Nicaragua is the largest country in Central America, and also the least densely populated. It is bordered by Costa Rica to the south, and Honduras to the north, and like those countries it is a major coffee exporter.
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Coffee is the main product exported from Nicaragua, and is worth $200 million per year to the country’s economy. There are more than 200 thousand people employed by the coffee industry either directly or indirectly, and the industry is the primary source of income from more than 33,000 families of farmers.
The Slow Growth of Specialty Coffees
While commodity coffee is an important part of the industry, and has generated income for the country for many years, the country is starting to diversify into specialty coffees. Nicaragua’s economy has struggled as a whole over the last few decades. In the 1980s and 90s, the Sandinista rule caused many coffee farms to become abandoned, and those that weathered that difficult political period were dealt another blow in 1998, when Hurricane Mitch caused devastation to the country’s infrastructure and displaced tens of thousands of the population.
The coffee crisis, which struck in 1993 and lasted for almost four years, brought coffee prices down to the point that many farmers in Nicaragua – and other parts of the world – were driven out of business.
Because of the commodity coffee focus that the country has, it was only recently that farmers started to look at ways to sell directly to exporters. Traditionally, coffee growers would sell their produce to export mills that would package it in bulk, which meant that it could not be sold as a single origin, traceable coffee. A small number of pioneering farmers have worked on improving the quality of their produce and marketing it directly, thanks to the help of the Nicaraguan Specialty Coffee Association.
Popular Coffees From Nicaragua
There are several coffee growing regions in Nicaragua, including Esteli, San Juan de Rio Coco, Jinotega, Matagalpa and Nueva Segovia. These regions produce a wide range of different types of coffee, including bourbon, Maragogype, Caturra, Catuai, Catimor and Pacmara, as well as some experimental blends such as Maracatu and Javanica.
The processing methods used vary from farm to farm, with some drying the coffee on African beds and others using natural processing methods or the traditional fully washed, wet process followed by drying of the parchment on patios. Harvest takes place between December and March.
The coffee industry is quite diverse. There are some small grower’s associations, and numerous co-operatives, but there are also a lot of big estates and these enjoy equal representation in terms of the specialty coffee industry. The quality of coffee coming out of the country has improved significantly as the country’s infrastructure has improved, and now that there are good road links between the farms and the drying areas and mills growers are able to offer much more consistency in terms of both the quality and quantity of the coffee that they supply.