Why It’s So Good, How It’s Made, Coffee Farms To Visit & The 9 Best Brands
Coffee. While some of us are happy to drink anything caffeinated to start the day, others view their morning mug as a sacred time and consider their blends serious business.
Whether you don’t know the difference between a mocha and a macchiato or you could detect flavor notes in a blind taste test, we can all appreciate a good cup of it.
Our favorite? Nicaraguan coffee.
If you know anything about coffee, you probably know Nicaragua is home to some of the best in the world. Nicaraguan coffee is coveted by connoisseurs for its sweet chocolate aroma, smooth body, and bright floral and citrus flavor profiles.
Read on to find out why Nicaraguan coffee is so good, how it’s made, the best coffee farms to visit in Nicaragua, and where you can try the 9 best brands.
A Major Industry
Coffee production is a massive industry in Nicaragua.
More than 330,000 Nicaraguans work in the coffee industry—a statistic that is all the more significant when you consider the national population is a mere 6.7 million. That means 5% of the country, 15% of the labor force, and over 50% of the agricultural workforce is in the Nicaraguan coffee business.
The country is responsible for nearly $500 million in global coffee exports, ranking tiny Nicaragua the 12th-largest producer in the world.
But what is it about this Central American nation that makes its coffee so coveted?
Why Is Nicaraguan Coffee So Good?
Ideal Growing Conditions
Coffee is best grown in certain conditions. It thrives in high altitudes, tropical climates, and fertile, nutrient-rich soil. You can find all of them in Nicaragua.
Nicaragua has three main coffee producing regions: Jinotega, Matagalpa, and Nueva Segovia.
Each is located in northern Nicaragua, where the hilly, densely forested terrain is favorable for growing coffee. Most farms or fincas, are concentrated here for this reason.
However, you will also find Nicaraguan coffee farms in Estelí, Carazo, Madriz, Masaya, and even Granada.
HN Hint: Jinotega is also known as “The City of Mists.”
This part of the country has cooler temperatures, so it won’t damage the fragile coffee plant with scorching dry heat.
Northern Nicaragua is known for its misty mountains and lush green valleys. With shady forests offering direct sun protection and steady rains providing hydration, coffee plants thrive in the peaks of Jinotega.
The higher the altitude, the better the coffee. In Nicaragua, coffee is grown around 1,200 to 1,500 meters above sea level. This elevation quite literally takes their coffee up a notch, qualifying it for the elite SHG (Strictly High Grown) grade.
Quality Coffee Beans
Another reason Nicaraguan coffee is so good? It simply uses better beans.
There are two main types of coffee bean: Arabica and Robusta. Arabica is known to be smoother and sweeter, while Robusta is stronger and more bitter.
Robusta is a hardy plant that can withstand lower altitudes and hotter climates thanks to high levels of chlorogenic acids. This quality makes the variety easier to grow, but it also impacts the flavor. The acid can translate into a harsh, bitter taste that isn’t optimal for consumption.
Arabica, on the other hand, requires more precise conditions to flourish. This variety does best at the highest elevations because it needs plenty of shade, moisture, and a cooler subtropical climate to grow. It may be more vulnerable to damage, but if done right, the Arabica plant rewards you with a pleasantly fruity cup of coffee.
Nearly all Nicaraguan coffee is 100% Arabica. Using the best coffee beans automatically lends almost every cup a strong foundation in quality, body, and flavor.
Nicaragua is primed for growing some of the world’s best coffee thanks to its humid climate, volcanic soil, mountainous terrain, and ample Arabica varieties.
Even better? Nicaraguan coffee is harvested with sustainability in mind.
Sustainable Nicaraguan Coffee
Nicaragua is a highly environmentally conscious country, and its coffee is no exception.
Many coffee farms in Nicaragua follow international ethical and eco-friendly standards in accordance with non-profit organizations like Fair Trade and Rainforest Alliance.
HN Hint: Look for the Rainforest Alliance’s signature green tree frog seal on Nicaraguan coffee bags to know you’re getting the good stuff!
Rainforest Alliance works with more than 80 certified coffee farms in Nicaragua.
This is no small feat. Getting the certification requires fincas to comply with their rigorous Sustainable Agriculture Standard, which ensures that each coffee farm imparts a positive social, environmental, and economic impact on the community.
So how do they do it?
Nicaraguan coffee farmers are able to avoid using toxic synthetic fertilizers thanks in part to the volcanic soil. It contains natural nutrients that promote healthy plant growth.
An incredible 95% of Nicaraguan coffee is shade-grown, which organically inhibits pests and reduces the need for harmful chemicals.
The vast majority of the country’s coffee is also produced by independent farmers.
Local Nicaraguan family farmers unite to form fair trade cooperatives, which encourage responsible labor practices. It’s no surprise these small-scale farms are considered top-notch by conservationists.
There are lots of brands advertising good Nicaraguan coffee, but not all of them are carrying the high caliber blends. Make sure the bag is marked with quality seals, like USDA Organic or Bird Friendly.
But don’t let the pretty packaging fool you: harvesting Nicaraguan coffee beans is a backbreaking ritual done with great care.
How Is Nicaraguan Coffee Made?
Ever wondered what it takes to get that perfectly roasted cup of Nicaraguan coffee from bean to bag?
The weeks-long process is painstakingly performed by a practiced hand.
Coffee laborers work with incredible speed and accuracy to pick, sort, and peel each and every bean, often earning just dollars a day. The result is a premium product that can be traced back to a single farm in Nicaragua.
Here’s what it takes for coffee beans to journey from the hills of Nicaragua into your kitchen:
Step One: Cherry Picking
In this case, “hand-picked” isn’t just a marketing gimmick.
The bright red “coffee cherry” seed is painstakingly harvested by field laborers directly off the vine. While physically demanding, this process yields higher quality coffee than mechanical picking, because the harvesters use a trained eye to select only the ripest fruit.
Step Two: Hand Sorting
At the end of the day, the filled baskets are emptied onto a large tarp, where workers perform quality control by going through the pile one by one and hand-sorting the coffee cherries.
The leftover seeds are used to produce lower-quality, cheaper Nicaraguan coffee, which you would find at chain establishments.
Step Three: Wet Washing
When split open, coffee cherries reveal a grape-like center. This slimy pulp protects the seed nestled inside, which will eventually become the familiar roasted coffee bean.
To extract it, Nicaraguan coffee farmers typically use a “wet washing” process. This entails soaking the cherries in water overnight to ferment the fruit, allowing it to break down and easily fall away from the precious seed. What remains is known as “green coffee,” which is sometimes sold to larger mills.
Step Four: Drying
The washed coffee beans are then set out in long troughs to dry in the hot sun. This step can take up to two weeks. The beans typically start this process containing around 50% moisture. The coffee farmers will wait for them to reach 12% moisture content while drying them out.
Once that happens, they are ready for the husking process.
Step Five: Husking
Husking introduces machines to the Nicaraguan coffee production process. These hulling machines carefully remove the coffee’s final outer layer, called “parchment,” or the endocarp.
What remains is now ready to be graded and roasted for export.
Step Six: Grading
At bigger farms, the coffee bean is next sent to a sorting machine. But because machines are imperfect, Nicaraguan farms often hire workers to separate the coffee by hand.
Usually, the farms employ women for this task. They sift through the hulled beans and sort them by quality, assigning each group a grade from 1 through 5.
Step Seven: Roasting
At this point, the coffee is either shipped out to be roasted by the importer or is roasted locally on the farm if it has a machine.
The length of time depends on the color you want the roast: light, medium, or dark. Darker roasts take longer, but this also strips some of the caffeine from the beans. Lighter roasts are more acidic and just slightly more caffeinated.
Step Eight: Exporting
That’s it. The Nicaraguan coffee is now ready to be sent out into the world!
High quality first, second, and third grade coffee will be sold and shipped out immediately. This is the final product you buy on store shelves for your morning mug.
In Nicaragua, lower-quality coffee is often sold to a company that blends it with cinnamon or sorghum to enhance the flavor. This product is then sold in local markets at a discount.
Where to Visit a Nicaraguan Coffee Farm
Want to see the whole process in action?
You can tour a coffee farm when you visit Nicaragua!
These fincas offer tours year-round, but ideally you should go during the coffee season to watch the harvesters at work. It usually runs from November to February all across Nicaragua (another reason we believe that’s the best time of year to visit Nicaragua.)
These are some of the best Nicaraguan coffee farms to explore for a day or a weekend getaway:
Hacienda El Progreso, Mombacho Volcano
One of the most popular tours can be found at Mombacho Volcano Nature Reserve, right outside beautiful Granada. Hacienda El Progreso is the coffee farm for Café Las Flores. This is where Luis used to work as a guide and learned all about Nicaraguan coffee production.
HN Hint: Look closely at their advertisements and you might see a shot of Luis ziplining!
The coffee plantation at Mombacho rests within a protected cloud forest. We strongly recommend you sign up for the Canopy Adventure zipline tour and one of their three volcano hikes to get the full experience. Keep an eye out for sloths!
Selva Negra, Matagalpa
Selva Negra is a rustic ecolodge up in the Matagalpa mountains. Shrouded in mist, the stony lakeside estate has an enchanted quality to it. Their onsite farm, La Hammonia, produces Rainforest Alliance certified coffee.
Selva Negra’s 2-hour “seed to cup” tour walks you through the entire coffee cycle and teaches you about organic farming methods.
This coffee farm has a focus on sustainability. While you’re there, you can also check out their cacao tour, night hike, and farm-to-table restaurant.
Finca Esperanza Verde, Matagalpa
Another eco-conscious coffee plantation is the breathtaking Finca Esperanza Verde. This farm and cloud forest is a peaceful haven in Matagalpa.
Guests awake to spectacular views of the sprawling Nicaraguan hills from natural cabins that blend seamlessly into the surrounding jungle. It was even nominated for World’s Leading Ecolodge 2017 by the prestigious World Travel Awards.
Finca Esperanza Verde is all about immersion tours. This coffee farm gives you the chance to pair up with a picker and get a hands-on experience during harvest season. They also offer “Day in the Life” afternoons with local campesino farm families, host community bonfires, and teach traditional Nicaraguan cooking classes.
Finca Magdalena, Ometepe Island
Want to tour a coffee farm outside of northern Nicaragua? Finca Magdalena is the perfect place to visit!
This coffee farm lies in the foothills of Maderas Volcano on Ometepe Island. Here, a 24-family cooperative cultivates honey, coffee, and organic produce in the volcanic soil. It’s been around for over 100 years.
We stopped by in Ometepe to try a cup of their famed coffee with a volcano view. It was well worth the rambling road up to the main house.
While you’re there, Finca Magdalena makes it easy to explore the island. They offer guided tours of Ometepe and challenging Maderas Volcano hikes.
You can stay in their rustic farmhouse for less than $18 a night and wake up to sunrise views of Volcán Concepción across the lake.
Reserva El Jaguar, Jinotega
Reserva El Jaguar isn’t your typical coffee plantation. This Jinotega finca actually doubles as a bird sanctuary.
Grown in the shade of oak trees, their Nicaraguan coffee is so natural that over 305 feathered species live happily among the trees. The remote reserve stretches across 240 protected acres of untouched cloud forest and lush foothills.
HN Hint: Birdwatching is a very cool experience in Nicaragua. You won’t want to miss a single feather on these exotic animals, like the funky white bellbird.
El Jaguar is the ideal coffee farm for nature lovers. If you want to explore coffee groves alongside flitting hummingbirds and colorful toucans, this is the tour for you.
Coffee Farm Day Trips
If you’re short on time, tour companies in northern Nicaragua also offer day trips to regional coffee farms.
Nativos Tours and Matagalpa Tours are two of the best tour operators. They’ll introduce you to small-scale coffee producers in the region, and you’ll get to see them in action firsthand.
Another bonus to going with local guides? They know the surrounding community better than anyone. You can expand your coffee tour to the rest of Matagalpa and try your hand at black pottery, indigenous weaving, tortilla making, and more.
Where to Get the Best Nicaraguan Coffee
Craving coffee? If you can’t make it to a Nicaraguan coffee plantation in the near future, fear not: you can find imported gourmet beans online.
Most of the best coffee brands in Nicaragua do not have an e-commerce presence. So you’ll have to visit the country to find the highest quality grounds.
But to hold you over until then, there are lesser-known companies carrying authentic Nicaraguan coffee if you know what to look for.
HN Hint: If you’re in the market for the best coffee from Nicaragua, make sure the bag carries the seal from at least one of the following organizations: USDA Organic, Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, UTZ, 4C, Bird Friendly, JAS, ECOCERT, Nespresso AAA, or Starbucks C.A.F.E. Practices.
Remember, not all coffee is created equal, so here’s a list of our top-ranked available roasts—they all come Nicaraguan-recommended!
9 Best Nicaraguan Coffee Brands
Café Las Flores
Café Las Flores holds a special place on this list because it is here where Luis learned all about coffee!
Grown at Hacienda El Progreso on the slopes of Mombacho Volcano, this is a popular brand in Nicaragua. Café Las Flores is something of a Starbucks here: there are nine store branches located across Managua and Granada.
Twin Engine Coffee
Headquartered in León, Twin Engine crafts some of the best coffee Nicaragua has to offer.
They hold themselves to an even higher standard than Fair Trade. The brand prides itself on being “Made at Origin”: from bean to bag, the entire process takes place on-site in Nicaragua. Twin Engine’s freshly roasted coffee is grown in micro-climates up in the summits of Nueva Segovia and four other northern regions.
HN Hint: This is a great gift to bring back from León. My coffee drinking friends loved it!
We recommend their Cigar No. 1 dark roast coffee. Twin Engine consciously designed the blend to pair with premium hand-rolled Nicaraguan cigars. It’s a bold flavor for coffee drinkers who love a strong cup.
They even offer a specialty blend for coffee aficionados: the ultra-rare Maragogype bean. Commonly known as the “Elephant Bean,” this gargantuan coffee variety isn’t easy to get your hands on. Twin Engine’s award-winning Nicaraguan Elefante Reserve is a limited release of the naturally creamy and cocoa-y coffee blend.
Fara Coffee is a creamy, nutty blend from the mountains of Matagalpa with a philanthropic arm. Each bag sold supports the Fara Foundation, the brand’s non-profit that provides aid to Nicaraguan families through healthcare, food assistance, educational opportunities, and elder care.
Fara Coffee likens its medium-roast special blend to milk chocolate in flavor. This one is on regular rotation in my house!
Gobena Coffee is an ethically-sourced brand with a focus on freshness. They roast their imported green coffee in small batches and package it the same day, ensuring flavorful beans of the highest quality.
Their rich Nicaraguan dark roast is harvested from Jinotega, and contains notes of brown sugar and plum. 100% of Gobena’s net profits go toward orphans and vulnerable children.
Tiny Footprint Coffee
Tiny Footprint considers itself the world’s first “carbon negative” coffee. Their organic dark roast Nicaraguan coffee is harvested from the northern Nueva Segovia region. It’s a smooth blend with notes of apricot, fig, and spice.
Tiny Footprint has a particular focus on supporting female farmers, and it gives back to forest restoration efforts through its Ecuadoran nonprofit, the Mindo Cloudforest Foundation.
Shade-grown at a high altitude, Lifeboost single-origin Nicaraguan coffee is gourmet. The niche brand focuses on producing naturally low acid beans using eco-friendly, non-toxic methods. The result is a mellow brew which is not as robust in flavor but easier on the stomach.
But be aware that you get what you pay for: Lifeboost puts a high price tag on its organic Nicaraguan coffee.
Thanksgiving Coffee sources its signature light roast from Jinotega, Nicaragua. Grown beneath the shade of bananas, mangos, and mahogany, this organic coffee is tended by a local Nicaraguan farmers’ cooperative of more than 650 families.
Thanksgiving Coffee was awarded Roaster of the Year in 2017 by Roast Magazine. Their Nicaraguan “Flor de Jinotega” blend is a light and sweet cup of coffee.
NEED A Coffee Grinder?
Some of these varieties are only available in whole bean form, but you can easily convert them to ultra-fresh grounds at home with a basic coffee grinder like this one:
It’s no secret that Nicaragua is a small country. But what it lacks in size, it makes up for in world-class coffee.
This humble land is home to award-winning blends produced by the hands of family farmers.
Whether you’re planning a plantation visit, looking for a new brew, or simply want to know why their coffee is so good, Nicaragua is one nation every coffee lover needs to explore.
Have you tried any of these Nicaraguan coffee brands? What did you think? Let us know below!