Cupping Notes: Deep Chocolate, Spice, Smooth Finish
When I (Michael Bagby) arrived in Honduras in 1984 to work with Miskito Indian refugees from Nicaragua, my first friend was Truman Cunningham, who was our guide on that first trip to a very remote corner of Central America. Truman agreed to move his family to Auka Honduras, where he supervised the construction of a 150 foot long bodega where we stored our relief cargo, and built living quarters. It would turn out to be the first of many construction projects he and I would undertake over the next 30 years. Truman and his family became my family.
Truman’s grandfather was from Jamaica, so as a result, Truman was very dark skinned, and his friends called him “Negro Fino”, which roughly translates “Fine Dark”. On one trip through the swamps to the Coco River in 1986, we shared a tent, which was difficult, as Truman snores terribly. I woke up with Truman’s feet almost in my face, and noticed the extreme whiteness of the bottom of his feet. When he awoke, I pointed out to him that his feet and mine were the same color- that in fact we could be brothers! He smiled.
Over the next three decades, Truman became my brother. Together we started a primary school project in the refugee villages along the Kruta and Coco Rivers, which literally moved south across the Coco River into Nicaragua when the war ended in 1990. Truman was elected to the autonomous regional government twice, representing all the communities along the lower Coco River. He built many schools, bodegas, homes, and a three story office, classroom, conference center with a leaf roof which stands out on the skyline of Waspam Nicaragua. We traveled with our wives to the United States and Jamaica together, and to Israel and Germany. In the process Truman became one of the most effective leaders in modern Miskito culture. His care for his family and the communities of the Rio Coco impacted thousands over the years that we worked together, until he suddenly died in August 2016.
In my first year of living with Truman in Auka Honduras, I found myself sitting on his porch one evening talking. The bugs were thick, and I was constantly swatting mosquitoes off my arms, feet, and neck with my handkerchief. Truman was sitting calmly- the bugs were not bothering him.
Finally I asked: "Truman, these bugs are really biting me, but why are they not biting you?"
With a totally serious face, he said to me: "Because these mosquitoes are my friends." Even though I laughed, Truman didn't.
Fast forward five years (mas o menos), and Truman and I are visiting a community on the lower Coco River. It was rainy season, and the bugs were thick! I kept my hands and feet moving, to keep the bugs off me as much as possible. Truman had his handkerchief out, swatting them off his neck and back.
Then I remember what he had said to me years before.
So I asked: "Truman, are these bugs your friends?"
He paused, and I could see he was thinking.
Suddenly he smiled, and said: "No. They are from another village."
Then we both laughed and laughed.
One day while I was roasting Nicaragua Dark coffee, Truman called me from Nicaragua and we began talking about the schools, our teachers, and our friends – the usual. I totally forgot that I was roasting coffee. Suddenly I turned around and saw the roaster- the temperature was over 460o F. I ran over and dumped the coffee, and smoke poured out of the roaster. Each individual bean was trailing a curling stream of smoke! My first thought was “I’ve ruined a bucket of coffee!” after it cooled, we decided to taste it before we threw it out. To our surprise, we liked it! It was not burnt, but rather had some very unique spicy flavors. We let our friends try it and they agreed. We decided to add it to our lineup, and we named it “Negro Fino” after Truman. It soon became our biggest seller.
When Truman passed away, I decided to modify the name of this “fine dark” coffee to indicate the guilty party, and changed the label by adding my favorite photo of Truman nuzzling the face of his wife Mirna. Truman really loved his wife and eight children, and numerous grandchildren, as well as the many Miskito boys and girls from downriver who lived in his home in Waspam over the years as they attended high school there.
Truman was a man who cared for many, following Jesus’ words to “Love God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love the people around you”. The Coco River is a different place since those war years, and much was because of his service to his people.
Photo: This is my favorite photo of Mirna and Truman.