A Brief History of Coffee in Nicaragua

Coffee was first brought to Nicaragua by Catholic missionaries in 1790, but it wasn't until 1850 that it was cultivated on a large scale. 

1840-1940 is considered the "Coffee Boom" period, and by 1870 coffee was Nicaragua's primary export crop. Public land was sold to encourage cultivation, and the government offered farmers $0.05 for every coffee tree they planted over 5000 trees. 

Beginning in 1979, years of political unrest took a toll on the coffee industry, and the crash of coffee prices between 1999 and 2003 significantly damaged the coffee sector. In 1998, Nicaragua was hit by Hurricane Mitch, which devastated the farmlands. 

In 2020, the government created a three-year National Coffee strategy to help producers tackle issues with climate change and implement farm management systems to increase productivity and efficiency. In recent years, quality and traceability have improved in Nicaragua; you can now trace coffee back to a single estate. 

 We chatted with Ryan Sull, Founder of La Finca Distribution Company, a Nicaraguan specialty coffee importer, to learn more about the work they do there and the current state of the specialty coffee industry. 

How did La Finca start?

My father purchased a farm in Nicaragua in 2012, and I went over to explore and see what it was all about. I had a friend who worked for the National Agricultural Board of Ukraine, and he heard I had a farm and asked me for some samples because he was interested in purchasing them. I wasn't sure if the coffee from my farm would be adequate, so I went on the Cup of Excellence website and found all the top producers in the region, and I just started knocking on doors and started developing relationships with people. 

The connection with my friend who wanted the samples didn't work out, so I created La Fina Distribution out of the relationships I had established with farmers. 

It's been an uphill battle. Nicaraguan coffee is known for being quantity over quality; people just aren't accustomed to high-quality coffee from Nicaragua. It was when people tried the coffee that they realized it was really worth the money. 

To help get to know more farmers, I started a program form on my website where farmers could fill out a form, and I would then go to their farms and make free content for them. 

Facebook is huge in Nicaragua, and I realized the content was getting a lot of traction there. Some comments really warmed my heart, and I realized I had to keep talking more and more about what people are doing at origin rather than just talking about the coffee I'm bringing over. 

What are your goals for the future with La Finca?

We want to focus more on small producers, younger producers, and coffee farming families that have been pioneers for a long time. 

We are focused on doing community-building events within Nicaragua. We want to help nurture more of an appreciation for Nicaraguan coffee within the country. If more people respect, appreciate, and are proud of the coffee produced within their country, hopefully, we can help improve the image of Nicaraguan coffee in the international market. In Panama, the people within the country know and think they have the best coffee in the world; in comparison to Nicaragua, most people only consume non-exportable coffee and have yet to experience the best their country has to offer. We're hoping to bring value back to the people of Nicaragua through events and experiences to foster a more positive relationship between them and the coffee produced within their country.

April 28, 2023 — Zara Snitman

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