Guatemala

Guatemalan coffee has been a staple of our coffee offerings since the beginning, and it is one of our most treasured origins.

We love the distinctly different and delicious flavour profiles that we are able to find in Guatemala, which are a result of the incredible range of microclimates that exist across each of the country’s coffee-growing regions. We have been lucky enough to work with many of the same estates in Guatemala since 2008, and every year we’ve been impressed with the quality and consistency of the coffee produced there.

Guatemala is the eighth biggest exporter of coffee in the world. Coffee accounts for 40% of the national agricultural export revenue, and it is estimated that there are over 125,000 producers of coffee across the country.  Many of these are smallholders, who are either working independently or formally affiliated with a cooperative or growers association.

Nearly all the coffee produced in Guatemala is Arabica and is processed using the washed method, thanks to the abundant water supply available. Large-scale family-run estates, which have a long history of coffee farming and technical expertise, have had the scale and resources to refine and evolve their farming practices over time. Many of these farmers have their own wet mills and drying facilities, enabling them a great deal of control over the way the coffee is processed. Over time, small-scale producers have inherited some of this knowledge and applied it in their own farms, creating a well-resourced and diverse coffee community.

History of Coffee in Guatemala 

Coffee was introduced to Guatemala by Jesuit priests as a decorative garden plant in the 1700s. Though it was consumed by some of the country’s foreign population, it was not planted commercially until the 1850s, when the government began offering land as an incentive to prospective growers. The coffee sector steadily grew in the following decades and began to receive international acclaim – gaining recognition as the “the finest coffee in the world” at the 1888 World Fair in Paris, and the 1915 San Francisco Exposition – and culminating with the founding of the Guatemalan National Coffee Association (Anacafé).

Established in 1960, Anacafé provides producers with technical assistance and education, enabling growers across the country to access knowledge about different approaches to growing coffee and how to improve their quality of output and yield. The organisation invests heavily in research, advocates for infrastructure improvements within the country and provides extension services to producers, such as soil, water and leaf analysis (to help farmers ensure adequate nutrition and fertilisation) and sensory analysis (providing feedback on samples submitted by producers).

Anacafé also helps market Guatemalan coffees nationally and internationally and has a department dedicated to promoting social development programs within the coffee sector, with a focus on food security, nutrition and health. By providing farmers with an incredibly strong system of support and promoting the highest standards in every aspect of coffee production, the association has ensured both small and large producers can achieve a viable future in coffee production. It is one of the most open, transparent and well-run coffee organisations we’ve come across, and the best cuppers in the country were trained at its lab in Guatemala City.

Our Supply Partners

In Guatemala, we have direct sourcing relationships with several producers, many of whom we have been lucky to work with for over a decade. For all of them, coffee is more than just a cash crop. It is a family tradition and a great source of pride; something they are incredibly passionate and knowledgeable about and deeply invested in. Our supply partners include Ricardo Zelaya (Santa ClaraHacienda Carmona) and Rony and Lucia Asensio (La Soledad) – who are all part of Zelcafe; and Luis Valdés of Santa Isabel. All of these individuals produce exceptional coffee every year, and we feel very privileged to represent their coffees in Australia.

In addition, we are fortunate to work with Eduardo Ambrocio of Prisma Coffee. Eduardo worked at Anacafé for 2 decades (heading the Quality Control department for many of those years) and was pivotal in setting up the Cup of Excellence in Guatemala in 2001. We first met him in 2010 during a Cup of Excellence competition, and fell in love with the way he described the coffees he adores with infectious enthusiasm, and shared stories of the people behind these coffees with clear respect and admiration for their hard work and expertise. Eduardo set up Prisma with his wife Lucia and brother Edwin in 2013. Together, the trio are focused on sourcing the very best coffees Guatemala has to offer, and supporting small producers from more remote areas of the country to gain access to quality-focused buyers who are willing to pay a premium for quality. Through Prisma, we have been able to establish relationships with some of these smaller-scale producers, including Darwin Estuardo Fabian Estrada of El Calagual and Erick de la Roca of La Esperanza.

 

Key Coffee-Growing Regions

Coffee is grown in 20 of Guatemala’s 22 departments. High elevations (1,300m-2,000m above sea level), combined with rich volcanic soil (from the 35+ volcanoes across the Guatemalan highlands) and more than 300 microclimates means that Guatemala is able to produce exceptional coffees with a wide range of flavours, which vary greatly depending on where they are grown.

98% of coffee in Guatemala is shade-grown. The shade trees provide nutrition, prevent erosion and offer important nourishment, infusing the soil with nitrogen and nutrients via the organic matter created by their decaying leaves. In addition, the shade trees moderate the intensity and quality of sunlight, helping to regulate the coffee trees’ respiration and photosynthesis, and protecting the coffee roots and leaves from sun damage. Shade cover also allows the coffee beans to mature more slowly, enhancing the resulting sweetness, acidity and complexity in the cup.

Guatemala coffee plantations cover more than 270,000 hectares, with an estimated 38 million shade trees and coffee plants making up 6.4% of the nation’s forest cover. These coffee ‘forests’ are typically located on steep mountain ranges, in important water recharge areas, and help to protect the country’s ecological health by aiding in the preservation of  local biodiversity, protecting watersheds and helping prevent erosion.

There are eight distinct Guatemalan coffee-growing regions that have been defined by ANACAFE based on cup profile, climate, soil and altitude: Antigua, Huehuetenango, San Marcos, Atitlán, Acatenango, Cobán, Fraijanes and New Oriente.  We buy coffee from all over Guatemala, but the regions we work in the most are as follows:

ANTIGUA

The Antigua valley is bounded by three giant volcanoes – Agua (Water), Fuego (Fire) and Acatenango. Of the three, Fuego is the only one still active. On many visits, we have been in town at times the volcano has erupted, adding some chaos to the harvest (in the short term, the ash can stick to the leaves of coffee trees nearby and prevent the trees from photosynthesising), but ultimately providing mineral-rich ash for Antigua’s soil. This volcanic matter helps the soil retain its moisture, offsetting the region’s lower rainfall.

Coffee from Antigua is perhaps Guatemala’s best-known and most celebrated and, as such, typically attracts higher prices than coffee from other regions. In 2000, Antigua received a Denomination of Origin to recognise the region as distinct, and to prevent other coffees from being marketed as Antiguan.

Coffees from Antigua tend to be heavier bodied, with notes of dark chocolate, brown sugar and red apple.  Some of our favourite coffees come from this region, including Santa Clara, La Soledad and Hacienda Carmona.

 

ACATENANGO

Located west of Antigua, beyond the Acatenango and Fuego volcanoes, is the Acatenango valley. Like Antigua, this distinct and special growing region has also been recognised with a Designation of Origin. Due to their proximity, the regions’ economies are linked and many of Acatenango’s people work in or near Antigua, in addition to farming coffee and other products closer to home.

The region benefits from frequent eruptions from the nearby Fuego Volcano, which keep the coarse, sandy soils full of minerals. Coffee here is grown under dense shade of Gravilea, Inga, and Guachipilín trees, at elevations of up to 2,000 meters above sea level, creating an incredibly biodiverse forest environment.

Due to its location, Acatenango also experiences temperate gusts from the Pacific Ocean and a marked dry season. This allows for coffee to be fully sun-dried without much need of mechanical aids, like Erick and German de la Roca aim to at their farm, La Esperanza, as well as the Alburez-Ortega family in El Retiro.

HUEHUETENANGO

Huehuetenango (or HueHue as it is often called) is a stunning region located in the west of Guatemala near the border of Mexico. HueHue is known for its vast ethnic diversity and Cuchumatanes mountain range, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in all of Central America. It is also home to some of the most complex and celebrated coffees in the country, which frequently appear in the top ten of the Cup of Excellence competition. This is in part due to the incredibly high elevations that coffee is able to grow at (up to 2,000m above sea level), thanks to the dry, hot winds that blow into the mountains from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain and protect the region from frost. These high elevations combined with a relatively predictable climate make for exceptional quality coffee.

Coffees from HueHue tend to be incredibly floral and complex, and very fruit-driven. Some of our favourite coffees come from HueHue, including La Providencia, Calahute and La Maravilla.

 

COBÁN & BAJA VERAPAZ

These neighbouring municipalities are known for their lush rainforest and cool and very wet climate – with an annual precipitation of 3,500m, and regular rainfall throughout the year. This results in a very slow maturation time for the coffees (which can help produce very sweet and complex flavour profiles), with staggered flowering and ripening requiring producers to make as many as ten passes throughout the season to ensure only the ripest cherries are selected.

The wet climate can provide a challenge for coffee drying, and the region’s remoteness also provides some barriers for producers. With great care, however, some truly exceptional coffees are produced in this region, including crowd-favouriteSanta Isabel in Cobán.

SANTA ROSA

Though the Santa Rosa department is technically not one of ANACAFE’s official coffee-growing origins, it has become one of the country’s most important regions. Farms in Santa Rosa are spread out across the expanse of the department – meaning climatic conditions can vary drastically from one estate to another, creating a multitude of unique cup profiles.

The region is known for producing much of the country’s commercial-grade coffee, but the range of micro-climates and rich, volcanic soils found in Santa Rosa offer great potential for specialty-grade coffee production. Evidence of this are the 2022 Cup of Excellence results, when 5 coffees from Santa Rosa were awarded for the first time in the competition’s history.

The departments’ north is a valley surrounded by mountains that creates a corridor for dry winds from the Atlantic Ocean to travel south all the way to the Pacific. Because of this, farms in the north tend to be drier and experience earlier harvests (like in La Bugambilia and El Calagual), while those in the south are humid and experience longer rainier seasons (like in Amatillo).

 

FRAIJANES

Located a mere 40-minute drive from Guatemala City is Fraijanes, one of Guatemala’s oldest coffee-growing regions. Its proximity to the country’s capital was pivotal in its early days, as it helped transform the region into one of the country’s largest producers. As the city grew and its population swelled, urban expansion pushed many coffee estates out of Fraijanes, with many of the local farm workers choosing to move away from their rural communities to find work in the city.

The region is known for its volcanic pumice soil, very high elevations and plentiful rain during the wet season. Fraijanes is bordered to the west by Pacaya, one of Guatemala’s three active active volcanoes. Similar to Fuego Volcano in Antigua, Pacaya releases light deposits of ash every so often, boosting the mineral content of the region’s soils.

Although early mornings here are cloudy and foggy, the days are mostly sunny. The dry season is particularly warm, creating the perfect conditions for drying coffee without much need of mechanical aid. In recent years, these climatic conditions have been harnessed by farmers who focus on specially-prepared lots, like those produced at Agua Tibia.

 

How We Source Coffee in Guatemala

  • Our purchasing decisions are driven by which coffees taste the best on the table. We cup all coffees blind and look for coffees that are sweet, clean and distinctive.
  • Our selections are based on a scoring system, and we buy coffees that are a minimum of 85 points or above.
  • We travel to Guatemala to select our coffees every year (with 2020-22 being an exception due to the Covid-19 pandemic). Visiting each year enables us to calibrate and give feedback directly to the producers we work with, and learn more about the coffees, how they are processed, and the challenges and complexities that each of the producers face.
  • All of the lots we select go through a rigorous QC process. In addition to cupping and scoring each lot (at offer sample stage, pre-shipment, once it has landed, 3 months post-landing and 6 months post-landing) we also record the water activity and moisture levels.  All of this information is shared with our producing partners, along with where the coffee is sold, and how it is received and presented by our customers.