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Guatemalan Coffee — A Long History of Success and Quality

Updated: Jan 5, 2023

Guatemalan coffee is world-famous, delicious, exotic, and varied in flavors. This country offers tons of different types of coffee, adequate to all tastes, and luckily for the rest of the world, it is also a leader in coffee exportation.


Let me walk you through the reason behind Guatemala’s high-quality coffee.


Brief History


Coffee plantations didn’t begin in Guatemala until halfway into the Spanish settlement in the country, around the 1750s. At that time, friars of the Dominican Order brought the first coffee plants and they grew coffee in the gardens of the convents of Santiago de los Caballeros, known today as Antigua Guatemala.


However, after the earthquake in 1773, they were forced to move these plantations to Valle de la Ermita, known today as the City of Guatemala. Such change in environmental conditions caused the coffee production to decay, and it was not improved again until the 1850s. Now settled in Valle de la Ermita, the plantations were mostly located in the south.



With these improvements, 1859 marked the first commercial coffee production with over 380 bags of 60 kilograms each. These were shipped to Europe, causing a 300% increase in Guatemalan coffee production.


This also meant that the government needed to improve their ports and construct railroads so that they could have more efficient ways of transport and delivery.


The need to upgrade the coffee production led the liberalists to confiscate lands from the Catholic church, and to pass laws that forced the indigenous people to work in the coffee farms. Nonetheless, former President Jorge Ubico abolished such law in the 1900s.


These strategies led Guatemala’s coffee to be named “the best coffee in the world” in 1915.


Fast forward to 1960, the National Association of Coffee, Anacafé (Asociación Nacional del Café) started up as the Central Office of Coffee, allowing the country’s coffee industry to become part of the International Organization of Coffee, setting Guatemalan coffee truly high among the best grains in the world.


Growing Coffee in Guatemala


Guatemalan coffee grows at an altitude of 1477 to 6562 feet above sea level, and in up to eight regions, leading to tons of delicious variations of this high-quality grain.


Here are the main regions and why their coffee is simply exceptional.



1. Antigua Guatemala


Antigua produces varieties like Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuaí. This coffee tends to have a sweet taste, and its quality comes from unique volcanic soil, rich in minerals and low in humidity.




Antigua coffee beans have one of the widest roast ranges. Antigua makes an excellent light roast espresso for use without milk. The most recommended way to have it is to roast them darker for espresso and milk based drinks—especially iced.


Region Profile

  • Temperature: 64 - 72ºF

  • Rain: 32 - 48 in

  • Humidity: 65%

  • Elevation: 5000 – 5600 ft


Antigua is an ancient Mayan city nestled in a valley between three volcanoes and is also the cultural capital of Guatemala. The soil in the Antigua region is rich in nutrients, from minerals deposited by Volcan de Agua and Volcan de Acatenango. The usually active Volcan de Fuego still provides new mineral deposits.



2. Atitlan


Atitlan is home to some of the richest soils, leading to coffee with strong aroma and a particular citric-type acidity. Atitlan has a versatile roast range. Medium roasted makes an exceptional french-press or automatic brew. Darker profiles remind us of the flavors of typical Colombian coffee.





Region profile

  • Temperature: 68 - 72ºF

  • Rain: 72 - 92 in

  • Humidity: 75 - 85%

  • Elevation: 5000 - 5600 ft


3. Coban


Fruity and balanced coffee from Coban comes from the humid, rainy, and cold weather of the region. Coban coffee beans are extra dense due to the slower maturation in the rainforest, allowing a wide roasting range. A medium-dark roast is perfect for drip and manual brews, while also blending well with milk.




Region Profile

  • Temperature: 59 - 68ºF

  • Rain: 120 - 160 in

  • Humidity: 85 - 95%

  • Elevation: 4300 - 5600 ft


Unlike other regions, these coffee beans are cultivated in soil consisting of clay and limestone. These also have different maturation times and mature at a slower rate, creating quite hard beans. Due to the unique climate, Coban has some of the most innovative, proud, and dedicated coffee growers producing some of Guatemala's best grains.



4. Huehuetenango


Huehue produces a trademark acid coffee, with a special wine-like taste that results from the region’s highlands.


Huehue coffee is versatile and does well in espresso blends when roasted darker. We love it as a medium or medium dark roast pour-over!




Region Profile

  • Temperature: 68 - 75ºF

  • Rain: 48 - 56 in

  • Humidity: 70 - 80%

  • Elevation: 5000 - 6500 ft


Obtaining High Quality Coffee


Coffee being one of the main products of exportation, represents a huge part of Guatemala’s income and commerce. Needless to say, it is responsible for thousands and thousands of jobs in the country.


As we all know, climate change is worsening and inevitable, which affects the coffee plantations—and other crops for that matter—and the quality of the grain, too.


Luckily for Guatemala, coffee remains among the low-maintenance crops. These plants can be harvested multiple times, without having to remove and replant them. In addition, this crop has an efficient water usage, and it allows animal species to coexist with it without affecting its quality.



Coffee plantations need clean, uncontaminated water, rich soils, and the right weather, but as we’ve seen before, we can get exquisite varieties from diverse weather, too.


Coffee plants thrive in extensive shade and near forest areas, and they provide us with better product when the water they are treated with is clean and free of organic components. It is important for coffee farm owners to use the proper machinery to purify the water as much as possible.



Furthermore, it’s significant to remember that more doesn’t mean better. While controlling pests and plagues is essential for a healthy crop, harvesters should be mindful of the amount of pesticides and fertilizers they use so that their plants are benefited rather than damaged from all the chemical products.


Exportation


As said above, Guatemala has been exporting coffee since the 1850s, the benefits of which have only grown over the years.


By 2021, Guatemalan coffee was sought-after by the whole world. It was estimated that between 2021 and 2022, there was an approximate exportation of 43 million pounds of coffee.


Between 2020 and 2021 at the peak of the pandemic, the number was around 47 million pounds, representing an income of $886.2 million.


When you buy from Maya Organica you are supporting local farmers from all this regions.




Try Them All!


MayaOrganica is the place to go if you’re seeking to try all the wonderful types of coffee Guatemala’s rich soil has to offer. Now that you know a little bit about why this coffee is so amazing, be bold and try all the flavors, aromas, and levels of acidity that result from the different weather, soil, and humidity of Guatemala.







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