Initially, around the mid-1700s it was meant to be just an ornamental plant. After a century, coffee starts replacing indigo and cochineal as synthetic dyes collapsed both markets. Coffee became then a crop along with oils, cocoa and bananas.
Then, after two centuries, coffee became Guatemala’s first export. Guatemala is one of the best place to grow coffee thanks to an ideal coffee-growing climate: this country can count on several different micro-climates depending on the region we consider. This country is known for producing quality over quantity.
Lakes, volcanic soils, tropical jungles and mountain ranges enable to produce one of the finest washed arabica of the world.
Arabica is classified by two systems. The most important is the one by altitude; arabica is graded depending on the elevation.
So, regarding the elevation coffee are classified in:
- SHB (Strictly Hard Bean), for coffee that grows from 1300 to 1700 meters;
- HB (Hard Bean), for coffee that grows from 1220 to 1300 meters;
- Semi Hard Bean, for coffee that grows from 1050 to 1220 meters;
- Extra Prime, for coffee that grows from 900 to 1050 meters;
- Prime, for coffee that grows from 750 to 900 meters.
SHB is the highest quality and also the most produced within the country. Bear in mind that the higher we go and the thicker the beans are which means we’ll get the best because coffee have more time to develop, resulting in a more acidic and complex cup.The other system is with regard to how the coffee is named depending on the region its grow and its flavor profile such as Guatemala Antigua or Guatemala Cobán.
Main growing regions
In Guatemala there are 8 different regions in which coffee are cultivated: there are
- Guatemala Antigua,
- Nuevo Oriente,
- San Marcos,
- Atitlán and
Guatemala Antigua is one of the most famous. Located within three volcanoes (Acatenango, Agua and Fuego), this is one of the region that produces high-quality coffee. Coffee from Antigua is described as full body with a creamy texture, sweet and floral aromas and low acidity.
Acatenango is another volcanic region and coffee from this region is shade-grown. Coffee is described as creamy, fruity and spicy.
Nuevo Oriente is on the east side of the country closed to Honduras. The soil is rock made. Coffee comes out with a full body and high in acidity.
San Marcos is another volcanic region with one of the trickiest climate of the country. The coffee is low in body with a medium acidity.
Fraijanes became a volcanic soil thanks to the active Volcan de Pacaya. Coffee comes out with a full body and medium-high acidity.
Cobán has a limestone and clay soil with a humid and windy microclimate. This coffee is described as medium in body with fruity and winey notes. Light acidity.
Atitlán has a non-volcanic soil and coffee is medium to high in body, with citrusy and floral tastes. High acidity.
And last but not least, there’s Huehuetenango. This is a non-volcanic soil as well and It’s one of the region that produces finest arabica. Coffee is described as full body, fruity and floral with a sweet finish.
Depending on the regions, Guatemala grows many varietals such as Bourbon, Typica, Caturra, Catuai and Pache. The coffee is predominantly washed process.
The coffee harvest is different region by region but it’s not the only thing to consider. Harvesting depends as well by the migrant influx of seasonal workers who travel to help out this poor country.
Hiring migrants allow Guatemala to access to medical care, food and housing because seasonal contracts are usually lower and without benefits than a permanent employee.
But there’s hope for the future. Anacafè is a national organisation that was created in 1960 by the country. It’s been providing support for the small farmers, helping them with any kind of support, from education to research. The association is currently investing to tackle the coffee rust researching in new plants to prevent new natural disaster. And thanks to Anacafè, Guatemala is currently tenth in coffee production and first to produce high-quality coffee.
The world is facing the climate change, and even Guatemala, a region of about 17 millions people, is (hopefully) doing its part.
I am an Italian coffee lover that pushed for the love of this “amazing drug” decided to come to London to study about coffee and its different extraction procedures and tastes.