In my early 20s, I came to know and love Nicaragua as the land of lakes and volcanoes when I traveled to the country's furthest reaches.
What’s even better is that I got to experience it all while simultaneously sipping on delicious coffee.
Nicaraguan coffee is considered some of the best in the world. What makes it so special? How does Nicaragua coffee taste?
I’ll be covering all that and more in this complete guide to the flavor profile and coffee regions of Nicaragua.
What Does Nicaraguan Coffee Actually Taste Like?
Nicaraguan coffee flavors are extremely complex, mostly thanks to the many coffee varieties they originate from.
While the flavor complexity of this nation's coffee runs deep, a few qualities stand out across most Nicaraguan coffee brands.
First off, Nicaraguan coffee tends to be well-balanced and smooth. These coffee beans often deliver a smooth to medium body that’s not too heavy on the tongue.
Mild acidity is bright and citrusy, so you can expect a crispy, fruity punch to the mouth with your first sip.
Flavor-wise, it all depends on the region and coffee plant varietals. The flavor of Nicaraguan coffees can vary anywhere from fruity and citrusy to floral and chocolatey.
You might even notice a toasty or nutty aftertaste. As I said, the flavor notes all come down to the specific beans.
In terms of aroma, your nose is in for a treat. Most Nicaraguan coffee gives off aromas of sweet caramel and chocolate, while others might smell more citric.
Whatever you smell, you can expect it to be pleasant and balanced.
One thing to note is that Nicaraguan beans are typically less acidity and bitterness than other Central American coffees.
This has a lot to do with the fact that Nicaraguan coffee goes through wet processing (more on that later).
Nicaraguan Coffee Varietals & How They Taste
A coffee “varietal” is a fancy way of saying what type of plant it comes from.
Just as there are different varieties of apples - like Gala, Red Delicious, and Granny Smith - the same goes for Nicaragua coffee beans.
Most Nicaraguan coffee beans are from the Arabica species (rather than Robusta).
There are dozens of different Arabica varieties, but these are the ones most commonly found in Central America, including Nicaragua:
Along with Typica, Bourbon is among the most common coffee varietals, especially among the best Nicaraguan coffee brands.
It's so commonly grown because it consistently produces a quality cup of coffee, making it extremely popular among coffee roasting companies and coffee drinkers.
Bourbon varietals can be found all over the world, so its specific flavor notes really depend on the region.
Nicaraguan Bourbon is known for its balanced sweetness and smooth body, and it’s often described as toffee-like and buttery.
Since it's highly susceptible to diseases during the growing process, Nicaraguan coffee farmers have to give Bourbon coffee plants a lot of TLC.
It’s typically grown organically in rich volcanic soil at higher altitude.
Caturra is another coffee varietal you will surely come across as you sip your way through Nicaraguan blends.
Compared to Bourbon, Caturra beans are brighter in acidity, and I find this varietal to be gentle, balanced, and smooth.
Many of the Caturra blends available right now hail from the Jinotega region of Nicaragua, thanks to its high altitude.
As you open the seal of your Caturra coffee, expect to smell faint notes of tobacco and vanilla, and get ready for its common flavor profiles of chocolate and caramel.
While Catimore coffee isn’t as common as Caturra and Bourbon, it’s easy enough to get your hands on this type of bean.
Coffee farmers in Nica often grow Catimore coffee beans for their disease-resistant characteristics.
This varietal has the disease resistance of Robusta coffee beans but the sweetness and smoothness of Arabica beans.
The sweetness of Catimore coffee beans is accompanied by a pleasant nutty bouquet.
I personally prefer Caturra and Bourbon over Catimore, but that shouldn’t stop you from at least giving it a try.
Pacas beans are naturally mutated from the Bourbon varietal, so there are a lot of similarities between the two.
This type of bean was named after a family in El Salvador - the Pacas family - who discovered the varietal naturally growing on one of their coffee farms.
Even though it was discovered by accident, Pacas beans are now grown frequently; Pacas plants are hardy and durable, and they can withstand a range of different environments and natural disasters.
In terms of taste, it has typical Nicaraguan coffee flavor notes of toffee, caramel, and cocoa.
Pacamara hasn't been around for nearly as long as Bourbon or Caturra. Still, it's quickly becoming popular for its complex flavors.
This hybrid bean is a cross between Pacas and Maragogype and is known for its large bean size.
Farmers love growing Pacamara coffee beans because large beans mean a higher yield, so it's considered a cost-effective varietal.
I've only had the pleasure of trying one Pacamara blend in Nicaragua, and it was an experience I'll never forget.
This varietal is bright, lively, and bursting with fruity notes of guava and citrus. An extra layer of complexity is added thanks to the hints of spices and chocolate.
Catuai is one of the less common varietals of Nicaraguan coffee beans. It usually comes from Nueva Segovia, which is just on the border of Honduras.
In fact, most Catuai coffee beans originate from Honduras rather than Nicaragua.
Most Nicaraguan coffee beans are grown at high elevations, and Maragogype is no exception.
These coffee trees are naturally mutated from the Typica varietal, and farmers love growing them because of their large size and solid cup profile.
They’re so large, in fact, that they’re often called elephant beans.
Because this is a natural mutation of Typica, you can expect a sweet bitterness.
The word “bitter” often turns people away, but it's a good balance of sweetness and acidity that work well together, making this an enjoyable cup to sip on.
Maragogype is classified as Strictly High Grown (SHG), which means it must be cultivated at least 1200 meters above sea level.
For that reason, these Nicaraguan beans can only be found in the mountainous regions of the country.
Why Does Nicaragua Grow Great Coffee?
There's no denying that Nicaraguan coffee beans are some of the best in the world. This country knows how to produce coffee that will leave you wanting more.
There are many reasons for the country's ability to produce well-rounded coffee, but a few stand out.
The processing method plays a huge role in producing quality coffee. In Nicaragua, there are 3 different methods used:
- 1Wet Process
Using the wet process method is extremely common in Nica. It involves pulping each coffee plant into a mushy substance and then fermenting it while the bean is still inside. After fermentation, the bean is removed from the outer layer of the fruit, followed by drying.
- 2Dry Process
With dry processing, the entire coffee plant is naturally dried in the sun. Once dried, the outer fruit is stripped away, leaving you with a darkened, unroasted bean. Although it's less labor-intensive, this method is less common since there's a much higher risk of rot.
- 3Honey Process
Honey processing is very rare. It requires a great deal of work and constant monitoring, so not many farmers use it. When they do, it involves a combination of both wet and dry practices before the beans are finally dried.
The processing method depends on the particular brand and farmer.
No matter which one is used, most Nicaraguan farmers and roasters put a great deal of effort and care into the process, which ultimately leads to some of the best coffee in the world.
Just like processing, the roast level can make or break a coffee bean. Some destinations produce coffee that must be roasted in a specific way for a specific amount of time.
That's not the case for Nicaraguan beans, though. Central American coffee is extremely versatile, so it fares well with any roasting style.
Some coffee lovers even choose to roast their own beans at home!
Even though any roast works well with Nicaraguan beans, you should still have an idea of the roasting levels so that you can choose a blend that your palate will appreciate.
Here's a quick rundown:
Climate & Elevation
The methods for how the beans are processed and roasted can only go so far when it comes to cultivating quality coffee.
What’s even more important is the climate, terrain, and altitude, and Nicaragua couldn’t be more perfect on all three of these fronts.
Not only is the tropical climate great for growing coffee, but so is the landscape.
The volcanic soil is rich in all the minerals and nutrients necessary for healthy plant development, and this soil is the reason for the fruity and floral notes.
Because of the richness of the soil, Nicaraguan farms like Finca San Francisco aren’t required to add any additional nutrients or fertilizers.
That’s right… Nicaraguan coffee is almost always 100% organically grown, so you never have to worry about synthetic fertilizers in your morning brew.
Best of all, about 95% of the country’s coffee production is shade-grown.
Shade growing, as well as a steady supply of water, ensures that the plants are protected from pests and disease, so pesticides are rarely used.
Learn About The Interesting History Of Nicaraguan Coffee!
Nicaragua as a whole has had a rocky history, and that had an impact on the country’s coffee industry. But let’s start from the beginning.
In the late 19th century, coffee started to become a major export, and it took a few more decades for the industry to reach any real success.
Unfortunately, the Nicaraguan Civil War sparked by the Sandinista movement began in the mid-20th century, taking a major toll on coffee production.
Luckily, the industry has been able to bounce back, and despite the political obstacles, coffee farms and producers are thriving.
Nearly half a million Nicaraguans are involved in coffee production, about 15% of the country's workforce.
Travel Through The Nicaraguan Growing Regions!
The Jinotega region is by far the biggest producer of coffee in Nicaragua.
That's no surprise, considering the tropical climate, mountainous terrain, and volcanic soil are all ideal for growing coffee.
You can expect your Jinotegan coffee to be of the Bourbon or Caturra variety grown anywhere from 1100 to 1700 meters above sea level.
The Matagalpa region is another popular spot for coffee farms.
Similar to Jinotega, it’s blessed with nutrient-rich volcanic soil and tropical weather conditions that are just right for coffee cultivation.
Catimor and Bourbon varieties are the most common here, and the highest elevation is about 1400 meters.
If you ever happen to visit Matagalpa, make sure to stop at the National Coffee Museum to learn even more about the impact of coffee on Nicaraguan culture.
Nueva Segovia may not be the biggest producer of coffee in Nicaragua, but it produces some of the most unique and flavorful beans.
Segovian coffee tends to have a more floral flavor profile than coffee from other regions, so consider yourself lucky if you’re able to get your hands on some!
The Madriz region has gained a lot of popularity for its “gourmet” coffee and small-batch production. This coffee tends to be floral and fruity, and it’s perfect for a morning caffeine buzz.
How To Brew Authentic Nicaraguan Coffee At Home
No matter your preferred brewing method, Nicaraguan coffee will work just fine.
The beans are versatile enough for a drip brewer, espresso machine, French press, Moka Pot, and pour-over device.
Whichever method you use to brew, just make sure to avoid boiling water.
Because of its mild flavors and balanced acidity, using water that’s too hot can disrupt the natural properties that make this coffee so special.
Try to keep the water around 200 degrees Fahrenheit (212 degrees is the boiling point).
Anyone who prefers espresso and espresso-based drinks should go for a medium or dark roast blend.
This is perfect for brewing flavorful espresso, and it will work well in a traditional espresso machine as long as the grind is a fine consistency.
Nicaraguan Coffee Common Questions
Why is coffee important to Nicaragua?
The coffee industry is so important to Nicaragua because it accounts for more than 50% of agricultural jobs throughout the country. Nicaraguan coffee contributes more than 20% to agricultural GDP (gross domestic product). Without this industry, many Nicaraguan locals would be unemployed.
Is Nicaraguan coffee low in acid?
The acid level of your coffee depends a great deal on how it is processed and roasted. If you’re looking for a Nicaraguan coffee with very few acidic notes, opt for a dark roast over a light roast.
Most Nicaragua coffee production happens in the Jinotega region, and most of the coffee varieties grown are either Bourbon or Caturra.
Thanks to the tropical climate conditions and impeccable soil, this coffee is just the right balance of sweet, smooth, and flavorful.