What you need to know about Guatemalan coffee
Guatemalan coffee is very popular and a favorite among coffee enthusiasts. Learn more about what makes this region so special and its coffee desired by so many.
Where is Guatemala?
Guatemala is located in Central America bordering Mexico, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador, and the Pacific Ocean.
The Physical Features of Guatemala.
Guatemala is characterized by four major topographical features. The volcanic region with 37 volcanoes. A fertile coastal plains, the limestone plateau called the Peten, and the high mountain ranges and valleys.
The History of Coffee in Guatemala.
Jesuit priests brought coffee to Guatemala in the mid 1700s as decorative plants. Guatemala was under Spanish rule until 1823. Its main export to Europe was its indigo and cochineal dyes, but with the invention of chemical dyes in Europe, the demand declined dramatically. This is when they began to commercially grow coffee on a very large scale. Coffee replaced the dye industry as the top export trade to Europe, however, it was often at the expense of the indigenous Mayan people - Over the following century, due to slave labor, government regulations, and the indigenous people being forced to work on coffee estates known as ‘fincas’, the remnants and descendants of the once mighty Mayan nation were further oppressed. Until very recently, Guatemala was the top coffee producing country in Central America. It is now surpassed by Honduras.
The Coffee Growing Regions in Guatemala. (there’s more than 1!)
With such diverse micro-climates within this small country it boasts seven distinct growing regions all with unique flavor profiles.
Antigua - Antigua is internationally renowned for its high-quality coffees. This region is located among three volcanoes, Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango in a valley with a perfect coffee-growing climate – sunny days, cool evenings, and low humidity, and an occasional fresh layer of volcanic ash, which nourishes the soil with minerals. The varietals grown in this region are Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai and harvested between January and mid-March.
Atitlan - This area surrounds Lake Atitlan. Coffee is mainly grown on the volcanic mountainsides that surround the lake. The Xocomil winds, which occur when the warm winds coming from the south meet with the cold winds coming from the highlands, further influence the microclimate of this area. The producers here are resourceful and will use water from the lake for wet processing, and organic matter for fertilizer instead of chemicals. This area has the richest soil of all the volcanic regions in Guatemala. With an average of 12 hectares, about 95% of the coffee is cultivated by small producers who dedicate themselves to harvesting coffee. The majority of coffee harvested in these regions is Bourbon, but Typica, Caturra, and Catuai coffee beans are also grown. Harvest occurs between December and March.
Cobán Rainforest - This zone is a very humid (85-95%) and extremely rainy, subtropical forest in the northern part of the country. It rains or drizzles just about every day of the year. This “chipi-chipi” or light mist is always present and it’s under this mist that coffee is grown. The microclimate is created from the influence of the Atlantic Ocean, rather than the Pacific. The soil is mostly limestone and clay. The altitude is between 4,300 and 5,000 feet above sea level resulting in hard and strictly hard coffees. Varietals grown in Coban are Bourbon, Maragogype, Catuai, Caturra, and Pache. They are harvested from December to March.
Fraijanes Plateau – This region boasts high altitudes, the most active volcano in the country, a lot of rain, a dry season with a lot of sunshine, volcanic soils with high potassium levels and high elevation. The high potassium in the soil lends body to the cup. The beans of this region are strictly hard. (SHB) Harvested December to February.
Huehuetenango Highland - It is located on the border with Mexico and is one of the three non-volcanic regions. It’s also the highest and driest. Coffee is planted in the regions between 5,000-6,000 feet. Dry and hot winds from the Tehuantepec plain in Mexico protect the region from frost and create its unique microclimate. The flowering is homogeneous which results in. In Huehue, Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai coffee beans are grown. Harvesting takes place from January to April.
Oriente - It is located over a volcanic range and the soil consists of metamorphic rock and clay. It has relatively little rainfall compared to the other Guatemalan regions. Once one of the poorest regions, it has seen much economic growth due to the many small farms that produce coffee. The varietals in the Oriente region are Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra, and Pache and are harvested from December to March.
San Marcos - This is the warmest and the wettest of Guatemala's coffee growing regions. It receives a remarkable 5 meters of rain annually, and the rainy season begins early. Because of this, once the cherries are picked, producers in this area begin with sun drying but finish with machine dryers. The varietals grown in this region are Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai and are harvested from December to March.
The coffee flavor notes of the different regions in Guatemala. Each region boasts a different micro-climate resulting in different flavor profiles for each region.
Antigua coffee is described as having fine acidity, a full and velvety body, a rich and lively aroma with strong hints of chocolate and caramel.
Atitlan coffees are aromatic. They have a crisp and pronounced citrusy acidity, full body, rich floral aromas with notes of spice.
Cobán coffees have a medium body, mild acidity, and fruit like flavors.
Fraijanes Plateau coffees are described as having a soft aroma, full body, and a marked bright acidity, and flavor notes of chocolate and caramel.
Heuheutenango coffees are characterized as winey or fruity, with mild acidity.
Oriente coffees are aromatic, have a marked acidity, and a full body with chocolate notes.
San Marcos coffees are marked by delicate floral notes, pronounced acidity and good body.