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 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.
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.
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.
There are eight distinct growing regions in Guatemala:
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.
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.
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