Guatemalan Coffee: Why It’s A Secret Favourite Among The Coffee Community (brewing and buying tips within)
Have you ever noticed that Central America produces some of best coffee in the world?
Guatemala in particular is a favorite among coffee fanatics, and for good reason too.
Coffee from Guatemala can be the perfect balance of full bodied, strong and sweet with a gentle acidity and complex flavor notes.
It can appeal to a wide range of people and there is sure to be a coffee from this country with your name on it.
Fun Facts About Guatemalan Coffee
Guatemala’s Coffee History
Coffee was brought to Guatemala in the early 1800’s. However, coffee production didn’t really take off until the 1860’s when European immigrants started to fill the country.
The government encouraged the growth of coffee plantations, and coffee quickly became the country's largest export.
Until 2011, Guatemala was one of the top 5 largest coffee producing countries when Honduras finally surpassed it.
In 1960, coffee growers developed their own union which officially became known as Anacafé (Asosiación Nacional del Café). This organization is now responsible for marketing, research and financial support to new and existing farmers.
They also seek to improve life for farmers living in rural areas.
The coffee industry in Guatemala is quite large and it is difficult for one organization to reach out to every farm in the country, but that is their ultimate goal. There are over 125,000 producers is this small country (about the size of Ohio).
Unique Growing Conditions
The climate in Guatemala is one of the most diverse in the world for coffee production.
There are 7 main growing regions within Guatemala, with Antigua, Huehuetenango and Attilan being the most popular. Each region has it’s own set of unique growing conditions and microclimates.
Coffees from Antigua are grown on the slopes of volcanoes receiving lots of sun and little rain. The Huehuetenango region, near the Mexican border, has the highest altitudes (up to 2,000m) producing complex, fruited flavors.
Coffees from the Attilan region are also grown in volcanic soil.
This area surrounds Lake Attilan, whose water is often used for wet processing the coffees. The norm in this region is fertilizing the farms organically without the use of pesticides.
This region is much more windy and wet, producing coffees that are very nutty and chocolaty in flavor.
The other regions are the Fraijanes Plateau, which surrounds Guatemala City, Rainforest Cobán, a very humid, subtropical forest in the north, Volcan San Marcos, the warmest and wettest region, and Oriente, a volcanic and dry area.
What Are the Preferred Processing Methods?
Guatemala is a country with a lot of rainfall and humidity.
Due to the abundance of water in the country, wet processed coffees are the norm. High humidity levels tend to disrupt the natural, or dry process of coffee beans anyway, so you will rarely see a natural Guatemalan.
The wet process is often preferred by most farmers and consumers alike as this processing method is much more consistent than the natural processing method, and highlights the natural acidity in the coffee.
Flavor Characteristics of Guatemalan Coffee
Coffee from Guatemala is known to be sweet with a medium to full body and lots of chocolate flavor notes.
Many coffees will have either a bittersweet cocoa taste or a sweet, milk chocolate taste.
On top of these flavors these coffees can also have lots of nutty and toffee notes. Guatemalan beans grown at higher elevations, such as those at Huehuetenango will have brighter flavor notes ranging from berries to green apple to citrus.
Guatemalan Antigua coffee is probably the most well known in the country. Antigua is home to some of the oldest coffee estates in the country, some passed down for generations in the same family.
Many of these farms are managed extremely well and are producing some of the best coffees in the country as more farmers are receiving education to move the coffee growing industry forward.
Coffees from Antigua will have a full body, heavy sweetness and low to medium acidity.
You can expect lots of chocolate and hints of fruity notes.
Huehuetenango coffee is grown at some of the highest elevations in the country and produces Guatemalans with a bright, lively acidity.
With a medium body and sweetness, you can expect a lot more acidity and fruit flavors in a Huehuetenango (think an Ethiopian with a heavier body).
The Current State of the Coffee Industry in Guatemala
Guatemala is a country on the move. More and more people are moving from the rural areas to the cities for education and higher paying jobs. The cities are in turn growing and even taking over land that once was home to coffee farms. It wouldn’t be a big surprise if land in Antigua or Attilan is ultimately converted from coffee farms to urban development.
The coffee industry in Guatemala is strong and has the highest percentage of coffee considered “high quality.”
These coffees are sought by buyers all over the world.
In the 2016/2017 harvest season, the total production was about 3.32 million bags, which is a 10% increase from the previous harvest season. It was originally estimated that some 4 million bags would be produced, but many parts of the country were faced with roya, the coffee tree killing fungus.
A large percentage of the Guatemalan population still lives in poverty.
When harvest season arrives, villagers will travel to coffee farms to work for the season in hopes to supplement their low village income.
Best Brew Methods
With so many coffee brewing methods, it can be tough to decide what’s best for each coffee. There are two different attributes to highlight in coffee from Guatemala; the flavor and acidity, or the body and sweetness.
To highlight the acidity and the flavor notes of the coffee, brewing via pour over is going to produce great results. With a lighter roasted coffee, a pour over will likely produce the best results.
The paper filter helps to produce a clean cup with clear, bright flavor notes.
This is ideal for those who want to taste the subtle fruit and floral notes of their Guatemalan beans.
For those who prefer a darker roasted coffee, or who simply want to highlight the body and the natural sweetness, a french press will be ideal.
This full immersion brew method allows the coffee to stay in contact with the water for much longer, which extracts more of the sweetness and ensures a full, heavy body in the final cup. Be careful not to brew the coffee too long or you will have a bitter, over extracted coffee.
The combination of full body, heavy sweetness and medium acidity present in most beans from Guatemala would also make for excellent cold brew. The long steep time helps to really extract the sweetness and the body, making for a strong and refreshing cup of coffee.
Where to Buy Guatemalan Beans
For those who want a solid medium or dark roast, try Arima Coffee. This coffee comes from a single estate in Guatemala meaning they can trace the coffee back directly to the farm it was produced on.
This coffee is organically grown and Rainforest Alliance certified and comes in a biodegradable bag for maximum environmental protection.
Madcap is a well known specialty roaster in Grand Rapids, MI. Their collection of Guatemalan coffee is superb.
Upon ordering, they will then roast and ship out your coffee within 24 hours.
All of their coffee’s are direct trade, meaning they spend considerable amounts of time at coffee farms all over the world. They seek out the absolute best coffees and roast them to perfection. They roast most of their coffees as a light roast, highlighting the bright flavor notes of each Guatemala coffee in their collection.
For those of you who like to roast their own coffee, Fresh Roasted sells their high end beans green, allowing you to create your own perfect roast. The Huehuetenango is an excellent coffee from Guatemala and will do well no matter how you choose to roast it.
Most Suitable Roast Type
Coffee beans from Guatemala are great because they can handle a wide range of roast styles. For those who like a lighter and brighter coffee, they can roast it light to medium and still get a full bodied coffee with some bright flavor notes.
Lighter roast Guatemala’s can have flavors of apple and orange and are backed by chocolatey undertones.
Those who want a darker roast can get a really good one with Guatemalan beans. Since they are naturally sweet and have a full body, they can withstand a darker roast and provide a smooth, enjoyable cup.
You can expect to taste bittersweet chocolate and toasted nuts with a typical dark roast Guatemala.
For some beans, there is a subtle spicy flavor that can carry through even into a dark roast.
Wrapping It Up
Guatemala is a country famous for its volcanoes, lakes and coffee. With various microclimates and growing conditions, there is a nice variety in the types of coffees coming out of this country.
We are excited to see the coffee industry in this beautiful nation continue to grow and develop and produce excellent coffee. Do you have a favorite coffee region in the country?