A brief history on coffee producing in Nicaragua. This countries history with coffee is turbulent yet triumphant, its resilience despite numerous environmental and political challenges down to the determination of the country’s dedicated producers. Not only has the country persevered, but prospered.
Sitting on the borders of Honduras and Costa Rica, Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America. Despite its size, Nicaragua’s coffee regions are nestled in a small northern pocket of the country, where unique micro-climates, diverse terrain, and a deep commitment to sustainable solutions has not only rescued a volatile industry, but propelled it into the world of speciality coffee.
In this country profile we explore Nicaragua’s rich history with coffee, and how today’s harvests produce world-class coffee, with micro-lots and family-run farms leading the way.
Coffee production has deep roots in Nicaragua, with the country proudly growing the crop for over 170 years. First cultivated in 1850, coffee secured its place as the country’s largest export within twenty years–retaining that prominence for the next 100.
Today, Nicaragua is a globally recognised origin country for coffee, ranked as the 11th largest producer in the world. The industry is economically and socially important to the country, providing around half of all agricultural jobs, and contributing over 20 percent of agricultural GDP. This importance is recognised, too, with the country adopting a national coffee strategy (2020 - 2023), with a focus on improving farm management and farmer income, and responding to climate change through new varietal exploration and development. Recognising the importance of coffee in Nicaragua is perhaps part of the reason that producers in this country have worked so hard to tackle each challenge that has come their way.
From environmental damage, to political instability and civil war, it’s fair to say that the future of coffee production in Nicaragua has looked pretty bleak at times. A devastating hurricane wiped out coffee production for many farms in 1998, followed by severe droughts. Add in a global coffee price crisis that threatened the end of farming for Nicaragua’s producers completely, with prices plummeting lower than production costs, alongside such destructive weather, and it’s easy to see why, for many farmers, being able to get back on their feet was impossible, with no support infrastructure in place.
Despite everything, there were enough who still believed in the possibility of successful farming, with cooperatives (farmers who come together in order to gain better access to resources) playing a crucial role in rebuilding - and reshaping - Nicaragua’s relationship with coffee production. Under the Sandinista Government (1980-1990), land was reallocated to these cooperatives, who redistributed the land to workers who had lost their farms. While some cooperatives collapsed after the government’s fall, others turned to ethical trade certifications, or joined forces to form a collective of cooperatives, enabling them to secure the legal titles to property of land. Coming together with the same goals not only provided them with more control, but access to funding, education, machinery, and more. Those cooperatives have continued to expand in size and scope, supporting and steering producers toward sustainable practices. Now, the future's looking bright.
GROWING AND HARVESTING
Five regions in the northwest of Nicaragua are responsible for the incredible coffee that comes from the country. There’s a reason that the country has a solid and ever-growing reputation for producing remarkable, high-quality coffee – well recorded since the Cup of Excellence competition arrived in the country in 2002. Each region is known to possess a unique micro-climate that results in unique flavour profiles. Matagalpa and Jinotega sit at low altitudes, known for their rich volcanic soils, humid, tropical-forest climates, and lush vegetation.
As in Esteli, Madriz, and Nueva Segovia, which sits right on the border of Honduras at a higher altitude, the coffee grown in these regions is shade-grown, with the canopy acting as a natural fertiliser and herbicide. This shade-grown method is a perfect example of working in harmony with nature: not only does the canopy prevent the coffee crop from freezing, but provides natural pest control in the form of predators who make these areas their habitat, while aiding pollination. These shade grown coffee trees take longer to mature, providing the plants more time to take nutrients from the soil, where dense ground-cover, in the form of lichen, moss, and ferns, also thrive.
Chances are that, if you’re buying a Nicaraguan coffee, you’ll find varietals including Gesha, Catuai, Pacamara, Bourbon, Marogogipe, and Pacas listed on your tasting notes. With the rainy season occurring between May and October, harvesting usually takes place from October to March.
Read our blog on varietals - here
PROCESSING AND BREWING
Until recently, most farmers struggled to maintain traceability when selling their coffee to international buyers. Due to the large minimum lot size required by dry mills, farmers had to combine their lots with other farms and varieties, losing their coffee’s status as a single-estate lot. Farmer associations and cooperatives have invested in infrastructure throughout the supply chain, enabling single-farm or single-lot farm traceability from farmer to exporter, which has not only helped secure better prices for the producer, but also provided the opportunity for further growth of speciality coffee, protecting the heritage and future of production in the country.
Traditionally, coffee from Nicaragua is commonly processed using a washed method, with many farmers drying the coffee on large drying beds in the sun. However, with greater support and stability, many producers are keenly exploring new varietals and processing methods. Consistent in quality, Nicaraguan coffee is well-regarded for its sweeter chocolate and nut flavours, as well as floral notes, and a clean, bright citric acidity.
PREVIOUS NICARAGUAN COFFEE RELEASES
La Pila (2022); La Huella, Pulped Natural (2022); La Huella, Natural (2022); San Jose, Java, Natural (2021); San Jose, Natural (2021); San Jose, Washed (2021); La Huella, Natural (2020); La Huella, Pulped Natural (2020); San Jose, Geisha (2020); San Jose, Natural (2020); San Jose, Natural Anaerobic (2020); San Jose (2019); La Huella (2019); La Huella, Pulped Natural Process (2019); La Virgen (2018); La Huella (2018); La Huella, Honey Process (2018); Matazano Tablon Placeres (2017); Limoncillo (2017); Santa Maria (2016); Los Altos (Seasonal, since 2010)
[updated Aug 22]
View our current coffee portfolio and discover our latest Nicaraguan release - here