The Nicaraguan region is conducive to producing quality coffee beans. In this post, you’ll learn all about Nicaraguan coffee, including regions, flavor notes, history, and more.
Nicaraguan coffee typically means Arabica beans, with a medium body, mild acidity, and a hint of fruity or caramel sweetness. Jinotega is touted as the best region in Nicaragua for coffee production. Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia are highly recognized regions as well.
As one of Central America’s largest coffee producers, Nicaragua has built a stellar reputation for its coffee. Everything about the Nicaraguan region is conducive to producing coffee beans, and of course, there is more regional variation within, creating healthy competition for producers from different locations of the country.
Like a lot of coffee that comes from Central America, the qualities that give Nicaraguan coffee its great reputation are its smoothness alongside its strength. Its sweetness is subtle and its strength is controlled.
How Nicaraguan Coffee Came to Be
Coffee became a major crop for Nicaragua in the early 19th century and then became its main export by the late 19th century.
However, Nicaraguan coffee did not reach real success in the coffee industry until the 20th century, receiving substantial initiatives from the Nicaraguan government to improve its coffee trade industry. This governmental push began with sales to its own European immigrants.
Since the late 20th century onto the present day, the number of workers on coffee farms in Nicaragua has neared half a million, or around 15% of the country’s labor force.
However, production slowed in the late 20th century due to the Nicaraguan Revolution, which lasted decades and only ended in 1990.
Despite political obstacles and natural disasters, Nicaragua continues to produce coffee as its main crop for trade. Pulling in over $1.2 billion every year, coffee remains Nicaragua’s main export.
3 Ways Nicaraguan Beans are Processed
You can expect your quality Nicaraguan coffee to be 100% Arabica. This refers to the evergreen tree that most quality commercial coffee comes from.
There are two main species of coffee, and the other species is known as Robusta. It is commonly agreed upon that Arabica is superior, and, therefore, pricier.
Not all Nicaraguan coffee beans are processed in the same way.
You can reasonably expect them to have been processed in one of three ways:
- Wet Processing: The wet process involves a pulping machine followed by fermentation. You pulp the fruit and then ferment it with the bean still inside. The outer layer of the fruit is removed after, and then it is finally dried.
- Dry Processing: This method is simpler but more labor-intensive than wet processing, and less consistent. Dry processing means the fruit is taken from trees and naturally dried in the sun, skipping the wet process steps, but that makes it riskier in that your fruit is more prone to rot. If it works, the next part is to take the dried, darkened beans and peel the hardened part off the green (unroasted) coffee beans.
- Honey Processing: This method is kind of a combination of wet and dry. Honey-processed coffee is pulped, but not fermented, and then it is dried.
Differences Between Nicaragua’s 5 Coffee Regions
Though coffee is largely produced throughout Nicaragua, there are select regions that get the most notoriety.
Here are the major coffee-producing regions, as well as some less-known regions, in Nicaragua:
- Jinotega: This region is said to be the best. Like many regions in Nicaragua, its volcanic soil aids production. It has a tropical climate and produces the most consistently high-quality coffee. In terms of Arabica varieties, you can expect Bourbon from this region.
- Matagalpa: This region also has rich volcanic soil and a tropical forest feel. It is known for quality coffee, and you’ll see this region frequently if you’re scouting for Nicaraguan beans. Matagalpa is known as Nicaragua’s coffee capital and is home to the National Coffee Museum.
- Nueva Segovia: This region is known for producing a more unique flavor than other regions. Its notes are more floral than fruity, which has given it an earned distinction. It’s harder to find coffee from this region, making it a gourmet treat. Watch for coffee from Dipilto municipality. Farms from the region have won many Cup of Excellence awards. For example, in 2014, 11 of the 25 winning farms from Nicaragua came from the Dipilto region of Nueva Segovia.
- Estelí: Different from the fruity notes and expected flavor profile from Jinotega and Matagalpa, Estelí beans are more like those from Nueva Segovia. They are also similarly rare.
- Madriz: Madriz is another gourmet, floral bean producing region, but not a major commercial producer.
The distinctions between regions are subtle. For the most part, you can expect your Nicaraguan coffee to come from Jinotega or Matagalpa.
Maragogipe (Maragogype): This is a variety of coffee beans also known as elephant beans. These beans are particularly large and the result of a natural mutation of Typica. They were first discovered near Maragogipe, Brazil in 1870.
As Rebecca commented below, “Maragogype is not as special as advertised, either, but does have black pepper overtones. I’ve had it fresh roasted.”
Sustainable Coffee Production in Nicaragua
Here’s a glimpse into a sustainable coffee farm in Nicaragua.
These regions are going to provide you with the rich, fruity flavor profile you expect from a Central American coffee.
This is similar to neighboring Costa Rica.
Flavor Notes to Expect from Nicaraguan Coffee
When it comes to Nicaraguan coffee flavor notes, expect a variety. However, common flavor profiles you can expect include a good balance of sweetness and bitterness.
You can look for the particular brand of fruitiness, which will vary based on the roaster.
Here are some of the flavor notes to consider for a Nicaraguan brew:
- Medium Body: Most Nicaraguan coffees are going to have a body that is neither too strong nor too light for anyone. It’s not going to be syrupy, but it’s going to have a strong flavor.
- Well-Balanced: To call a coffee well-balanced is quite a feat because coffee has so many aspects to juggle. The acidity range fits the flavor and flavor complexity. Basically, it means the flavor is neither overwhelming nor underwhelming. You can detect complexity, but not so much so that you’re overwhelmed by it. Nicaraguan coffee is well-known because it is typically well-balanced.
- Fruity: Citrusy and fruity are both common flavor notes in a Nicaraguan coffee cup. The difference between citrusy and fruity is that citrusy indicates more sour notes, like ripe citrus fruit. Fruity can mean a more over-ripe fruit and indicates more of a sweet note.
- Sweet: The popularity of Nicaraguan coffee has a lot to do with balanced sweetness, whether that sweetness is fruity or nutty.
- Bitter: Nicaraguan coffee is often described as bittersweet, because of its pleasant blend of sweet bitterness.
- Pungent: Pungency is part of a flavor profile, and Nicaraguan coffee is known for being particularly pungent. You can smell the bitter and the sweet so prominently.
Where to Find the Best Nicaraguan Coffee
Nicaraguan coffee brands have a healthy competition cut out for them, as Nicaraguan coffee continues to be on the rise. You have a lot of options to choose from.
Some of the most highly-rated brands are:
- Volcanica: Volcanica is a popular Nicaraguan coffee company that produces coffee from the Matagalpa region. Its notes include chocolate, plum, lemon, and honey.
- Good Morning: For a lighter roast than most, Good Morning is a solid choice.
- Twin Engine: Twin Engine coffee comes from Maragogype, a more rare region, which is known for its exceptionally large elephant beans.
- SongBird Coffee: Songbird Coffee has a Nicaraguan Medium Roast that delivers a well-balanced, medium-bodied flavor profile.
- Caffévo: Caffévo is a medium roast from the Jinotega region, and its flavor notes are chocolate and citrus.
More reading: Learn about 22 Nicaraguan Foods to Try
Nicaraguan coffee is ever-increasing in popularity. Nicaragua’s volcanic, tropical regions are prolific producers of high-quality coffee beans from Arabica trees.
If you decide to explore the flavors of Nicaraguan coffee, you are unlikely to be disappointed. The reason it is well-liked is that it is well-balanced.
What about you? Have you tried Nicaraguan coffee before?
- About the Author
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Bryan Haines is a co-founder and writer on EnjoyJava – and is working to make it the best coffee blog in the world.
He is a travel blogger at Storyteller Travel and blogs about photography at Storyteller Tech. He is also co-founder of Storyteller Media, a company he started with his wife, Dena.
Rebecca B. Brown
Saturday 18th of December 2021
You've got several things wrong: Matagalpa is not the capital of Nicaragua. Managua is. Maragogype is another name for Elephant Beans, not a region. Best coffee in Nicaragua comes from Diplito, a region in Nueva Segovia that tends to produce the winners of Cup of Excellence competitions. Maragogype is not as special as advertised, either, but does have black pepper overtones. I've had it fresh roasted. Ometepe and other areas have very interesting coffees but those rarely make the international market since the crops are not large and do get consumed locally.
I live in Nicaragua and buy from a Jinotega growers' coop that does a medium roast reliably after experimenting with roasting my own.
Monday 20th of December 2021
Thanks for clarifying these details. I've corrected the post. The capital city error was meant to say that Matagalpa is Nicaragua's coffee capital - but seems like it was changed in editing.
Thanks for the other details as well - it's helpful to have your perspective as someone who drinks Nicaraguan coffee every day.
Sunday 13th of June 2021
Read a Charles Martin book about coffee from Nicaragua called Legal Grounds. Beans. Trying to find where to buy it. Saw it at Amazon a few weeks ago but now can’t find it. I like the organic beans.