Guatemala has a long history of producing coffee, and it continues to be a leader in the coffee industry. The country not only grows a lot of coffee — it was the tenth-highest coffee-producing country in 2015 — but much of the coffee grown in Guatemala is excellent, even by specialty-grade standards.
Coffee Was Brought to Guatemala for Decoration
Coffee trees were originally brought to Guatemala by Jesuit missionaries in the mid-1700s as ornamental plants. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s, when the invention of synthetic dyes devastated Guatemala’s indigo and cochineal dye industries, that the country began growing coffee commercially on a sizeable scale. By 1880, 90 percent of Guatemala’s exports were coffee.
Guatemala Has a Reputation for Growing High-Quality Coffee
Aside from 1940, when exports were suspended due to World War II, coffee has remained Guatemala’s largest export. The country today is particularly known for its specialty-grade coffee. Although the country ranked tenth in the world in total coffee production in 2015, it often is second (behind Colombia) in production of high-grade coffee.
The Asociación Nacional Del Café (ANACAFE) ensures that the coffee exported by Guatemala continues to meet the country’s high standards. Coffees are graded according to two systems. One designates the elevation the coffee was grown at, with strictly hard bean (SHB) being the highest grade in this system. The other system doesn’t denote quality but rather ensures that a regionally named coffee, such as Guatemala Antigua or Guatemala Huehuetenango, is consistent with the appropriate region’s flavor profile. If a coffee’s flavor profile isn’t consistent with the region’s normal profile, it can still be designated SHB or another grade — but it can’t be marketed as a regional coffee.
Traditional Varietals Are Grown in Guatemala
Many of the coffees grown in Guatemala are known for their complexity, which is partly due to the varietals that are grown. While there are some different and unique varietals grown throughout the country, most farmers have old, traditional varietals. Bourbon and Typica, which are the two original coffee varietals, are found on many farms. Geisha, which is an heirloom varietal originally from Ethiopia, has also been gaining popularity in the past decade.
Guatemala Has Eight Growing Regions
There are eight distinct growing regions in Guatemala:
- Antigua, which has elevations between 1,300 and 1,600 meters and is surrounded by three volcanoes, one of which is active
- Atitlan, which is named for Lake Atitlan, which is surrounded by volcanoes and provides cool night breezes that create unique microclimates
- Fraijanes, which has elevations between 1,400 and 1,800 meters and is home to Guatemala’s most active volcano, Pacaya Volcano
- Huehuetenango, which has elevations between 1,500 and 2,000 meters and is known for producing fruit-forward coffees
- Nuevo Oriente, which is a lesser known region that has elevations between 1,300 and 1,700 meters
- Coban, which has lower elevations of 1,300 to 1,500 meters and doesn’t have as much of a pronounced dry season, which together lead to syrupy, deep flavor profiles
- San Marcos, which has elevations between 1,300 and 1,800 meters and has a growing season that’s earlier than other regions
The Future Looks Bright for Guatemalan Coffee
Guatemala’s coffee industry should continue to do well in the foreseeable future. The country has a developed infrastructure for the industry, and its coffee is marketed globally. Right now, the country’s free from many of the challenges that other coffee-producing countries face.
Great Guatemalan Coffees
At Driftaway Coffee, we get coffees from all over the world, and we’ve had several excellent coffees from Guatemala. If you’re a fan of Guatemalan coffees, try our sample kit. Taste our four roast profiles, and we’ll send you Guatemalan and other coffees that are similar to what you like.