Guide to Nicaraguan coffee - Tips on Beans, Brewing and RoastingPublished Date:
What do you know about Nicaraguan coffee? You know it’s great, you know you want it. But do you know how it actually started? How Nicaraguan coffee brands grow their coffee? Or how Nicaraguan coffee beans are classified?
If you have a thirst for Nicaraguan coffee, you have a hunger for knowledge, then you have come to the right place! Learn all about Nicaraguan coffee beans here with Portfolio Coffee.
History of Nicaraguan Coffee
Nicaragua is a beautiful country in Central America that is located in between Honduras and Costa Rica. It is part of the renowned Coffee Belt – and a really important part of it, by the way!
Nicaraguan coffee production has been recognized as one of the best when it comes to quality, directly traded coffee. And if we talk about quantity, it is the world’s 12th largest coffee exporter! Admirable in every sense of the word.
Although coffee has been Nicaragua’s main export since the late 19th century, it has not had it easy. Many natural disasters and political upheavals have colored its history, but this hardworking country has pulled itself together over and over again.
An Encouraging Beginning for Nicaraguan Coffee
Coffee was brought to Nicaragua in the 1790s by Catholic missionaries, and the first commercial Nicaraguan coffee plantations grew in Managua, the current national capital.
Nicaraguan coffee bean production needed almost 50 years to develop completely and stand out from other Central American coffee productions. This achievement, plus Nicaragua’s special position along the continent’s isthmus and its easy access to transoceanic trade routes, soon attracted other countries’ attention.
So much so, that Nicaragua ended up signing an exclusive deal with the United States for transit, and Nicaraguan coffee brands received investment and aid from this foreign country.
A Difficult Time for Nicaraguan Coffee Production
The troubled political history of Nicaragua has always been a determining factor for Nicaraguan coffee brands’ production.
In 1821, Nicaragua joined the Mexican Empire for a short time, until the year of 1838 when it abandoned that union. At that time, Nicaragua declared its independence and became the first modern Central American country.
In the year of 1870, almost a century after coffee was first introduced and planted in Managua, Nicaraguan coffee beans became the main export of the nation.
All seemed to be going well until the 20th century arrived. In 1912, the United States initiated an occupation in Nicaragua with 2500 marines. This tumult would last for more than 20 years, and the believed intention was to avoid any other world power to use the strategic position of Nicaragua to build a trade canal.
Nicaragua: Coffee & Tyranny
Coming back to coffee production, the first Nicaraguan coffee cooperative was created by the revolutionary Augusto Cesar Sandino during the time of the American occupation.
After that, the military strongman Anastasio Somoza Garcia would ascend the throne as the country’s dictator. The Somoza dynasty reigned the nation for over 42 years, and during their tenure, they encouraged the formation of many more Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives.
As a result of these coffee cooperatives’ actions, small family farms had the chance to improve their production and compete with bigger Nicaraguan coffee brands. So much so that nowadays, up to 95 percent of Nicaraguan coffee beans are thought to be produced by small-scale family farms.
Nicaraguan Coffee in Today’s Reality
From the late 20th century until the present day, Nicaraguan coffee brands employ more than half a million workers. This represents nearly 15 percent of the national labor force, and 50 percent of the country's agricultural workforce.
In spite of continual political obstacles and natural disasters (recurrent volcanic eruptions, hurricanes, floods, and severe storms), Nicaragua has continued to produce coffee, keeping it as its main export.
Why Is Nicaraguan Coffee So Successful?
Nicaraguan coffee beans are thought to have the highest quality thanks to the blessed landscapes that the country has, and its naturally shade-grown plantations.
Large volcanic mountain ranges full of rich volcanic soils help the Nicaraguan coffee beans grow vigorously and enhance flavor concentration. Nicaraguan coffee brands do not need to use - and spend a lot of money on - synthetic fertilizers that can end up being toxic for consumers.
The exuberant rainforests that surround the volcanic mountain ranges provide the perfect environmental conditions for coffee plantations to thrive. Shade-growing and steady water supply minimize pests’ impact and allow Nicaraguan coffee brands to use fewer pesticides. So Nicaraguan coffee beans are naturally more ecological too.
Another great thing about the shady conditions where Nicaraguan coffee beans grow is that their growth rate is slowed down. This gives an opportunity to diversify the Nicaraguan coffee flavor profiles and bring out the subtler taste notes.
The Flavor Notes of Nicaraguan Coffee
Coffee from Nicaragua is so successful worldwide due to the natural well-balanced flavors of the Nicaraguan coffee beans. Even if there exists a variety of Nicaraguan coffee flavor notes, all of them have in common a good balance of bitterness and sweetness.
Nicaraguan coffee brands offer different mild flavors that can go from pie crust to chocolate, passing through vanilla and pear notes. Most of all, the particular brand of fruitiness will vary depending on the roaster.
For example, the La Quebrada coffee from Nicaragua is a light roast that has almond, jasmine, and molasses tasting notes. A pretty interesting mix of flavors, right? Let’s see now what flavor notes you can expect from Nicaraguan coffee beans in general.
The body of Nicaraguan coffee has a good balance. It is not too light or too strong, you are going to feel it has a marked flavor, but it will not end up being syrupy.
Well-balanced Flavor Complexity
When you take a sip of Nicaraguan coffee, you can feel a mild acidity and a flavor that has a unique complexity. Though not typically overwhelming, the narrative and mouth feel of Nicaraguan harvests are routinely well-balanced in flavor complexity.
Nicaraguan coffee brands can offer you both fruity and citrusy flavor notes in each sip. You can tell a Nicaraguan coffee is citrusy when you are able to denote sour flavor notes, like a ripe orange. On the other hand, some Nicaraguan coffee beans are fruity. You can taste a certain sweetness that is reminiscent of ripe stone-fruit.
Just like their body and flavor complexity, Nicaraguan coffee beans are balanced in their sweetness too. However, you might detect different disseminations of sweetness depending on the Nicaraguan coffee brand. Sometimes it can be a fruity sweetness, but in other cases it can be a more nutty sweetness.
Nicaraguan coffee beans possess a unique and pleasant “sweet bitterness”. So, again, they have a well-balanced bitterness with a touch of sweetness, or, in other words, they are bittersweet.
You can easily smell the very marked bitter and sweet notes in a cup of Nicaraguan coffee. we can say that Nicaraguan specialty harvests are consistently aromatic.
Nicaraguan Coffee Regions
In these coffee-producing regions, coffee plantations are grown around 1,500 meters above sea level. At this altitude, coffee trees are not affected by weather fluctuations, and they can develop high-quality features.
Let’s now discover the Nicaraguan coffee-producing regions one by one.
Jinotega is the most popular region to grow Nicaraguan coffee. Thanks to its volcanic soil and tropical climate, the coffee that is grown here is almost perfect in quality terms.
In Jinotega, coffee varieties such as Caturra and Bourbon are produced at an altitude of 1,100 to 1,700 meters.
Matagalpa is blessed with rich volcanic soil and tropical forests as well, and these environmental conditions make it one of the most important Nicaraguan coffee regions.
This region is considered the Nicaraguan coffee capital and the National Coffee Museum has been established here. Varieties of Nicaraguan coffee beans like Catimor and Bourbon are grown in Matagalpa at 1,000 to 1,400 meters above the sea level.
Nueva Segovia is renowned for producing Nicaraguan coffee beans with a special flavor. Nicaraguan coffee brands from this region offer coffee with more floral notes rather than fruity ones, which makes it stand out from the other regional productions.
Nicaraguan coffee beans from Nueva Segovia are considered gourmet too, as they are hard to find in the market. Just as in Jinotega, the coffee varieties grown here are Caturra and Bourbon. And like Matagalpa, coffee is grown at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,400 meters.
Dipilto municipality in the Nueva Segovia region is well-known for its award-winning coffee productions. For example, in 2014, 11 of the 25 “Cup of Excellence” winning farms across the globe came from this very special place.
Nicaraguan coffee beans from Estelí are reputed as rare and delicious as Nueva Segovia's, as they do not have the expected fruity notes of Nicaraguan coffee either.
There are only a few Nicaraguan coffee brands in Madriz, and the coffee grown here is recognized for being gourmet and with floral flavor notes too.
How Is Coffee Grown in Nicaragua?
Not Only Coffee
Most of the Nicaraguan coffee brands’ farms are not monoculture systems. This means they do not produce just coffee, but a variety of cereal and fruit crops, plus some tree plantations.
Cereals like corn and tropical fruits like bananas, mangos, and oranges are the most common crops to mix with plantations of Nicaraguan coffee trees. In addition, strong trees for lumber and firewood are planted as well on the same farms.
Thanks to this intermixed farming culture, Nicaraguan coffee brands that are produced by small-scale family farms were able to survive the coffee crisis at the beginning of the 21st century.
A Coffee Crisis
This crisis took place in the early 2000s, and three of the largest Nicaraguan banks failed due to it. Nearly 40 percent of the Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives collapsed too, but incredibly, membership in these collectives increased by 10 percent.
As a result, there were fewer coffee cooperatives, but they were more powerful because of the union of their people. These renewed Nicaraguan coffee cooperatives could serve their members better and soon they would start competing on the world stage.
And Small-Scale Farmers Win!
In the national Cup of Excellence competition of 2004, Nicaraguan coffee brands produced by family farmers had their ultimate test. They were thought to not create as high-quality products as larger rivals, but the Nicaraguan coffee beans took 9 of the 11 prizes. They truly silenced the critics.
To this day, Nicaraguan coffee families keep giving us one of the best and most sustainable coffees in the world through their traditional shade-grown and ecological farming techniques and hard work.
Varieties of Nicaraguan Coffee Beans
The most common coffee varieties planted by Nicaraguan coffee brands are Maragogype, Pacamara, Catimor, Caturra, Maracaturra, Red Catuaí, and Yellow Catuaí.
Maragogype, or Maragogipe, is a coffee variety that is also known as “Elephant Beans”. These Nicaraguan coffee beans received this funny name due to their particular size – they are really large!
Elephant Beans are a natural mutation of Typica, and although they are well known for being planted by Nicaraguan coffee brands, they actually come from another coffee producer country. The most giant coffee beans on the planet were first discovered in Maragogipe, Brazil in the year 1870.
Because of their extremely big size, Elephant Beans plantations take up a lot of space and cannot be grown in abundance. Therefore, its production is a little bit lower than other Nicaraguan coffee beans.
Nicaraguan coffee brands describe Marogogype’s flavor profile as a refined and balanced one with a bright acidity level.
Pacas, for its part, is a variation of Bourbon that developed dwarfism. We already know Maragogype is a variety with really large coffee beans, so what happens with Pacamara?
Well, it turns out that Pacamara beans are compacted as Pacas, but this feature also makes them more resistant to high altitude winds, and therefore, more productive than Maragogype.
If you are curious about what the Pacamara variety tastes like, you should try La Rotunda single origin Nicaraguan coffee.
Caturra is also a coffee variety that derives from Bourbon and grows with dwarfism. It is originally from Brazil just like the Elephant Beans, and their plantations are very productive like the Pacamara.
To give this amazing Brazilian Nicaraguan coffee mix a try, we recommend the Equilibrio blend Brazilian Nicaraguan coffee. It is made with Caturra and Yellow Catuai and has the best of both coffee producer countries.
This Brazilian Nicaraguan coffee comes in a practical single-use drip bag too. Easy to carry and easy to prepare – you will love it!
If Pacamara is a cross between Pacas and Maragogype, can you decipher what Maracaturra is? That’s right! Maracaturra is a cross of Maragogype and Caturra.
This variety is planted diligently by Nicaraguan coffee brands because its taste has the depth of the Elephant Beans but the citrusy flavor notes of the Caturra.
These Nicaraguan coffee beans are considered a “spontaneous” mutation, and not an intended one because they were not created in laboratories. Cross-pollination events take place on the Nicaraguan coffee farms to produce this variety.
Catimor is an intended cross of Caturra and Timor varieties. It has been created by a Portuguese laboratory, and it is one of the most productive and easiest to care for Nicaraguan coffee beans.
Red & Yellow Catuai
Catuai is another great creation from the biggest South American country, Brazil. It is an intended cross between Caturra and Mundo Novo varieties and is known for being a highly productive coffee tree.
Most of the Catuai coffee plantations produce yellow coffee cherries, so they were named Yellow Catuai. But there are some samples that produce red coffee cherries. These specimens were developed as a separate variety and were named Red Catuai.
How Are Nicaraguan Coffee Beans Processed?
Different processing methods are being used to dry and prepare the prior mentioned Nicaraguan coffee varieties. Nicaraguan coffee brands tend to use the pulped natural process, as it gives a nice body and slightly rustic fruity notes to the coffee.
The pulped natural process is also called “the honey process” by Nicaraguans, as the fruit that is left on the drying bean usually ends up with a yellow color and a sticky texture, like honey.
If you would like to try a Nicaraguan coffee made with this honey process, you should buy this La Rotunda single-origin Nicaraguan coffee.
Roasting Tips for Nicaraguan Coffee Beans
Nicaraguan coffee beans are very versatile when it comes to roasting. Thanks to their stable mild flavor notes and balanced body, they can go well with any of the roasting styles and can be easily roasted at home.
Medium and dark roastings are the most recommended ones by Nicaraguan coffee brands, as a longer roasting time helps Nicaraguan coffee beans to develop their depth as well as their subtlest notes.
The exception to this rule is the Maragogype variety, as it seems that it goes better with lighter roasting styles. So if roasting Elephant Beans specifically, do not go further than medium roast to be on the safe side.
Nicaraguan coffee beans made with a light roast have a milder, smoother yet more caffeinated, and acidic taste.
Medium roast is the standard of Nicaraguan coffee brands as it allows Nicaraguan coffee’s mild flavor notes to showcase in all their splendor.
Dark roasted and very dark roasted Nicaraguan coffee beans are the best for a nice cup of espresso. The Nicaraguan coffee varieties from Jinotega and Matagalpa are preferred for these roasting styles because they enhance their very deep and well-balanced flavor notes.
How To Brew Nicaraguan Coffee?
A very important tip before brewing Nicaraguan coffee beans is not to use boiling water. As we have mentioned a couple of times, Nicaraguan coffee is mild and balanced in flavor and using boiling water to brew it might affect its natural properties.
To brew Nicaraguan coffee like an expert, make sure you leave the hot water for a while after it has boiled before you pour it.
Espresso, Long Blacks and Americanos
The ability of the Nicaraguan coffee beans to be roasted at medium, dark, and very dark roasting styles, makes them an excellent choice for brewing flavorful espressos, long blacks, and Americanos using an espresso machine.
Cold Brew Coffee
If you would like to test Nicaraguan coffee brands as cold brew drinks, go ahead. The cold brew process enhances Nicaraguan coffee beans' overall flavors and helps reduce the acidic notes they might have.
Sweet Milk-Based Coffee Drinks
The low acidity and nutty undertones of the Nicaraguan coffee beans make them perfect for preparing your favorite sweet coffee drinks. You can use both milk and vegan dairy options to prepare delicious macchiatos, cappuccinos, lattes, and more!
It’s Your Time to Try Nicaraguan Coffee!
You definitely have learned a lot about Nicaraguan coffee today. Are you excited to try it? Are you even more curious? We bet you can’t wait to have a taste!
You already know Nicaraguan coffee’s tumultuous history and the multiple efforts from the people to revive their coffee tradition each time. You have discovered all the different Nicaraguan coffee beans and understand that they all have common flavor profiles, but also distinguishing features.
We showed you the roasting and brewing recommendations of the Nicaraguan coffee brands to enjoy their coffee beans properly. Now all that’s missing is your own cup of perfectly brewed Nicaraguan coffee - lucky we have shown you the best options online to start your Nicaraguan coffee path!