Nicaragua Coffee: What You Need to Know
Nicaragua stands tall amongst the coffee-growing nations of the world.
With a wonderfully pleasant, well-balanced flavor profile, the coffee from this region is high in quality and complex in flavor. With a good climate and top-notch geography for a thoroughly java-driven culture, this Central American nation is set up for coffee success.
Here’s our take on all things Nicaragua coffee.
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Must Know Facts about Nicaragua Beans
A Nicaraguan coffee review wouldn’t be complete without a proper breakdown of the history, flavor profile, and a few other unique things about Nicaraguan coffee beans.
The History of Coffee in Nicaragua
The first coffee plant was introduced to Nicaragua in 1796 (1). However, the coffee trade didn’t officially kick off until a half-century later, when the Gold Rush fuelled U.S. investment in trade and travel to the region.
Since then it has had its fair share of ups and downs, but has always remained one of the main crops of the country’s economy.
In the 20th century, the coffee industry occasionally received aid from the government, although a greater focus was given to quantity rather than quality of production.
During this time, however, the industry was also disrupted by various events, including U.S. involvement and bans on imports (2) during the Cold War, and civil wars within the country (including events as recent as 2018 (3)).
But coffee farmers the world round are a tenacious lot, and they soldiered on through the disruptions.
By the late 20th century, the Nicaraguan coffee industry consisted of tens of thousands of coffee farms and supported nearly 300,000 workers.
Altitude and Plant Type
While the height of plantations and farms varies throughout the nation, many of the best beans are grown at altitudes between 3600 and 5250 feet above sea level. Though there are some lower regions as well, most Nicaraguan coffee is classified as “high grown” and meets the Strictly High Grown coffee specifications.
Not only is much of the nation’s coffee grown in high altitudes, but 95% of it is shade grown as well.
Nicaraguan coffee plants primarily consist of Arabica varieties, leading to an overall higher quality of beans coming from the regions. There are many coffee plant varietals found in the country including Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, Yellow and Red Catuai, Catimor, Maracaturra, Pacamara, and Maragogype.
Harvesting and Washing
Harvesting usually takes place between October and February/March, meaning the best time to buy the coffee is between January and June, after it has been shipped out.
While wet washing is the most popular way to process Nicaraguan beans, others are being used as well. Processing methods include:
- Natural or dry processed, in which the coffee beans are left to dry in the sun
- Wet processed (most common), in which the cherry pulp is “washed” off of the beans
- Honey processed, which tends to be a bit of a halfway option between the wet and dry processes
You can learn more about the various washing processes here (4).
Nicaraguan Coffee Flavor Profile
Nicaraguan beans tend to be similar to many of the other Central American coffees that surround them, though they tend to be milder in their overall disposition.
The coffee is also becoming more and more recognized for its diversity of flavor characteristics, too, a fact that is probably due to the beans being grown in so many different areas within the nation.
Most Nicaraguan beans deliver a medium to smooth body and a moderate to bright acidity that is accompanied by a crisp, fruity, and clearly defined snap. The aroma has sweet caramel, citrus, and chocolate elements, while the coffee itself can have a very pleasant, balanced, and bittersweet flavor.
Specific flavors can vary from mild fruitiness, citrus, and floral, to hints of chocolate with a toasty or nutty finish with vanilla overtones.
Overall, Nicaraguan coffee tends to be self-controlled and reticent, not overpowering but hinting rather at a host of different elements that can change from one crop to the next.
Major Growing Regions and Their Beans
Nicaragua coffee farms are numerous, and the country is known for producing large amounts of coffee beans of a variety of qualities.
Esteli, Madriz, and Managua or Granada are some of the areas of the country that grow coffee. However, while there are many coffee-growing regions like these, only a handful of them are particularly good at producing the best coffee.
The northern region of Nueva Segovia produces some of the harder-to-find coffees from Nicaragua. These coffees tend to have unique and exciting flavors, including floral and acidic characteristics. Nueva Segovia beans are often highly sought after.
Matagalpa is a northern region of the country that grows a great deal of typically high-altitude beans. It has an abundance of volcanic soil as well as a tropical forest climate that makes it ideal for elite coffee growing.
Jinotega is the top dog of the Nicaraguan coffee industry. Similar to the Matagalpa region, it has volcanic soil and a humid, tropical climate, setting it up for tremendous coffee-growing success. This north-central region produces a great deal of high grown coffee, especially of the Caturra and Bourbon varietals.
Elephant Beans, also known as Maragogype or Maragogipe, are some of the most unique and popular coffee beans you’ll find in the country. These freaks of nature are the largest beans on the planet, coming from a varietal of coffee plants that grow the largest leaves and cherries.
The plants are lower in production and take up more space, so they are generally not grown in abundance.
This “romantic coffee curiosity” comes from the Typica varietal of the Arabica plant and specifically grows best between 2000 and 2500 feet above sea level. The mammoth novelty originally came from Brazil, itself a mammoth part of the Americas, and has done very well for itself in the Nicaraguan highlands.
Elephant beans can be exceptionally delicious, with a refined, clean, and balanced flavor profile, and a bright acidity. Though it should be noted that this evaluation is not quite universal, with opinions waffling from “the best in the world” to “sub-par”, depending on the source.
You can try Elephant Bean coffee with an award-winning Elephant coffee bean blend from Witham’s Coffee (5).
The Current State of the Nicaraguan Coffee Industry
While the Nicaraguan coffee industry has had a rocky history at times, they are currently riding high amongst the top dozen coffee-growing countries in the world.
As is usually the case with high-production nations, the overwhelming majority of beans are still processed and packaged to ship to countries like the United States as part of Nicaragua’s coffee exports.
The beans generally tend to be organically grown by nature (see link on “gourmet coffees” further down), and although they are not always certified organic, this has led to some attention in the modern “organic-obsessed” era. The overall lack of infrastructure over the years has served to keep the traditional, chemical-free option as the primary way to grow coffee.
This organic edge helps counterbalance the economic struggles of poor infrastructure, which, organic farming aside, certainly continues to be an issue.
In addition to infrastructure, major weather events such as hurricanes are a common threat with the potential to temporarily cripple the industry.
But the Nicaraguan coffee farmers have weathered both the natural and the human-made storms and are on the rise once again. In particular, Nicaragua has recently begun to be viewed as a producer of gourmet coffees – a reputation that raises the interest and price points of their coffee.
Another bright spot came several years ago when the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) helped pilot a rehabilitation of the coffee sectors in Nicaragua and Honduras (6). This movement provided loans to fund projects, including the building of coffee washing stations. This helped coffee farmers increase the income and quality of their product, and prevented water pollution from affecting those living downstream from the washing stations.
Where to Buy the Best Nicaraguan Coffee Beans
When it comes to Nicaraguan coffee brands, there are plenty out there for purchasing.
The region is prolific in its coffee production, and you’ll likely be able to find Nicaraguan coffee in many of your local coffee shops. Just remember that quality is a huge factor here that can vary, especially depending on what region a particular batch comes from.
If you don’t have a good local source, here are some of our favorite online options.
Volcanica Coffee is a dependable online supplier of high-grade coffee beans with a large selection of carefully sourced options. The brand’s focus is on high-altitude coffees, so these Jinotego beans are a perfect fit, grown on some of the highest farms in the country – at up to 4,200 feet.
On Finca San Francisco, coffees plants are harvested a full two months after the rest of the country, due to the slow growth at this height. This allows the beans to develop a complex flavor profile with pronounced fruity and floral notes. Expect to taste apple, cherry, and raspberry with a hint of rose.
Peet’s Coffee is something of a household name in the US, as one of the biggest in the country, as well as being a popular coffee shop chain But among its offerings of easy-drinking blends, the brand also sells a range of specialty single-origin beans.
These Las Hermanas beans are the result of a direct-trade relationship with the SOPPEXCAA collective in Jinotega. Part of the collective is a group of around 200 female farmers known as Las Hermanas or “the sisters”, who focus on sustainable growing at a community level.
Unlike the fruity flavors found elsewhere in the country, this coffee has more of a dessert profile, with a creamy mouthfeel and tastes of chocolate. Try brewing as a French press or pour over.
This is your chance to get the much sought-after beans of the Nueva Segova region at an affordable price. Out of the Grey Coffee is a reasonably new addition to the coffee scene, but in a short time has established a reputation for securing interesting and exclusive beans.
This is a great example of one of the brand’s Fair Trade coffees, sourced from Nicaragua’s PROCOCER cooperative. The group ensures community development and fair prices for farmers, who in turn maintain high standards and sustainable growing practices.
Coffee produced by the cooperative is known for its clean but complex profile. These beans offer a well-balanced cup with rich sweet flavors of honey, toffee and chocolate, offset with notes of almonds and peach.
Pairing: The Best Way to Roast and Brew Nicaraguan Beans
If you’re a fan of roasting “in-house,” we have some suggestions for you, along with some pointers on how you might want to brew your Nicaraguan coffee, home-roasted or not!
Roasting Nicaraguan coffee is pretty safe territory, as the farms from this region deliver stable, middle ground beans that can put up with a lot and are not very touchy or specialized. They’re crowd pleasers that tend to deliver fairly stable, dependable roasts and are therefore very cooperative for home roasting.
As far as the best roasting profile, we generally recommend a medium to dark roast, depending on your preferences. This longer roasting time creates a rich but subtle and high-minded coffee.
If you’re a fan of a dark, Vienna or Full City roast and like to make espresso at home, these are the beans for the job. Those from the Jinotega and Matagalpa regions, in particular, are perfect for this very dark roast and can deliver a deep, dusky, well-balanced cup of coffee.
NOTE: The only exception here is the Elephant Bean. These are recommended at no more than a medium roast.
As is the case with any well-rounded coffee, there are many brewing options available to you.
Nicaraguan coffee is an excellent choice for a long black or Americano, along with various milk-based espresso drinks. This goes along with their ability to be roasted to a medium to dark to very dark roast.
They’re also very good for cold brew, as the brewing process helps to dampen the more acidic notes while still delivering a hell of a lot of quality in the overall flavor.
As we saw, there are many different processing methods being used within Nicaragua. These processing methods can also have an effect on what the best brewing option is for each coffee.
Disfruta Tu Café Nicaragüense (Enjoy Your Nicaraguan Coffee!)
Nicaragua is a coffee lover’s paradise.
With a variety of regions delivering a steady supply of coffee, Nicaragua is quickly becoming recognized as a respectable Central American coffee bean option.
Though things like infrastructure and weather issues are constant threats, the industry is continuing to grow, and Nicaragua is poised to remain a dominant player in the coffee world for a long time to come.
If you enjoyed the article, please consider sharing it with a friend to help with their coffee selections in the future!