Regional coffee profile: Central America

Balanced, bright, and clean are the words most frequently used to describe some of our most beloved coffees, the “Centrals”. Central America, which spans from Mexico in the west to Panama in the east, sits in the heart of the equatorial zone, often referred to as the Bean Belt for its near perfect growing regions – soaring mountains, rich volcanic soil, old growth forests, and predicable micro-climates. Given this near perfect geography, it is no surprise that Centrals consistently rank among the world’s top coffees. Centrals, unlike many other types of coffee, also have the unique quality of being extraordinary single origins and beautifully compatible in most blends. In this blog, we are going to explore the prominent qualities of Centrals, broken down by country, highlighting key distinguishing characteristics.

REGIONAL CHARACTERISTICS

  • Acidity: Moderate to high
  • Body: Light to moderate
  • Mouthfeel: Moderate
  • Roast: Medium roast to Vienna roast to preserve the bean’s delicate tones and moderate mouthfeel
  • Common identifying words: Balanced, bright, clean, smooth
  • Prominent flavor tones: Fruits, honey, and medium-to-dark chocolate. A hint of nut is often found in the base notes of many Centrals
  • Most common varietals*: Bourbon and Typica
  • Best time to buy: April – August

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COUNTRY PROFILES

Mexico

  • Growing regions: Chiapas, Coatapec, Oaxaca, Tapachula, Veracruz
  • Harvest: November – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Caturra, Maragogype, Mundo Novo

  • Acidity: Medium
  • Body: Medium
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Dominant flavor notes: Delicate, sweet fruits / berries and mild nut
  • Takeaway: Light, sweet, and crisp

Mexican beans have a balanced mouthfeel with delicate flavor notes and moderate acidity that gives the cup a nice, crisp close.

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Guatemala

  • Growing regions: Antiqua, Chiquimula, Coban, Huehuetenango
  • Harvest: October – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica

  • Acidity: Medium-high
  • Body: Medium
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Dominant flavor notes: Mild, full berries, gentle citrus
  • Takeaway: Clean and balanced with good body and gentle sweet notes

Guatemalan beans are clean and well-balanced with a very smooth base, good body, and elegant, gentle sweet notes – typically berry, citrus, and natural vanilla.

El Salvador

  • Growing regions: Alotepec, Apaneca Llamatepec, El Bálsamo–Quetzaltepec, Cacahuatique, Chalatenango, Chinchontepec, Metapán, Santa Ana, Santa Isabel, Tecapa-Chinameca
  • Harvest: October – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Catisic, Pacamara, Pacas

  • Acidity: High
  • Body: Light to medium
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Dominant flavor notes: Rich citrus, smooth honey, and gentle walnut
  • Takeaway: Bright with good body and an array of smooth, subtly sweet citrus notes (e.g., mango)

Salvadors are wonderfully bright, smooth coffees with a velvety texture. Typically, a Salvador starts with a subtle, nutty sweetness and closes with a rich, clean citrus note.

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Young coffee trees protected by the lush canopy of Salvador’s Old Growth Forest

*Note: Over 90% of El Salvador’s coffee is shade grown arabica and approximately 80% of Salvador’s forests participating in the creation of the wonderful growing canopies. 

Honduras

  • Growing regions: Copan, El Paraiso, Lempira, La Paz, Ocotepeque, Santa Barbara
  • Harvest: October – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra, Pacas, Typica

  • Acidity: Medium-low
  • Body: Medium to full
  • Mouthfeel: Medium-full
  • Dominant flavor notes: Smooth nut and rich bittersweet chocolate with hints of tropical fruits and berries
  • Takeaway: Smooth coffee with rich nut and chocolate tones

Honduran coffees are generally heavier and more subtle than their central peers with lower levels of acidity (brightness) and a solid mouthfeel.

Nicaragua

  • Growing regions: Jinotega, Matagalpa, Segovia
  • Harvest: December – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Maragogype, Pacamara, Typica

  • Acidity: Medium-low
  • Body: Medium to full
  • Mouthfeel: Medium
  • Dominant flavor notes: Rich, deep berries and dark chocolate
  • Takeaway: Balanced with a delicate mouthful, rich berry and chocolate tones, and a lovely floral scent

Nicaraguans are well-balanced coffees with a full body and rich berry and chocolate tones. Given the slightly lower acidity levels of these beans, the berry notes tend to be richer and sweeter than the berries we find in winey Africans.

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A beautiful view of Finca Idealista in Matagalpa

Costa Rica

  • Growing regions: Naranjo, Tarazzu, Tres Rios
  • Harvest: December – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Geisha, Typica

  • Acidity: Medium
  • Body: Medium
  • Mouthfeel: Full
  • Dominant flavor notes: Stone fruits, dark chocolate, honey
  • Takeaway: Rich with deep chocolate notes and a gentle fruit close

Costa Ricans have a wonderfully full mouthfeel and creamy, chocolaty base overlaid with some gentle, subtly sweet notes, such as apricot or honey.

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Coffee trees thriving in Tarazzu, Costa Rica

Panama

  • Growing regions: Boquete, Renacimiento, Volcan
  • Harvest: January – March
  • Varietals: Bourbon, Caturra, Cataui, Geisha, Pache, Typica

  • Acidity: Medium-high
  • Body: Full
  • Mouthfeel: Full
  • Dominant flavor notes: Delicate citrus, deep berry, fruit, rich chocolate
  • Takeaway: Clean, well-balanced, and complex with strong chocolate and deep berry and / or fruit tones.

Panamanian coffees are some of the most complex. The moderate acidity gives these beans a subtle crispness while the base notes create a wonderfully smooth, textured base with hints of a rich chocolate and deep berries. It’s rare to find such well-balanced diversity in a single cup!

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A worker meticulously tending young coffee trees at Finca Arco Iris in the Boquete region.

As you can see, while “Centrals” have similar properties – notably moderate to high acidity levels, good mouthfeel, and bright berry and citrus tones, there is a great deal variation within the group. We encourage you to try them all!

*For more information on varietals and cultivars, click here

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