Guatemala is located in Central America, South of Mexico and is renowned as a country of outstanding natural beauty. Not only that, it is renowned for its outstanding coffee. Much like Costa Rica, Guatemalan coffee is not experienced through a single brew. The country boasts eight distinct coffee growing regions (Check out the post of Costa Rica here). Each and every Guatemalan coffee bean is beautifully unique and its regions can be experienced through the flavours drawn out of its brews.
Coffee was believed to have been introduced to Guatemala in the mid 18th century; there are accounts of it being introduced to the country by Jesuit missionaries around 1750. This is thought to have kick-started Guatemalan coffee growth. However, the real crop production only really became important after 1856, like El Salvador, its neighbouring country. This is because the invention of chemical dyes reduced demand for indigo, previously Guatemala’s main cash crop. The industrialisation of textiles during this time dramatically impacted coffee exportation from Guatemala, positively increasing its output and importance to the economy.
Coffee promotion, in order to stimulate the economy, was strongly introduced by the government during the mid 19th century. The Commission for Coffee Cultivation and Promotion was formed by the government in 1845. This was formed with the intention of establishing price and quality by educating coffee producers and producing educational materials. In an effort to further stimulate the coffee production industry and exportation levels, in 1868, the government distributed roughly one million coffee seeds to coffee farmers across the country. It was in 1871 that Guatemala really saw a dramatic change in the coffee industry.
Justo Rufino Barrios came into power and initiated a massive land privatisation program with the aim of making coffee the backbone of the economy, boosting the quality of production and the volume of exportation. This impacted Guatemalan coffee production in both positive and negative aspects. The influence of Barrios saw the creation of large coffee estates which still, to this day, produce some of Guatemala’s highest quality coffee. Negatively though, his reforms, unfortunately, led to the indigenous Guatemalan population experiencing a dramatic loss of land with over 900,000 acres of public land being sold for private coffee plantations. Despite this, the economy was ultimately saved by the stimulation of coffee production. Barrios’ efforts to stimulate coffee production, regarding both quality and quantity, evidently prevailed as, by 1880, coffee made up roughly ninety percent of Guatemalan exports.
Coffee in Guatemala again underwent stimulation in 1930 following the global depression. When Jorge Ubico came into power, he worked again to stimulate the exportation of coffee from Guatemala by reducing its price. The country suffered a long and raging civil war from 1960 to 1996, provoked by land distribution and poverty, partly due to the radical increase in large industrialised coffee farms which still impacts the country today. Coffee production in Guatemala, however, hit its peak at the turn of the century, significantly affected by the coffee crisis of 2001. Since then, production and exportation have stabilised, with quality steadily increasing over the years.
Guatemalan Coffee Geography
Today, Guatemalan coffee is grown in twenty of the country’s twenty-two departments with 98 percent of the 270,000 hectares of coffee farmland under shade. Guatemala pretty much exclusively grows Arabica coffee and the beans are commonly processed using the washed process. The natural process is, however, becoming more popular in Guatemala and is unsurprisingly resulting in much higher quality coffee.
Not only does Guatemala pride itself on its coffee, it prides itself on the geography that helps to create such amazing coffee. With high altitudes and ideal weather conditions across the country, Guatemala is home to the model coffee bean growing climates and atmospheres. Guatemalan beans experience peak growth conditions with the consistent weather contributing to soils rich with an abundance of minerals. A staggering 300 microclimates, each providing different climate conditions including soil, rainfall, humidity, altitude, and temperature, impact the beans in a way that makes each and every Guatemalan coffee entirely unique.
The country even has a coffee board known as Anacafé and since the early twentieth century, they have undertaken significant efforts to separate each of Guatemala’s coffee growing regions. As a consequence of the Anacafé project, eight distinct regions have been identified within Guatemala, each producing coffees considered to be Strictly Hard Bean (SHB). Each region is defined based on soil type, altitude and overall climate, all contributing to cup profile, each and every region’s cup profile being totally unique.
Coffee, Eight Different Ways
Guatemala, in its entirety, is a country of outstanding natural beauty. With eight regions, each one completely different with regards to landscape, environment and atmospheric conditions, the country’s coffee is equally stunning. Each region’s beans are fundamentally unique in the way they are grown, and eventually, in the way, they taste when perfectly brewed.
Perhaps the best known coffee growing region in Guatemala, Antigua’s stunning landscape is seen as mere perfection for growing coffee. Surrounded by three volcanoes, the valley’s soil is some of the richest in minerals. Consistent sun and low-level humidity, unique to the region, contribute to the country’s highest quality and most extraordinary coffee. Antiguan coffee is some of the most expensive coffee grown in Guatemala because of its uniquely high-quality cup profile In the past, producers have shipped their cherries from other Guatemalan coffee growing regions to Antigua in order to be processed. They would subsequently market this coffee as Antiguan in order to fetch a much higher price. This has significantly impacted the credibility of Antiguan coffee, something that the Antiguan Coffee Grower’s Association has aimed to combat this. Coffee’s originally grown in Antigua now require a Genuine Antigua label in order to provide real traceability of the product.
The coffee here is grown on farmland covered by densely shaded areas and the volcanoes surrounding the area provide the soil with the rich minerals that coffee trees need. Gusts of warm temperatures mean that coffee in this region can be dried naturally by the sun and seasonal temperatures. Coffee in this region has been processed in this way for centuries and is done according to traditions passed down through families.
The soil in this region, as one of the five volcanic regions, is the richest in organic matter with over ninety percent of Atitlán coffee farmland situated on the slopes of the dominating volcanoes. The highly developed artisan tradition of the culture is reflected in the small producer’s skilled cultivation and processing.
The climate, namely consistent rainfall and pretty low temperatures, can make it very difficult to dry coffee in this region. Coffee producers in this region are have taken innovative steps in experimenting with drying processes in the very difficult wet conditions. This experimental innovation is producing some of the most unique and some say the best coffee of Guatemala.
This region may be considered to be the most geographically unique coffee region of Guatemala. Fraijanes Plateau boasts particularly high altitudes, varying levels of humidity, and lots of rain. Most uniquely, however, is Pacaya, an active volcano that contributes minerals to the rich soil every time it erupts, perfect for growing coffee beans with a high quality and unique taste.
Exceptional coffee is grown here, mainly a result of the consistent atmospheric conditions. Boasting the highest altitude and consistently very warm climate, Huehuetenango provides one of the best and most consistent environments for growing speciality coffee. Many farmers also process their own beans, undoubtedly contributing to the ideal eventual brew.
This used to be the poorest and most isolated growing region of Guatemala. Now, almost every farm in the region produces coffee which has ultimately grown Nueva Oriente as a region both economically as well as geographically. Coffee grown in this region does not experience volcanic geography like many of the other regions. Instead, its soil has balanced levels of minerals and metamorphic rock making it rather unique.
Warmest region but also experiences the highest levels of rainfall, on some occasions reaching as much as 200 inches of rain. Coffee plants flower the earliest of the eight regions in San Marcos due to experiencing the earliest seasonal rain. This region is extremely remote so the farmers also process their own beans, which some argue contributes to the quality of this coffee as the farmers know the best way in which to process their own coffee in order to achieve the best result.
Guatemala is renowned for its coffee and has built its reputation up, improving significantly as time has gone by. We strive to source beans of the finest quality that make a truly beautiful brew with a unique combination of flavours and aromas. The outstanding Guatemalan landscape and traditional family expertise in producing and processing are unique to each region. Guatemalan coffee is as distinct as it is perfect.
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Written by Katie Humphrey