Guide to Guatemalan Coffee
P.C.: Coffee or Die Magazine
Mass-produced coffees, for years, have been at the core of the coffee industry fulfilling the growing demand of the market. But for coffee fanatics, mass-produced products shift from being just sufficient to boring.
However, in recent years, single-origin coffees have emerged as the top choice for barista serves due to their unique characteristics and specific flavour profiles. The top preferences for single-origin coffee are Colombian, Ethiopian, Brazilian, Nicaraguan, and Guatemalan (the focus of this article).
Single-origin Guatemalan coffee is the ideal choice for those consumers who love and appreciate the perfect flavour and aroma of carefully selected high-quality beans.
Despite being small in size, Guatemala today accounts for 204,000 metric tons of coffee – making it the second-largest coffee-producing nation in Latin America. Guatemala is one of the world's top ten coffee suppliers. Over half of the coffee produced in the country is exported to the USA – representing 15% of its Gross National Product.
History of Guatemalan Coffee
Although coffee was brought to Guatemala in the mid-1700s as an ornamental plant, it was only until the 1860s when coffee became an export crop for the country. The invention of the chemical dye in Europe during the 1800s led to the collapse of Guatemala’s natural dye industry. Coffee replaced indigo and cochinel, when the country needed a new industry that could potentially save the economy.
In 1859, through the constant encouragement of the government, over half a million coffee trees were planted- in different regions of the country. In 2011, Guatemala became the largest coffee producing country in Latin America.
Guatemala has a mild subtropical climate with temperatures ranging from 60⁰-90⁰ F, and nutrient-rich volcanic soil – an ideal environment for growing high-end delicious coffee beans.
Each of the seven coffee growing regions of the country have a distinct – cup profile, climate, soil, and altitude ranging from 5000-6000ft, that describes the strong and distinguishing flavour of Guatemalan coffee.
Seven coffee growing regions: -
Volcan San Marcos
Out of the seven, three coffee-growing regions – Antigua, Huehuetenango, and Atitlan are most popular, and each of them has a unique set of growing conditions and microclimates.
P.C.: Passport the World. Coffee farm in Antigua.
The most popular coffee beans from Guatemala comes from Antigua. Located near the southern coast of Guatemala, the beans in the Antigua region are grown in a valley surrounded by three volcanic mountains. Farmers gladly utilize this perfect growing condition.
With an elevation of about 4000-6000 ft above sea level and somewhat predictable weather patterns, the fincas (productive coffee farms) of Antigua create one of the finest beans in Guatemala.
The ideal temperature and fertile soil uniformly contribute to the distinctive flavour profile of the Antiguan coffee – medium level of acidity with hints of cocoa and fruity notes. The beans produced in this region yields a full-bodied cup with natural sweetness – making it an ideal choice for a strong brew.
Out of the five volcanic regions, the Atitlan soil is the richest in organic matter. Cultivated on the slopes of the volcanoes - surrounding the majestic lake - Atitlan coffee places itself as one of the most notable beans from Guatemala.
Coffee grows in high humidity (up to 75%) at elevations from 4000-6000 ft above sea level, making it less susceptible to diseases from pests and insects. The region is abundant with rainfall throughout the year, averaging more than 50mm of rain every month.
Instead of using chemical fertilizers, Atitlan coffee producers use organic fertilizer to grow the coffee trees. Coffee beans from the Atitlan region are full-bodied with citrusy notes.
P.C.: Vournas Coffee Trading. Coffee Farm in Huehuetenango region.
Huehuetenango is the highest and driest under cultivation amongst the other two non-volcanic regions. However, the hot and dry winds that blow from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain protect the region from frost, allowing the highland Huehuetenango to be cultivated - at up to 6,500 ft.
The extreme remoteness of the region tends to require all the producers to process their own coffee. The abundance of rivers and streams – makes the processing method easier for cultivation.
Coffee beans from the Huehuetenango region have a unique characteristic – full-body with high acidity and fruity notes.
P.C.: Barista Hustle. Processing of coffee beans at a wet mill in Guatemala.
Abundant with rainfall and high humidity, coffee grown in Guatemala are processed by the wet-processing method, which requires a large amount of water. The natural processing method - is considered less reliable, as the high humidity disrupts the natural-dry processing of the coffee beans.
The wet-processing method removes the fruit from the covering before the beans go through the drying process. This method is preferred highly by the producers as it is consistent and highlights the natural acidity of the coffee through an extended fermentation period of one to two days.
Guatemalan coffee is well-known for its natural sweetness with hints of chocolate and caramel. The different brewing methods highlight the unique characteristics of Guatemalan coffee.
Pour-over: People who prefer lighter roasted coffee, perhaps, should choose pour-over to brew Guatemalan coffee. This immersion brewing method highlights the subtle fruity and flavour notes and acidity of Guatemalan beans. The paper filters with the fine ground and medium roast- help to deliver a clean cup with clear and bright flavour notes.
French-Press: This full-immersion brewing method requires the bean to be in long contact with water. Therefore, it helps in evenly extracting the natural sweetness and unique flavour of the beans. Though it is important not to over-extract the beans otherwise, it will end up delivering a bitter cup of coffee.
Cold-Brew: Due to its long steep time, this brewing method highlights the light acidity and sweetness of the beans. The cup of coffee prepared through this brewing method – is full-bodied with heavy sweetness and medium acidity.
Want to indulge in the natural sweetness of the Guatemalan cup of coffee? We recommend - Don Cortez’s sweet and chocolaty, full-bodied and with less acidity- Guatemalan coffee capsules from the Antigua region. You can purchase it from the Don Carlos store.