Although small in size, Guatemala has more diverse microclimates than almost any other country in the world (nearly 300 distinct regions). Nearly every area receives year round rainfall and has mineral-rich soils from nearby volcanoes and lakes. With high altitudes, ranging humidity levels and moderate temperatures, Guatemala produces a wide variety of delicious, globally appreciated Arabica coffee.
Processing Guatemala Coffee Beans
Since the early 1800’s, coffee production has been a crucial part of the Guatemalan economy. The abundance of rainfall and high humidity levels in Guatemala have made the wet process method the preferred way of processing coffee beans. Because the coffee growing industry is quite large and reaches remote locations, a union called Anacafé (Asociación Nacional del Café) was created in 1960. This organization represents Guatemala in the International Coffee Organization and is responsible for grading all Guatemalan green coffee beans. The highest grade of Guatemala coffee is Strictly Hard Bean (SHB).
Guatemala Coffee Regions
To help define specific cup profiles, Anacafé has identified 8 distinct regions that produce high quality SHB coffees. The eight Guatemalan coffee producing regions are: San Marcos, Antigua, Acatenango Valley, Cobán, Huehuetenango, Attilan, Nuevo Oriente and Fraijanes Plateau. Each of these regions has its own unique microclimate and growing conditions. Antigua, the most well known and popular of the regions, is home to some of the country’s oldest coffee estates which produce the world’s most extraordinary coffees. Grown in mineral-rich soil on the sunny slopes of volcanoes, Antigua coffee beans receive the perfect amount of rain. To the west of Antigua, across the Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes, is the dense and shady region of Acatenango Valley. The coffee beans here are traditionally hand harvested, sorted, washed and then sun dried in the pleasant breeze from the Pacific Ocean.
Another popular Guatemalan coffee growing region is Attilan, which emcompasses the entire area surrounding Lake Attilan. The water from this natural body of water is often used in the wet processing of the coffee beans. Coffee here is grown on the dramatic slopes of three volcanic mountains in rich soil that has been organically fertilized. In a mountainous area north of Lake Amatitlan, near Guatemala City, is the region of Fraijanes Plateau. Pacaya, the most active volcano in Guatemala, regularly erupts providing the pumice soil with a boost of important minerals such as potassium. Located near the Mexican border, the extremely remote region of Huehuetenango is the highest and driest of them all. Because the dry, hot winds from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain protect the mountainous area from frost, coffee beans can be planted up to 6,500 feet above sea level.
In the northernmost part of Guatemala is the subtropical rainforest region of Cobán. This very humid (85-95%) microclimate is created by the constant drizzle of rain caused by the Atlantic Ocean. Cloudy and windy, the temperature in this region fluctuates greatly. With annual rainfalls reaching up to 5,000mm, the warmest and wettest of the 8 Guatemalan coffee growing regions is San Marcos. This remote microclimate is highly influenced by the Pacific Ocean. Seasonal rains arrive here quite early, so producing and harvesting of coffee beans happens in San Marco sooner than in other regions. The Nuevo Oriente zone is similar in altitude and temperature, but receives much less rain. The soil consists of clay, volcanic minerals and metamorphic rock resulting in a uniquely flavored coffee.
Guatemala Coffee Flavor Profile
Guatemala’s diverse microclimates, high elevation and volcanic soil produce rich flavor profiles with deep, unforgettable complexity. In general, Guatemalan coffees have a full body and pleasant acidity with toffee and chocolate undertones. Flavor characteristics are also determined by the region in which the coffee beans are grown. Some of the world’s finest and most complex coffees come from the highlands of Guatemala. Antigua coffee combines cocoa flavors with a hint of spice and wonderfully floral acidity.
Windier and wetter than Antigua, the Attilan region coffees are similar yet nuttier and lighter in body. Coffees grown in Fraijanes Plateau are often compared to Antigua coffees with a velvety body and lively aroma. In regions more exposed to the wind and water, coffee flavors tend to be slightly softer yet just as flavorful. The Caribbean facing Cobán and Pacific Ocean facing San Marcos produce coffees that have brighter and fruitier flavor with notes of wine and a citrus aroma. Huehuetenango coffees are delicate and almost buttery with a sweet aroma and clean finish.
One of the best things about Guatemala coffee is that they can handle the whole range of roast styles. These versatile coffee beans can be roasted light, medium and are also known to retain their rich flavors in dark and even espresso roasts. Whether you prefer the chocolate nuttiness of Antigua coffee or the bright citrus of San Marcos coffee, Guatemala has an impressive cup of coffee just for you.