Coffee Origins: Nicaragua

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Coffee was first brought to Nicaragua in 1790 by Catholic missionaries, and it was initially farmed as a curiosity. It wasn’t until around 1840 that it became economically significant as a result of rising global coffee consumption. Around Managua, the first commercial plantations appeared.

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In Nicaragua, the hundred-year period between 1840 and 1940 is known as the ‘Coffee Boom,’ because coffee had a significant impact on the economy during this time. As coffee’s importance and worth grew, it necessitated an increasing amount of resources and labor. Coffee had become Nicaragua’s main export crop by 1870, and the government worked to make it easier for foreign corporations to participate in the industry and buy land. Previously, public land was sold to private individuals, and the government supported the establishment of big farms with the Subsidy Laws of 1879 and 1889, which paid planters $0.05 for each tree planted in excess of 5,000 trees.

By the end of the 19th century, Nicaragua came to resemble something of a banana republic, with most of the profit from coffee either leaving the country or going to a small number of local landowners.

The first growers’ cooperative was formed in the early 20th century, and the idea of cooperatives was promoted again from time to time during the Somoza family dictatorship between 1936 and 1979. However, the overthrow of the Somoza family by the Sandinistas and the ushering in of communism in 1979 was the beginning of a difficult time for the coffee industry. The Contras, rebel groups backed by the US and the CIA, formed to oppose the new government, targeted the coffee industry as part of their campaign, attacking vehicles transporting coffee farmworkers, as well as sabotaging coffee mills.

Despite these setbacks, in 1992 coffee was still Nicaragua’s primary export. However, the crash in coffee prices between 1999 and 2003 massively damaged the coffee sector again. Three of the largest six banks in the country collapsed due to their level of exposure to coffee production. The effect of low prices was perhaps multiplied further after the devastation of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 and the drought at the turn of the millennium.

Things are now, however, looking up for Nicaraguan coffee and more farmers are focusing on quality. In the past, the traceability of coffee was poor, and most were sold as a mill brand or as being from a particular region. Now the levels of traceability are very high.

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Coffee is one of Nicaragua’s most important exports and the trade has survived political upheaval and natural disasters.


You should be able to find coffees traceable down to single estates, or to producer groups or cooperatives.

TASTE PROFILE (country, travel)

Nicaraguan coffees have a wide spectrum of flavors. They’re usually fairly complex, with fruity flavors and crisp acidity.


Population: 6,071,000

Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2013: 1,500,000

Nicaragua has a number of smaller growing regions, including Madriz, Managua, Boca, and Carazo, which are not listed below but do produce some excellent coffees.

Information: JINOTEGA

The Nahuatl word xinotencatl is used to designate the region and its capital city, but there is some debate over what this word signifies. It’s either ‘city of old men’ or ‘neighbors of the Jiocuabos,’ with the latter being the more likely option. The region’s economy has historically been based on coffee, and it is currently Nicaragua’s leading producer.

Altitude: 1,100–1,700m (3,600–5,600ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Caturra, Bourbon

MATAGALPA (central america)

Another region is named after its capital city, is a city with a museum dedicated to coffee. Coffee from this region is produced by a mixture of estates and cooperatives.

Altitude: 1,000–1,400m (3,300–4,600ft)

Harvest: December–February

Varieties: Caturra, Bourbon

Information: NUEVA SEGOVIA

This region, on Nicaragua’s northern border, has made a name for itself in recent years by producing some of the country’s greatest coffees, with a lot of success in the country’s Cup of Excellence competition.

Altitude: 1,100–1,650m (3,600–5,400ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Caturra, Bourbon

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