several of his own farms. The success that he’s had with these farms is one of the reasons so many other farmers trust him to process their coffees. Luis Alberto knows quality, and is obsessed with every detail in each step his coffee takes, from the nursery through the dry mill.

Visiting Beneficio Las Segovias (BLS) feels a little like entering a sanctuary for coffee, and Luis Alberto exudes a confidence that is both calming and impressive. The cupping room, drying patios and dry mill at BLS are immaculate and appear both well used and well cared for. Quality control is taken very seriously here, and every picking that Luis Alberto receives at his wet mills and dry mill is carefully catalogued and tracked through the entire process. This attention to detail, Luis Alberto’s own personality and the exquisite quality of his coffees mean that some of his farms rarely see Atlas’ offer lists, if ever. Our model of fostering direct relationships between farmers and roasters has thrived with Beneficio Las Segovias, and Luis Alberto maintains and open dialogue with a number of coffee buyers with whom Atlas is proud to work. Often times his finest coffees are committed early in the harvest, although many wonderful lots often remain from the later harvests from his farms.

Finca Un Regalo de Dios (URDD) is Luis Alberto’s pride and joy. The farm is located in a lush pocket of forest protected on three sides by high mountains in the otherwise dry and piny area of Mozonte. The farm is divided into several plantíos based on altitude, which interestingly enough has little direct corrolation to quality. On several occasions we’ve seen lots from the middle plantios of La Peña and La Amistad in the 1,500 – 1,600 masl range show best, although the plantio called El Aserradero is near the top of the farm above 1,600 masl and frequently is our highest scoring lot from URDD each year. As the popularity of his coffees increases, Luis Alberto is separating pickings even more specifically. His farm managers keep Red and Yellow Catuai cherries seperate, and even multiple lots from the same plantio harvested and processed on the same day may have subtle variations that might make them better suited to Pulped Natural or Full Natural processing rather than conventional washing. At the very top of Finca Un Regalo de Dios sits the plantio “El Ganador,” which is entirely Pacamara variety and named for its previous success as a first place Cup of Excellence competition winner. Coffees from Un Regalo de Dios have a deep sugar cane toffee and dark, dried fruit character. Brandied cherries, raisins, root beer, hazelnut and cola are regularly found in the washed coffees, and the Pulped Natural and Natural lots can show every fruit and brown sugar flavor on the gamut.

Finca La Bendicion is another farm owned by Luis Alberto that has received a lot of attention in the past several years.  Divided into 8 parcels each planted with a unique variety, Finca La Bendicion boasts an impressive total 109 manzanas.   The Pacamara and Maracaturra lots from La Bendicion have been our favorites over the years, and Luis Alberto’s team at Beneficio Las Segovias expertly processes each picking.  While the Natural and Washed lots from La Bendicion are terrific, we’ve tended to favor the Honey processed lots for their green melon, kiwi and peach complexity and lemon-lime soda effervescence.

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