Coffee is one of the most important products for the Guatemalan economy. The coffee industry in Guatemala includes an estimated 125,000 coffee producers. Coffee exports account for around 40% of all income in the agricultural sector.
Table of Contents
Historical context of coffee in Guatemala
It is believed that the history of coffee in Guatemala began with the introduction of coffee by Jesuit missionaries in the early 18th century.
But it was not until the middle of the 19th century that synthetic dyes and the industrialization of the textile industry took hold that coffee was taken seriously as a cultivated plant.
By the late 19th century, coffee had become one of the country’s most important crops, and several government programs were put in place to make coffee a means of stimulating the economy.
An extensive land privatization program was then initiated, leading to the establishment of large coffee farms, some of which are still in operation today.
In fact, some of the best coffee in Guatemala today is said to come from these areas.
Coffee cultivation in Guatemala today
Coffee cultivation is widespread in 20 of the 22 departments of Guatemala. An estimated 270,000 hectares of the country are planted with coffee, almost all (98%) of which is shade grown.
In addition, Guatemalan production consists almost exclusively of Arabica coffee. Also, unlike other countries where industrial washing methods are preferred, natural methods are becoming more popular in Guatemala.
Climatic conditions in Guatemala for coffee cultivation
Because of its geography, Guatemala has high altitudes and up to 300 different microclimates found nowhere else in the world.
In general, however, Guatemala’s climate is characterized by consistent rainfall in most regions and mineral-rich soils.
And while Guatemala is known today as a producer of specialty coffee, it wasn’t always like this.
The country suffered from a terrible civil war that lasted more than three decades (1960-1996) and almost brought the production of coffee and other crops to a standstill.
The war not only cost millions of lives, but also hit the economy hard.
This exacerbated poverty and created socio-political instability that persists to this day.
Thus, the country’s agricultural production only resumed at the beginning of the 21st century, with coffee as the main crop.
General information about Guatemalan coffee
Guatemalan coffee is often described as a very balanced, full-bodied coffee with a strong, sweet taste, but with moderate acidity and hints of chocolate, cocoa and caramel.
Some even say that Guatemalan coffee can be a good way to get into the world of specialty coffee and move away from mass production.
In addition, the coffees from this country are suitable for blends, as they bring fruity and citrusy notes to the end product.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that Guatemala produces Arabica coffee in the Typica, Bourbon, Catuai and Caturra varieties.
Processing of Guatemalan coffee
Since Guatemala is a country with plenty of rainfall and therefore humidity, the coffee is processed wet.
This means that after the coffee beans have been pulped using a pulping machine, they are placed in tanks of water to remove the mucilage (a waste material).
The latter brings out the natural acidity of the coffee.
After that, the coffee beans are ready for the fermentation process, so they can be dried and stored.
These last two steps also have their peculiarities in Guatemala, as due to the high humidity in the area, natural drying (under sunlight) is often interrupted.
For this reason, industrial drying (using ovens) is widely used in this country to increase the efficiency of production.
Profile of Guatemalan coffee
Guatemalan coffee is known for being sweet, medium to full bodied, and has lots of chocolate notes.
However, it is not uncommon for some Guatemalan coffees to have a slightly bittersweet flavor that also includes notes of cocoa, nuts, and caramel.
In fact, according to several experts, this combination of flavors is characteristic not only of Guatemala but of Central American coffee in general.
Coffee growing areas in Guatemala
As in other coffee-producing countries, e.g. B. Tanzania in Africa, there is no uniform type of coffee in Guatemala either, but different types that grow in the different regions of the country.
Thus, Guatemalan coffees are classified according to the region they come from and, in general, one can speak of 8 major coffee-growing areas in the Central American country.
The following describes each of the Guatemalan coffee regions.
The Antigua Region
Perhaps the best-known coffee-growing region in Guatemala is Antigua.
This is mainly due to the fact that this region offers ideal conditions for the production of excellent quality coffee.
It follows that the Antigua region is characterized by the following characteristics:
- A volcanic soil that is very nutrient rich.
- Low humidity.
- Warm temperatures during the day.
- Cool temperatures at night.
Also, around the city of Antigua (from which the region takes its name) there is a valley surrounded by three volcanoes:
Fuego Volcano, the most active of the three volcanoes, periodically adds mineral-rich ash to Antigua’s soil.
This allows the soil to retain moisture better, which helps offset Antigua’s low rainfall.
However, nighttime temperatures can pose a challenge for coffee growers as frost is not uncommon, although the dense fog typical of the region can offer some protection from the extreme cold.
The harvest season lasts from January to mid-March.
But beware of imitations
Guatemalan coffee is highly sought after by coffee connoisseurs for its excellent flavor and balance, which is why it can be an expensive product, especially when it comes from Antigua.
One difficulty, however, is that controlling coffee labeled with the Antigua name has become a problem.
That’s because, in the past, growers from other regions of the country would send their beans to Antigua to be processed and sold as if they were from that region.
For example, the Antigua and Barbuda Producers Association has developed programs to ensure the traceability of coffee labeled “Antigua”.
In this way it can be ensured that the coffees marked in this way are actually grown in the region.
The Acatenango region
The Acatenango Valley is located near the Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes, west of the city of Antigua.
In this region, coffee is grown in dense shade and on steep slopes up to 2,000 meters above sea level.
The frequent eruptions of nearby Fuego Volcano make the soils thick and sandy, allowing them to store minerals.
In addition, the forests of Australian oak (Gravillea robusta), Guama (Inga sp.) and Guachipilín (Diphysa americana) serve to regulate temperature and thus provide protection for the coffee tree.
The cool air currents of the Pacific and the distinct seasons let the coffee dry in the sun.
This allows the coffee to be dried naturally (in the sun) rather than in ovens, reducing production costs.
Also, the average harvest time in this region is between December and mid-March.
Lake Atitlán and the nearby volcanoes make the soil particularly nutrient-rich, which is reflected in the quality of the beans harvested.
In fact, more than 90% of Atitlán’s coffee beans are grown on the slopes of the volcanoes surrounding the lake.
In addition, the daily winds known as Xocomil, which drive the lake’s cold waters, have an important influence on the microclimate in the region.
A typical feature of the coffee from this region are its citrus notes.
Harvest time begins in December and ends in mid-March.
The Coban region
This region is far from the climatic conditions found in volcanic areas, so temperatures are lower all year round. So, rain and cold are the two protagonists.
In addition, the humidity in this area is very high, so the coffee beans are grown in clayey and calcareous soils.
This results in more balanced, medium-bodied coffee beans with less acidity but stronger aromas.
Harvest time is between December and March.
The Fraijanes region
The Fraijanes plateau is characterized by volcanic soils that extend to high altitudes.
In addition, rainfall is plentiful in this area and humidity varies throughout the year.
Also, the Pacaya Volcano, the country’s most active volcano, is located in this area and often yields ash that supplies the soil with potassium and other minerals.
The dry season is also characterized by plenty of sunlight and high temperatures, alternating with cloud cover, drizzle, fog and heavy dew (very early in the morning).
This means that the beans can dry quickly, which is why natural drying is also popular in this region.
Harvest time is from December to February.
The region of Huehuetenango
Huehuetenango is the highest coffee-growing region in Guatemala. In addition, this area is not volcanic and has an arid climate.
Dry, warm winds blowing from southwestern Mexico keep overnight temperatures from turning to freezing.
In addition, coffee in this region is often grown at high altitudes (up to 2,000 meters above sea level).
The high altitude, relatively predictable climate, and large water supply from the many nearby rivers and streams are ideal for producing excellent specialty coffee.
Another characteristic of coffee growing in this region is that it must be done by hand, as Huehuetenango’s remoteness does not allow the use of machines.
At the same time, Huehuetenango coffee is full-bodied, with high acidity and lots of fruity notes.
In addition, the average harvest time is between January and April.
The region of Nuevo Oriente
The climate in the Nuevo Oriente region is generally rainy and cloudy and the soil is rich in minerals, making it perfect for growing coffee.
That’s because Nuevo Oriente sits on an ancient volcanic mountain range, which means the soil is very good at storing minerals.
The coffee from this area is also acidic, balanced and has a strong aroma.
The commonly grown coffee beans also belong to the Catuai and Bourbon varieties.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that the coffee in the Nuevo Oriente region has been grown by small producers in an almost artisanal way since the 1950s.
However, in recent decades, the number of coffee plantations in the region has increased significantly.
The average harvest time is also between December and March.
The San Marcos region
The San Marcos region is the warmest of the 8 coffee-growing regions, but also the area with the most rainfall.
Therefore, seasonal rains reach San Marcos earlier, resulting in faster flowering.
Also, most coffee in San Marcos is grown on farms that have their own processing plants.
This is due to the unpredictable rainfall in the region during harvest season.
Thus, the first part of coffee drying occurs naturally, and after that the process is completed in mechanical dryers.
The average harvest time in this area lasts from December to March.
The best coffees from Guatemala
There are several renowned coffees of Guatemalan origin, but most coffee connoisseurs agree that the following 3 origins best embody the essence of Guatemalan coffee.
Antigua Santa Barbara Coffee
For some, this is the quintessential Guatemalan coffee and one of Central America’s finest.
In addition, this coffee has a chocolaty taste with nutty notes and a velvety texture accompanied by an intense aroma.
Santa Bárbara coffee’s acidity is also lively, but its sweetness balances the flavor profile.
In fact, the coffee leaves a sweet aftertaste that lingers for a few more minutes.
Organic coffee from Huehuetenango
This organic coffee from Guatemala is considered one of the best in the country for its balanced taste, smooth body and velvety texture.
This coffee has an aroma with notes of milk chocolate and caramel accompanied by a sweet orange aftertaste.
The organic coffee from Huehuetenango also has a mild, citric acidity and a medium roast.
In addition, the manufacturers assure that the coffee generally has such a mild taste that it does not cause stomach acidity.
San Marcos coffee
The San Marcos coffee is characterized by its medium to strong acidity, which is accompanied by an intense aroma.
In addition, this coffee is full-bodied and mild in taste, accompanied by floral, nutty and fruity notes that leave a sweet aftertaste.
So, as you have seen, Guatemala is a country destined to produce excellent quality coffee due to its geographical and climatic conditions.
But remember that when we talk about Guatemalan coffee, we mean several types of coffee and not just one specific coffee.