Guatemala has become well known for producing fantastic washed processed coffees. Coffee was first introduced to the country in the 1700s and was mainly grown as ornamental plants. In the 1800s, the dye industry in Guatemala collapsed, and coffee rapidly grew into a very significant export product. By the end of the 19th century, coffee became Guatemala's most important export product.
Guatemala has both fantastic soil and ideal climate and altitude for the growth of speciality coffee. Almost all the coffee grown in the country is arabica, and varietals typically include Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai and Typica; however, some producers have planted rare varietals like Geisha.
Coffee was first grown in and around the Antigua region but rapidly spread to other parts of Guatemala. These regions include:
- Nuevo Oriente
- San Marcos
Coffee export and production is regulated by The Asociación Nacional Del Café (ANACAFE). Their role is to oversee the production and export of coffee. Over the last 20 years coffee producers in Guatemala have focused more on the production of speciality coffee with full traceability and transparency. Guatemala typically ranks as the 10th highest producer in the world, exporting 200,000,000 kg of coffee every year. For comparison, this is four times less than the yearly export of Colombia and around the same amount exported from Peru.
A wide range of coffee varietals are grown in Guatemala with a strong focus on those that produce great quality coffee. These include bourbon, catuai, caturra and typica. Some farmers have planted exotic and challenging varietals like Geisha, and these can sell for a very high price, often with a high SCA cup score. The best coffees are usually grown at high altitudes above 1500m. Most regions in Guatemala have volcanic soil rich in nutrients that is ideal for coffee growing and production. Farms vary in size from very small, covering just a few acres, and these are usually linked to cooperative coffee production. This means the coffee will be harvested and delivered to the local cooperative for processing. We regularly feature coffee from the Guatemala Red de Mujeres cooperative. This is a cooperative of women coffee producers located in Huehuetenango producing certified organic coffee. Larger coffee farms are able to process their own coffees, often separating varietals and experimenting with different post-harvest processing methods.
Guatemala La Bolsa coffee farm
Guatemala is known for producing high quality washed processed coffees. This means that the cherry is processed by pulping to remove the outer fruit, fermented and then washed to remove the mucilage. After washing the coffee is dried to a moisture content of about 12%. There are many variations to this method and this is usually dependant on the decisions made by the co-operative or farm processing the coffee. For example, shorter and longer fermentation times might be used or a second cold water fermentation might be used after the coffee is washed.
The drying process is often completed on concrete patios with some producers using raised drying tables.
Some coffee producers in Guatemala experiment with natural and honey processing, often producing very interesting and intense fruit characters, but these coffees are quite rare.
Guatemala produces a diverse range of coffees but is most well known for producing clean, medium to full body coffee with gentle acidity and a great balance of flavour. This is a very broad description as region, varietal, and processing greatly impact the flavour profile. Typical tasting notes of the washed coffees we look to buy include chocolate, orange, sweet citrus, brown sugar, red berries and apple-like flavours.