Guatemalan CoffeeCoffee is a mainstay in Guatemala, both as an export crop and as a part of daily life. Coffee is cultivated throughout much of the country and is widely enjoyed by Guatemalans in cities and towns alike. Production of coffee in Guatemala initially began around the mid-1800s with large-scale plantations for commodity-grade beans, and over time Guatemala has established itself as a dependable origin for a vide variety of specialty coffees.
Coffee Regions in Guatemala
Despite being a relatively small country, the geography and biodiversity of Guatemala allow coffees from different areas to exhibit varying flavors and characteristics. Because of this, Anacafé (the national coffee association of Guatemala) has broken the country up into 8 distinct regions: Acatenango Valley, Antigua, Atitlan, Rainforest Cobán, Fraijanes Plateau, Huehuetenango, Nuevo Oriente, and San Marcos. Coffee is generally harvested in Guatemala between December and March during the dry season, and most regions only do one picking per year. Great coffee can be found throughout all of Guatemala's regions, but we're including details on some of the regions we frequently get coffees from below!Huehuetenango: Probably the most well-known coffee growing region in Guatemala, Huehuetenango (or simply Huehue) is located on the northern border with Mexico and includes the highlands of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes. Warm winds from the Mexican side prevent frost at high altitudes, so coffee is generally planted around 1700m+ so that cooler temperatures can allow the coffee cherries to mature slowly. Coffees from Huehue tend to be very high quality and produce clean, fruit and wine-like flavors.
San Marcos: Volcanos abound in much of Central America, but San Marcos is known for its proximity to several large stratovolcanos in northern Guatemala, closer to the coast than Huehue. The rich volcanic soil gives coffee plants plenty of nutrients to thrive and produce sweet cherries, and its microclimate makes it one of the rainiest areas of Guatemala. Coffees from San Marcos tend to be washed, as the area's relative humidity presents extra difficulties for other processing methods.
Antigua: Named for the popular tourist city, the Antigua region is situated in central Guatemala fairly close to both Guatemala City and Lake Atitlan. The rainy and dry seasons in Antigua are very dependable and well-defined, which makes Antigua coffee reliably available at the same time each year. Coffees from Antigua are considered some of the best in Guatemala, with producers continually upping the quality of their specialty crops with new processing and quality control measures.
New Oriente: Situated in the southeast of the country near the town of Esquipulas and the border with El Salvador and Honduras, the New Oriente region is unique in Guatemala for its relatively low rainfall and clay-like soil. Water stress from wet and dry periods helps coffee plants flower and produce cherry, making the region a substantial producer with a unique, smooth body and crisp acidity.
Specialty coffee production in Guatemala usually takes place on family-owned farms around 20-40 hectares in size. Coffee is grown and picked on these farms and generally processed either on-site at the farm's own wet mill or at a neighbor's facility in the area. Coffee is delivered in parchment to dry mills for final QC and export.
Coffee prices have been dropping in Guatemala, mostly driven by the commodity market, which is having an impact on specialty growers. Many producers are starting to experiment with multiple revenue streams, planting banana or orange trees among their coffee as a second crop, and experimenting with new processing techniques to command higher prices for their beans.
The majority of coffee from Guatemala is processed as washed coffee at wet mills on or near the farm. This process removes all the fruit and mucilage of the coffee cherries and results in a clean, sweet cup. Most Guatemalan coffee is dried as parchment on patios after washing, though some farmers are starting to experiment with raised beds. The dried parchment is then sent to a dry mill where beans are sorted and graded for quality, milled to remove the parchment, and bagged up for export.
Other processes like honey and natural coffees do exist in Guatemala, but in many of the regions, humidity and rainfall make these methods more difficult and risky. Most farmers prefer to produce washed coffee as it's a pretty solid "recipe for success" that produces tasty beans
Many different varietals are grown in Guatemala, oftentimes on the same farm. It's common to see Caturra, Red and Yellow Catuai, Red and Yellow Bourbon, and even some Pache varietals in the mix when cupping Guatemalan coffees.
Guatemalan specialty producers are also growing less common varietals like Geisha, Maragogype, and Tabbi, often reserving these beans for more intensive processes to sell for higher prices.