About Nicaragua

Nicaragua lies at the heart of Central America, with both Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Mountain ranges separate the east, which is largely jungle, from the more developed western regions, which include Lake Nicaragua and some active volcanoes. The highest land is located to the north. The climate is tropical. Traditional exports include cotton, coffee, bananas and gold. The aid dependent economy has suffered from civil war (1978-89) and US sanctions. 

As Central America's poorest nation, Nicaragua relies heavily on its agroindustry, which generates 25 percent of the total employment and 74 percent of the exports. Fortunately, Nicaragua has some of the best land in Central America, containing excellent volcanic soils and ample ground water for irrigation. About 40 percent of the cultivated land is used for export crops. Coffee still accounts for 21 per cent of the foreign income earnings, although over the past five years, the country has diversified into a wide variety of agricultural products.

Only Arabica

Nicaragua's Arabicas are usually grown between 700 and 1500 meters. Several coffee types are well defined and officially graded according to their growing altitude. Most of the high-quality Nicaraguan coffees (80%) however, are grown above 1200 meters in the Northern mountains of Jinotega, Matagalpa and the Segovias. According to most importers, Nicaragua produces coffees with good acidity at the beginning of the harvest. They are fragrant when they come from the higher elevations although somewhat irregular, probably due to the standardization of classifications. The majority of the coffee trees are of the Caturra variety,  followed by Bourbon and hybrids varieties, allowing yields of up to 25 bags per hectare. However, the Catimor quality has been questioned by many coffee experts who claim it produces a flat cup. Margogype is disappearing, since its low yield makes it unprofitable for the growers, even with a good premium price.

A Bit of History

The Years of Crisis

The industry's history began a hundred years ago, when the Nicaraguan government placed advertisements in rail stations in Germany, luring settlers to the country. A few dozen ambitious adventurers in their mid-twenties accepted land, given on the condition that they would grow coffee. Over the next seventy years, the reputation achieved by the Nicaraguan coffee made it a favorite with European importers, while it remained largely unknown in the United States. But coffee production was about to suffer its worst crisis in history.

In 1978, on 100,000 hectares of the country's cultivated land coffee was planted. Coffee exports were standing well above one million bags per crop. After years of Guerrilla warfare, the Sandinista rebels finally took power in Managua in July 1979. Foreign trade was immediately nationalized, and in 1981, Encafe (Nicaragua's National coffee company) started acting as the sole coffee buyer and exporter. The same year, the new government enacted an agrarian reform law allowing for the expropriation of land (over 350 hectares) that had been abandoned or mismanaged by their owners. Still, in 1982/83, Nicaragua still exported 1.12 million bags of coffee. 

After 1983, the war against the Contra, U.S. - backed rebels, combined with shortages of labor, the rising costs of imported agro-chemicals and spare parts (due to US economic embargo), led to a stagnation in the production of agricultural products, including coffee. In January 1986, the Sandinistas passed additional laws that enabled the government to expropriate even efficient farms. Approximately one million hectares of land had already been distributed to farm workers' cooperatives and landless laborers, and as a result, the large landowners' share of farming fell from 41 percent in 1978 to 11 percent in 1985. For coffee the effects of this evolution were dramatic and production collapsed. By then, most of the large growers had been forced out of business, and many fled to start a new life, mostly in southern Florida. The ones who were able to keep their farms, made little or any new investments during the twelve years of Sandinista rule for fear of confiscation and uncertainties related to currency controls. In 1987/88, Nicaragua exported an all-time low of 460,000 bags of coffee, less than half of what the country exported a few years before.

In total some 30,000 hectares of coffee disappeared or were abandoned. The extensive cutting of ancient hardwood trees that had protected thousands of hectares of coffee plants also reduced coffee production. The trees were cut by the central government to obtain their wood, much of which was sold to Cuba, and in a misguided effort to control the onslaught of coffee rust by exposing the infestation to direct sunlight. Lack of technology in farms and the development of disease also affected the output.

A new beginning

When by surprise the liberal Chamorro government was elected in 1991, coffee marketing, processing and exports were again privatised, but many problems still confronted the growers. Most of their trees were more than 30 years old and had to be replaced. No new trees had been planted in Nicaragua for a long time and seedlings were not readily available. Workers and managers, needed to work the farms, were also hard to find. The Central American Bank of Economic Integration (BCIE) immediately started financing a five year coffee renovation plan (worth $33 million), resulting in 25,000 hectares being planted. The main goal was to reach a total production of 2.3 million bags by 1996. But the plan did not reach the expectations because it failed to provide growers with financing after 1993. Today, even while the total coffee planted area is what it was before 1979, yields are still low, with an average of 9.8 bags per hectare.

Nice to know

Nicaragua has a great potential to become a regional leader in coffee production. Fertile lands, internal stability and economic growth makes this country dream to overcome its northern neighbor, Honduras.

Ico Figures

Crop Periods

Flowering Period

Main : From May until June


Harvesting Period

Main : From November until January 


Shipping Period

Main : From December until September


Transit Days

Port of Shipment




Puerto Cortés








Port Puerto Cortés

Most of the coffee is exported via the Pan American Highway through Puerto Cortes (on the Atlantic Coast of neighbouring Honduras), which offers a weekly service to Europe and the Gulf Ports with major shipping lines.  Puerto Corinto, Nicaragua's Pacific port, is now trying to keep the coffee business in Nicaragua.

Port Puerto Corinto

Puerto Corinto, which is protected by an island, is the only natural and safe port in the region which also benefits from direct road access to and from other countries in Central America. The port is linked, by a complete network of roads, to all important cities in Nicaragua. The distance to Managua is about 160km.

After the privatization of Puerto Corinto in 1997, the installations were modernized and water depth increased to 13.35m which now enables the port to handle all kinds of cargo. They offer a flexible 24hour service throughout the year and their principal ambition is to become the biggest, best, most efficient port on the Pacific side of Central America. This goal may very well be achieved as frequent problems of inland transport to Honduras (documents, weightloss), are motivating shipping companies to push Corinto forward. A feeder service to Cartagena is operational, bulking coffee is no problem and since 2015 boats are hitting Puerto Corinto every month with a capacity of 1500 TEU/month.

Customs Authorities in the harbor are well aware of the requirements of worldwide export and so far have shown flexibility and cooperation. For instance, recent proposals in the modification of customs procedures will allow for "Inland" stuffed containers to be loaded and shipped directly, for as long as they are stuffed and sealed in the presence of a customs officer. This new approach, although still not finalized, should greatly facilitate customs procedures and the aim is to eventually arrive at paperless customs.

Destination countries

1. Germany

2. Belgium

3. USA, France, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, UK, The Netherlands


The main varieties cultivated are Caturra, Catuai, Hybridis H1 and H3 and Marsellesa

By Region



Strictly High Grown, FAQ

from 665 to 1665 m



Strictly High Grown, FAQ

from 665 to 1165 m

Nueva Segovia


High Grown, FAQ

from 800 to 1665 m



High Grown, FAQ

lower altitudes


Very little emphasis is put by the exporters on the region of production. Surprisingly also, very little HG and GW are offered in the export markets. Another variety offered is Maragogype of which 5 to 7000 bags are produced. Main export markets are Europa (mainly Belgium, France, Germany) and Japan.

By altitude

Central Estrictamente Altura


Strictly High Grown Over 1500 m

Central Altura


High Grown from 1300 to 1500 m

Central Bueno Lavado


Good Washed from 1000 to 1300 m

Central Standard


Low Grown Below 1000 m

Those altitude classifications are to be considered as theoretical since most of the HG and MG are blended with SHG and exported as SHG

Typical Description

Nicaragua Jinotega/Matagalpa S.H.G e.p.


Selectively by hand


Wet method at the own farms: in an attempt to curb the effects of years of ecological mismanagement in the coffee producing areas, environment friendly wet mills have been built to protect rivers from the residual waters of processing plants.


Water tanks at the farms


Sun drying on crates or on black plastic covers, occasionally in dryers. In centralized patios.


Standard preparation coffees are blended in dry mills, to obtain higher prices from the buyers


Drying coffee in Nicaragua

About growers

Of Nicaragua's 30,000 growers, 70 per cent are considered small, and 30 per cent own farms larger than 35 hectares. The northern departments of Jinotega and Matagalpa lead the nation's coffee growing areas. They are followed by Nueva Segovia, Carazo and Boaco. 201,000 Nicaraguans work in the coffee industry, more than 60 per cent of them in fields. Most of the small and medium sized producers do not have access to bank loans and resort to advance payments granted by exporters at interest rates above 30 per cent per annum. Recent prices, up until 2000, have helped them to improve their plantations and production was on the rise. 

Most of the exporters are small, comparatively to other producing countries: only very few of them export more than 20.000 bags a year.


In 1974 the need to create an Exporter's Association became apparent to a group of Nicaraguan coffee exporters, not only to defend their interest locally, but also to promote Nicaraguan coffees to the consuming world as a group. So in the same year "The Nicaraguan Coffee Exporter's Association (EXCAN)" came into being.
The ever increasing diversity of destinations to where Nicaraguan coffee is now exported is largely thanks to EXCAN. The members account for about 90% of the country's coffee exports and as coffee is the major source of foreign exchange in Nicaragua, they are well aware of their responsibilities. Coffee for the past 40 years has represented about 50% of Nicaragua's national product.

Most of the one hundred coffee dry mills operating in the country are owned by exporters. Their processing capacity exceeds by far the real national coffee production (around two million bags), which accounts for the fierce competition that exists between them during the harvest season.

In 1991, coffee growers, on the other hand, formed Nicaragua's Coffee Growers Union (UNICAFE), responsible for giving technical assistence to its members and defending their common interests. UNICAFE controlled export registers for several years, but at the end of 1997, the government decided to regain full control over the country's coffee policy and created CONICAFE (Nicaragua's Coffee Commission), which falls under the auspices of the Ministry of Economy and Development.

CONICAFE has representation from growers, exporters, millers and roasters as well as the government. Unfortunately this structure, politically motivated as it is, seems to have damaged relations between growers, exporters and the government.

Specialty Coffee in Nicaragua

Specialty Coffee

Forty large growers in recent years formed the Nicaraguan Specialty Coffee Association. From the Matagalpa and Jinotega regions, their production was mostly exported to the US. Estate coffee such as La Cuesta, Selva Negra and La Cumplida have already made their way to the North American gourmet market. Around 10,000 bags are sold each year under Segovia description. Segovias are Strictly High Grown coffees, with large beans (screen 18 to 20) and a sweet and penetrating aroma.

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