Crisp, acid, and having a snap are ways people define the character of Nicaraguan coffee. Nicaraguan coffee has a sweet and rich taste. It is well balanced, medium bodied, and pungent. You get strong tastes of bitter and sweet balanced together.
Some coffee is heavy with the bittersweet taste of over-ripe fruit. Others blend citrus and chocolate – think chocolate oranges for the holidays. Still others bring in a berry-like tartness with spices and vanilla flavors.
Varietals grown in Nicaragua include Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, Yellow and Red Catuai, Catimor, Maracaturra, Pacamara, and Maragogype.
In This Guide:
Nicaragua sits solidly within the “Bean Belt”, an area between 25 degrees north of the Equator and 30 degrees south of it. It also sits on the Ring of Fire, a volcanic band around the Pacific Ocean.
Nicaragua has been growing coffee since the early 19th century. In the 20th century, the government created a set of initiatives to grow and improve coffee production. Then the Nicaraguan revolutions and civil wars played havoc with the industry from 1960 to the 1990s. The years without fighting may bring hurricanes, and this country has faced many obstacles in expanding their status as coffee growers.
Today, 15% of people in Nicaragua make their living through coffee in one way or another. The US is the biggest consumer of their premium coffee.
Throughout Nicaragua there are mountains with volcanic soil in areas with tropical forests – perfect for growing the bean. Shade grown and organic are important in Nicaragua, and 95% of the coffee grown there qualifies for those labels. CAFENICA is the cooperative that represents most of the small farms and highlights the benefits farmers get from this organic edge.
The absolute best beans are grown at altitudes between 3600 and 5250 feet above sea level. Climate change is affecting Nicaraguan coffee as dry seasons are growing longer each year as well as hotter. Coffee needs cool and wet conditions to grow and is planted at higher elevations each year – but when you reach the top of the volcano, you cannot get any higher.
Many farms intercrop bananas with coffee. The bananas supply shade for the coffee while they grow. Then, the bananas are harvested (making a second crop for the farm). The banana trees are chopped down, cut up, and tilled into the soil to add extra organic matter.
Most Nicaraguan beans are wet processed: soaked in water and then dried in the sun. The soaking allows the bad beans to be separated from the good as well as washing the cherry off the bean. The drying process is harsh and brings out a wild taste.
Some beans are dry processed there as well. A select few are honey processed, a local method that takes parts from both wet and dry processing.
Nicaraguan beans can hold up to any kind of roast you put them to. But, like many Latin American beans, light and medium roasts really show of the multiple lighter flavors that the beans hold.
If you dark roast the beans, dark roasting gets rid of a lot of the acid. This delivers a deep, balanced cup of coffee with a dusky flavor. Coffees made from these beans are tasty black or with milk.
Specific regions and their associated flavor profiles
Nicaraguans grow most coffee in the west-central highlands. With its 19 volcanoes, some of which are active, these regions have a lot of good soil for growing coffee.
Jinotega is the region in Nicaragua with the highest production. Jinotega mainly grows the Bourbon and Caturra varietals of the Arabica bean. Coffees from here have a rich and fruity flavor. High quality and bright taste come out of this region’s high, volcanic soils.
In Matagalpa, most of the coffee is fruity and bright, which makes sense coming from a place called “Land of the Eternal Spring.” Matagalpa is the second largest producer of coffee in Nicaragua. This region is known for producing high quality beans.
Coffees from Nueva Segovia are floral instead of fruity. It’s these unusual flavors that lead this region to win many awards. This is the place to go if you are looking for a one-of-a-kind coffee.
Esteli, like Nueva Segovia, has a more floral taste to its coffee.
Not a lot of coffees are grown in Madriz, but those grown there are floral.
Try these Nicaraguan coffees
When buying Nicaraguan coffee, look for a few things.
Check the altitude on the beans, it will often be labeled. If they are grown at a higher altitude, the beans are Arabica. (Nicaragua grows some Robusta beans in the lowlands as well as Arabicas with less complexity and interest.)
Buy these beans between January and April. Beans sold then will be freshly processed from the earlier harvesting season.
You can be adventurous when brewing your Nicaraguan beans. Like chameleons they will adjust to any situation. You can make coffee drinks with milk in your espresso machine. Nicaraguan beans also hold up well in a cold brew coffee, dampening acidity while preserving other flavors.
Good as Gold Coffee Roasters – Nicaragua
This coffee is both flavorful and affordable. It is medium roasted, and you can check the roast data on the bag to measure freshness. Bittersweet and bright, this coffee holds flavors of caramel, chocolate, honey, and apple.
Volcanica has a medium roast out of Jinotega that is wet processed. Volcanica is a good brand to go to for single origin, high altitude coffees from many countries. These beans come from the Jinotega region and bring flavors of cherry, apple, raspberry and rose.
Witham’s Coffee (Australian) – Elephant coffee beans
From the varietal Typica come the largest coffee beans grown in the world – Maragogipe. These “Elephant Beans” are twice the size of a regular bean. They have a clean and refined flavor profile with balance and bright acidity. Some think Elephant beans are the best in the world, while others rate them as average.
Segovia Coffee (Canadian) – Nicaragua Segovia
This is a dark roast with low acid, for those wanting to try something different. Smooth and rich, this coffee has flavors of nut, apricot, and spices as well as a sweet background taste. Coming from Nueva Segovia, this coffee is fair-trade, organic, and shade grown.
Nicaraguan coffee is medium-bodied, bright, and acidic, with a large and varied complexity of flavor notes. Most Nicaraguan coffee is premium Arabica coffee, that meets organic and other valuable certifications. This coffee grows in the west-central highlands, and a lot of it comes to America.
Learn about coffee flavor profiles from other regions
You can find Johanna at https://JohannaHaas.com. She’s a former professor who now works as a freelance writer and editor. Among her loves are coffee, cats, and creativity.