History

The history of coffee in Nicaragua.

Nicaragua has a coffee-growing tradition that dates back centuries, with the first coffee plantations operating since 1796, and first exports to the world beginning in 1848. Since then, Nicaraguan coffee has been making a name for itself in this fascinating world.

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1796

Coffee was first introduced to Nicaragua in 1796 as a decorative plant. By 1824, it had developed into an agricultural crop in the province of Carazo and later, in the province of Managua. By 1841, small quantities of coffee (around 800 sacs a year) were being exported to Europe together with other agricultural products such as indigo, cotton and tobacco (Kuhl, 2004).

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1849

In 1849 during the Gold Rush, Cornelius Vanderbilt established a Steamship company with a route across the San Juan River in Nicaragua to serve passengers traveling to California. Shorter than the traditional Panama or continental routes, this 'Transit Route' triggered an unprecedented demand for coffee by thousands of travelers, many of which decided to stay in Nicaragua thanks to several incentives by the Nicaraguan government to promote immigration. The government also established initiatives to introduce coffee crops in the central highlands, such as El Crucero, and enacted laws obligating indigenous people to work on coffee plantations during the coffee seasons. The way in which the producers and the labor force interacted had profound impact in the social structures and history of Nicaragua. The growth of coffee exports created a strong semi-rural elite in the province of Managua, which eventually became the country's capital. The 1870s saw coffee introduced in Matagalpa. During this period of time it also became the leading agricultural export. By 1880, the large number of northern European immigrants who settled in the northern Nicaraguan provinces of Matagalpa and Jinotega focused on growing coffee using new techniques to increase exports to Europe and the United States (Kuhl, 2004).

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20th Century

While Nicaragua developed other agricultural crops, such as cotton and bananas, during the first half of the 20th century, coffee remained the principal crop, especially in Northern Nicaragua, where it became the main source of income for Matagalpa, Jinotega, Esteli, Nueva Segovia and Madriz. During the second half of the 20th century coffee, Nicaraguan producers concentrated on increasing productivity rather than improving quality. Thus, during the decade of 1960-1970 the government launched a major 'planting' campaign that enabled the central highlands to reach higher volumes than those produced in the southern Pacific cities (Solorzano Interview, 2006).