Nicaragua's Booming Coffee Scene | Mukul, an Auberge Resort
César Vega is changing the way coffee from Nicaragua is viewed in the United States. As the founder of New York City's Café Integral, Vega has completely transformed perception of Nicaraguan coffee in the United States. With cafes inside leading U.S. hotels like Freehand Chicago and a stand-alone outpost set within a New York City boutique, his company employs a single-origin sourcing strategy to deliver coffee straight from the farmer to the end consumer.
Launched with the goal to benefit Nicaragua’s economy directly, Vega finds coffee both romantic and enamoring. Born in the Nicaraguan town of Jinotepe, located in the department of Carazo, Vega grew up in a historical coffee growing area. When he was three, his entire family moved to Miami, leading to his passion for making Nicaragua bigger, better, and more prosperous through Café Integral.
Driven by cultural exchange, Vega hopes Nicaraguan coffee grows to harbor affinity on the world’s stage. It’s the country’s number one export, and part of the nation’s viable future. Through Café Integral, Vega plans to bring education back to the country and improve the quality of life for locals. “When you looked at the specialty coffee scene before we launched, you couldn’t get a Nicaraguan coffee,” says Vega. “It wasn’t that good, and it was quickly discarded by the quality-oriented people. When I was 23, I took my grandparents with me to Nicaragua, and we went directly to the coffee farmers, knocking door-to-door. It was a party of four pitching this idea across the country. I imported three thousand pounds after this trip and kept it in my apartment. I wanted people to taste the product.”
After a chance encounter with the team at American Two Shot in New York City, Vega opened a coffee bar in the boutique shop in April 2013. Working at the retail level to promote Nicaraguan coffee was new to Vega, but the partnership created an organic market for the specialty product. Next, Vega created a partnership with the Freehand hotel properties after a visit to the Freehand Miami location in Vega’s hometown. Now heading up the coffee program for the entire brand, Vega only sees the cache of Nicaraguan coffee continuing to grow in the future.
“In a coffee sense, we are paying better prices for the coffee and creating a higher standard of quality. This standard takes more bodies to produce and the farmers get paid better. We’re creating a platform for coffee growers to develop by fostering an environment where people can grow within the mill system. If people want to make this a career, then we have space for them. Five years ago, that wasn’t the case. And within coffee circles, we’ve worked so hard to improve the perception of Nicaraguan coffee.”
To taste Vega’s coffee, you’ll have to visit a leading U.S. city. Interested in coming straight to the source? Come to Nicaragua and make your way through the country one cup of coffee at a time.