Coffee Origins 101: Mexico And Central America

Written by: Garrett Oden

Coffee Origins 101: Mexico And Central America

Love great coffee? Well, don’t stop there.

Fall deeper in love via our Coffee Origins 101 series, where I’ll give you the low-down on coffee producing countries. We’ll talk about flavor profiles, economic challenges, and a hint of history.

This isn’t useless information. Learning a bit about producing countries will change the way you enjoy coffee by giving you historical context, flavor expectations, and a greater appreciation for coffee’s journey.

For this blog, we’ll cover Mexico and its neighbors in Central America.

We’ve got seven countries to talk about, so let’s dive right in.


Coffee was originally brought to Mexico in the late 1700’s from Cuba and the Dominican Republic. The country had a quick turnaround with the crop, exporting coffee commercially for the first time as early as 1802.

12 Mexican states produce coffee in modern day. Most are in the Southern portion of the country, where the climate is more agreeable with delicate arabica plants. The Southernmost two states, Oaxaca and Chiapas, produce the majority of the nation’s coffee.

Because of its proximity to the US, Mexico was an easy choice for organic investors to get involved in the 1990’s. Mexico has since become the world’s leader in organic coffee production.

Read: Searching For Certified Organic Coffee - Is It Worth It?

Mexican coffees generally feature a crisp acidity, light body, and deep flavor notes like nuts, chocolate, and spice.

For this reason, they’re very popular in espresso blends as the low-note flavor foundation. Brighter and more exotic beans, like natural Ethiopias, make up the brighter notes of the blend’s flavor profile.

However, not only blends come out of Mexico. The country produces many stand-out coffees every year, and distinct single origin offerings are quite common.

Coffees grown in Oaxaca and Chiapas are often just as complex and pleasant as well-known coffees from Guatemala. Expectations about cup quality are rapidly changing as specialty-grade Mexican beans continue to blow minds.

Most coffees are processed via the washed method, though in the drier states, some use the natural process.

Mexican Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Crisp Acidity, Low Body, Deep Flavors

Processing: Washed, Natural

Main Growing Regions: Oaxaca, Chiapas, Veracruz

Harvest: December to April

Read: 5 Ways To Make Your Coffee More Eco-Friendly


Like with most of Central America, Guatemala received coffee in the late 1700’s. However, unlike Mexico, commercial exporting didn’t really take off till the 1860’s when European immigrants launched large-scale plantations.

In the 1970’s, once most of the major plantations had been divided and dispersed amongst locals, Guatemalan coffee growers launched their own union, Anacafé. This organization provides loans to small farmers and conducts coffee research.

Guatemala is one of the most climatically diverse countries in the world, which means it produces wildly diverse coffee. Most experts agree there are seven distinct types of coffee that coincide with seven distinct climates and landscapes. Nearly all of these growing regions are fueled by nutrient-rich volcanic soil.

It’s nearly impossible to distill the flavor profiles of Guatemalan coffee very simply, but there seem to be a few common threads throughout the country.

  • Most coffees have a very high, bright acidity
  • And most coffees are quite complex and fascinating

Read: How Much Should You Pay For Coffee Beans?

Other than that, flavors range from green apple, to spices, to all kinds of flowers, and beyond. Most coffees are processed via the washed method.

Guatemalan Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: High Acidity, Complex Flavor Profiles

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Antigua, Atitlán, Huehuetenango, Nuevo Oriente

Harvest: September to April

Costa Rica

Costa Rica was the first country in the region to have a fully operating commercial coffee market. It was a major exporter of coffee around the world by the 1820’s.

Since the launch of the organization Instituto del Café de Costa Rica in 1933, Costa Rican coffee has boomed and thrived in quality. However, Costa Rica still produces less than 1% of the world’s coffee.

Costa Rica has some of the strictest and highest standards for farm workers. The country also values transparency, making it easy for buyers to know the exact farms that their coffee comes from.

Costa Rican coffees have historically been processed via the washed method, but micro mills all over the country have been experimenting with the newer honey process - and with great results.

Read: Coffee Bean Processing: The Washed Method

As a result of these methods, coffees from Costa Rica often feature a bright acidity, medium to heavy body, and floral flavor notes. They’re not usually very complex, like coffees from Guatemala, but their flavor profiles are clean, crisp, and pleasant.

Costa Rican Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Bright Acidity, Medium-Heavy Body, Clean, Floral

Processing: Washed, Honey

Main Growing Regions: Tarrazu, Tres Rios, Herediá, and Alajuela

Harvest: December to April


We’re not exactly sure when coffee was brought to Honduras. It’s likely that it was in the late 1700’s, like with other Central American countries, but there’s no specific record. We do know that several sources claim 1804 as the first year that coffee was grown at major scale.

Since then, Honduras has become the largest coffee producer in Central America. 15 of 18 Departments (states) grow coffee.

Honduras’s wet climate makes it difficult for farmers to dry their processed beans. To combat this, many processing stations turned to mechanical drying. While it solved a problem, it created another one: mechanically dried coffees don’t dry very evenly, lowering the quality considerably.

It can be difficult to find specialty-grade beans from Honduras since there’s no governing organization or union to incentivize quality-centered farming like those of the neighboring countries.

Read: Should You Store Your Coffee Beans In The Freezer?

The specialty-grade Honduran coffees we do find often feature a crisp acidity, a medium body, and sweet notes of sugarcane, caramel, and citrus. They’re pleasant and are often used in blends for their mid-range flavors, pleasant sweetness, and bright acidity.

Honduran Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Crisp Acidity, Medium Body, Pleasant Sweetness, Citrus

Processing: Washed, Mechanical Drying

Main Growing Regions: Agalta, Comayagua, Copan, Montecillos, Opalka, El Paraiso

Harvest: November to April

El Salvador

With El Salvador being the smallest country in Central America, it’s no surprise that El Salvador’s coffee market isn’t huge.

Coffee came to El Salvador in the mid-1700’s, but really took off once indigo farms lost steam to synthetic dyes in the 1800’s. By 1970, coffee production accounted for 50% of the country’s GDP. Sadly, it didn’t last.

Civil war in the 1980’s brought economic despair to El Salvador, destroying many farms and leaving many more abandoned until a peace treaty was signed in the 90’s.

Fortunately and unfortunately for El Salvador, this preoccupation with the civil war stopped farmers from adopting new and improved coffee varieties in the 80’s alongside the neighboring countries.

Read: The Beginner’s Guide To Coffee Varieties

As a result, El Salvador is beloved as a producer of “old varieties”. But there’s also a downside: these genetically older plants are more susceptible to disease and climate change compared to modern hybrid varieties.

Specialty coffee has a hard time finding high-quality coffee in El Salvador, but when we find one, we often find it has a mild acidity, a medium body, and smooth notes of earth and citrus.

El Salvadorian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Mild Acidity, Medium Body, Earth, Citrus

Processing: Washed, Natural, Honey

Main Growing Regions: Apaneca, Apaneca Llamatepec, El Bálsamo–Quetzaltepec

Harvest: November to April


Coffee had a relatively late arrival in Nicaragua - the mid-1800’s - nearly 100 years after its neighboring countries.

Even though coffee became an economically significant export (employing 15% of labor), it was always knocked down by some crisis. The USA even played a role in coffee’s stunted grown in Nicaragua when coffee imports were banned in an attempt to fight communism during the cold war.

Read: A Brief History Of Coffee

Then, during the Nicaraguan Revolution Era (1974-1990), production was stunted terribly again. And when Hurricane Mitch landed in 1988, many farms were completely destroyed.

Thankfully, it’s been nearly 20 years since there was a major coffee crisis in Nicaragua and the country’s economy is slowly being rebuilt.

Specialty-grade Nicaraguan coffee still isn’t very common, but we find it can be very pleasant with a medium acidity and body, featuring notes of earth, citrus, flowers, and vanilla.

Nicaraguan Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Medium Acidity And Body, Earth, Citrus, Floral, Vanilla

Processing: Washed

Main Growing Regions: Jinotega, Matagalpa, Nueva Segovia

Harvest: October to March


Panama, like Nicaragua, didn’t receive coffee until the mid to late 1800’s. Two main indigenous groups, the Bugle and Ngobe people, make up most of the countries smallholder farms, though corporations also own many farms.

Panama is one of the most expensive countries to grow coffee and buy from. The country has high standards for labor laws and real estate prices are on the rise.

Read: 3 Reasons Buying Cheap Coffee Is Bad For The World

And not to mention, the coffee is top-notch.

Panamanian coffees often feature an exciting acidity, a medium body, and sweet floral and sugary notes. They’re well-respected in the specialty coffee world.

In the early 2000’s, the farm Hacienda La Esmeralda “rediscovered” geisha variety coffee plants. Though native to the Gesha Forest in Ethiopia, they had somehow found their way to Panama. Geisha coffees have an exotic acidity and flavor and cost a pretty penny.

These early geisha coffees put Panama on the map for specialty buyers around the world.

Panamanian Coffee At A Glance

Flavor: Bright Acidity, Medium Body, Citrus, Floral, Sweet

Processing: Washed, Natural

Main Growing Regions:  Boquete, Renacimiento, Volcán

Harvest: November to March


Central American coffee is rich, diverse, and fascinating.

If you’d like to explore a variety of coffees from this incredible producing region check out our JavaPresse Coffee Club.

We source coffees from the world’s best farms, many of which are in Central America. We then roast and ship them right to your door, so you know you’re getting them as fresh as possible.

With notes like orange, rose, dark chocolate, and strawberry, our coffees are some of the best around. Check them out!