Coffee seeds drying on a ground. Photo by Alexander Schimmeck on Unsplash
Since its introduction to Guatemala in 1750, coffee has experienced an interesting journey. After several government-led attempts to diversify the country’s agricultural industry from indigo, the Commission for Coffee Cultivation and Promotion was formed, which provided education and price management duties for local coffee producers. Later, in 1868, the Guatemalan government distributed one million coffee seeds to local farms, to strengthen the nation’s coffee industry.
Guatemala has a strong history of traceability, as many farmers have access to their wet-mills for the process. This has, in turn, greatly strengthened the quality and reputation of the coffee that is produced throughout Guatemala. Additionally, Guatemala has been more successful than other countries at identifying it’s key growing regions and marketing specialty coffees from these particular regions
Here is a quick rundown on the key coffee-growing regions of Guatemala.
Until the end of World War II, the coffee region of Cobán was dominated by many German coffee producers. Since then, Cobán has developed a reputation that rivals the fame of other regions, such as Antigua. While the region is susceptible to a very wet climate (not to mention being somewhat isolated), Cobán is still able to overcome these challenges and produce some exquisite coffees. Coffee from Cobán boasts a sweet aroma, with a spice-laden profile, clean aftertaste and a medium to light body.
With a name that means ‘New East’, Nuevo Oriente is situated on the eastern side of the country, bordering Honduras. Nuevo Oriente is situated on a former volcanic range, which has provided many of the local smallholder producers with mineral-rich soils. Coffee production began in Nuevo Oriente in the 1950s; a relatively late date compared to other regions. While Nuevo Oriente was once the poorest and isolated area of Guatemala, it has become a vibrant and growing region.
‘Huehuetenango’ translates from the indigenous Nahuatl as ‘place of the ancients’. Huehuetenango is one of the three highest, non-volcanic regions in Guatemala, and is fed with the dry and hot winds from the Tehuantepec plain in Mexico. These conditions allow for the highest and driest coffee cultivation (of up to 6, 500 feet). The extreme remoteness of Huehuetenango requires all producers to process their coffee; which strengthens the traceability of coffee farmers from this area, not to mention the truly exquisite flavours of the coffee that is exported from Huehuetenango!
The plateau of Fraijanes surrounds the nation's capital, Guatemala City. The volcanic activity in the region, combined with the high altitudes and copious levels of rainfall, contributes to the prime growing conditions. But because of the proximity to the metropolitan areas, the local land in Fraijanes has shrunk due to the demographic pressures.
Heralded as one of the leading coffee-producing regions in Guatemala - not to mention the world - the Antigua coffee region is characterised by the elevation, rich volcanic soils, and optimal weather conditions, creating the perfect environment for producing some exquisite coffee. In 2000, the region attained a Denomination of Origin under the name ‘Genuine Antigua Coffee’. This has protected the area from inferior coffee being fraudulently labelled as Antigua, along with verifying the excellent quality of the coffee produced in the region. Antiguan coffee is characterised by an intense floral aroma, with hints of citrus. The flavour of the coffee is smokey and spicy and includes chocolate hints. Unlike the coffee grown in other Central American nations, Antiguan coffee bears a rich texture; a perfect match for darker espresso roasts.
Image by Cafe Imports