Unlocking the flavours of Nicaraguan coffees

Pavel Corena
November 29, 2022
Unlocking the flavours of Nicaraguan coffee

When producing coffee, Nicaragua has historically focussed on quantity over quality, which has helped it become the 11th largest coffee producer in the world. 

That said, coffee farmers in the country are now developing innovative processes and working with more coffee varieties in order to get closer to the end consumer. 

Notably, in 2019, researchers from the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) developed a new F1 hybrid coffee tree using lots in Nicaragua.  

The hybrid is said to be resistant to coffee leaf rust, with high yield potential, and can be propagated by seed in seed gardens. 

Nicaragua’s unique geographical location and climate provide ideal growing conditions for a variety of high-quality, flavourful coffees – which is why it is becoming increasingly popular within the specialty sector. 

Discover how to unlock the unique attributes of Nicaraguan coffee in order to develop a roast profile that appeals to a growing market. 

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An image of a Nicaraguan coffee farmer in Nicaragua, handpicking Nicaraguan coffee beans in an article on roasting Nicaraguan coffees

Coffee production in Nicaragua

While Catholic missionaries introduced Nicaragua to coffee during the late 1700s, it took another 50 years for it to become established. 

Large-scale coffee production began in the 1850s, and by 1870, coffee was the country’s principal export crop – a position it held for the next century. 

However, between 1980 and 1990, many coffee farms were abandoned due to civil war and political instability. Additionally, the country was struck by a hurricane, followed by severe drought, and then between 1999 and 2003, it was hit by the coffee price crisis. 

Low international prices meant farmers lacked the finances to reinvest in the farms and rebuild after the natural disasters. Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, which has had a ripple effect on the local coffee industry, which is only exacerbated by low prices at the farm level. 

That said, recent developments have seen Nicaraguan coffee pique the interest of the specialty coffee community. Notably, the International Coffee Organisation (ICO) recently reported Nicaragua produced almost 2.9 million 60-kilogram bags of Arabica coffee in the 2019/2020 harvest season.

Nicaragua has five major regions where coffee is produced: Esteli, Jinotega, Madriz, Matagalpa, and Nueva Segovia. 

As each region has a unique micro-climate, the growing conditions vary, alongside the attributes of the coffees. 

Nicaragua is blessed with high-elevation mountains and nutrient-rich volcanic soils, allowing the beans to mature at a slower rate and develop a more flavourful coffee. The main cultivated varieties are Caturra, Bourbon, Pacas, Catuai, Catimore, Maragogype, and Pacamara. 

More so, 95% of Nicaraguan coffee is considered shade-grown, and most of it is grown naturally without the use of pesticides or fertilisers

The local coffee industry employs more than 330,000 people. This is around 5% of the country’s population, 15% of its labour market, and over half its agricultural workforce.

An image of Nicaraguan coffee being brewed in a Chemex in an article on roasting Nicaraguan coffees

Characteristics of Nicaraguan coffee

Nicaraguan coffee production tends to use wet processing, washing the beans before they go through the drying process and allowing the natural flavours of the beans to shine through. 

Typically, most Nicaraguan coffees tend to deliver a medium to smooth body, with a moderate to bright acidity with a crisp and fruity snap. Additionally, it tends to have a balanced and bittersweet flavour, while the aroma includes sweet caramel, chocolate, and citrus elements. 

That said, the diversity of micro-climate in the country means the coffees tend to develop unique characteristics that differ completely from each other. 

Therefore, roasters should pay careful attention to which variety they are working with in order to develop the best roast profile. 

One of the main variables to consider when developing a roast profile is the density of the beans

Coffee grown at high altitudes tends to have beans that are denser and contain higher levels of sugar.

This often results in more complex and sweeter cup profiles – which is why high altitude coffees are often more desirable.

The majority of single-origin coffees have a specific density, allowing roasters to use a predetermined roast profile. This is not the case with Nicaraguan coffees.

For example, Nicaraguan Elephant Beans, also known as Maragogype or Maragogipe, are some of the most unique beans found in the region. 

These beans tend to have a lower density, which produces a refined, clean, and balanced flavour profile with bright acidity.

An image of a coffee roaster in Nicaragua roasting Nicaraguan coffees in an article on roasting Nicaraguan coffees

What to consider when roasting Nicaraguan coffees

Due to the generally balanced body and mild flavours of Nicaraguan coffees, roasters can be more versatile with their profiles. 

Therefore, roasters can play with light, medium, or medium-dark roasts, depending on their desired results and target market. 

That said, a medium roast is recommended when trying to find a balance between acidity and sweetness. 

However, the Maragogype variety may be an exception to this. The variety can be complex and is often characterised by its smooth profile and accentuated sweetness. 

A light roast is recommended to help highlight the bright acidity in the cup. 

Due to the diversity of profiles, roasters should be sure to measure and record the different variables and characteristics of the beans during the roast to ensure consistency throughout. 

Nicaragua still has a massive amount of untapped potential for high-quality coffee production. Despite its troubled economic and political history, favourable microclimates for coffee production and an increasing focus on quality mean that the country only seems set to grow in the coffee sector.

At MTPak Coffee, we understand how much time and effort it takes to source top-quality green coffee and craft the best roast profile for consumers.

For roasters who plan to add Nicaraguan coffee to their offerings, our design team can help you create custom-print packaging to highlight its unique flavour characteristics and unique origin story. 

We allow our clients the option to build their own coffee packaging, designed to their exact specifications, thanks to our innovative digital printing technology. 

We offer a range of 100% recyclable coffee packaging options made from renewable materials such as kraft paper, rice paper, or multilayer LDPE packaging with an environmentally friendly PLA lining, all of which minimise waste and contribute to a circular economy.

MTPak Coffee guarantees a quick turnaround time of 40-hours and 24-hour shipping time, and we offer low minimum order quantities (MOQs) to micro-roasters who are looking to remain agile while showcasing brand identity and a commitment to the environment.

For more information on sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team. 

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