While we might think of mountainous African nations like Ethiopia and Kenya as the world’s most prestigious coffee-exporters, recent years have seen Central America produce coffees to rival those produced on the other side of the Atlantic. Spearheading that revival is Guatemala, a tiny nation set just to the south of Mexico. It’s home to just under sixteen million people, making it the most populous state in Central America – and, since the crop was first introduced to the country in the middle of the 19th century, one whose economy has become heavily reliant on speciality coffee.
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Coffee Growing In Guatemala
Though Guatemala only a very small country, it boasts a tremendous diversity of geography, with rainfall, soil, humidity and temperatures varying considerably within its borders. Coffees grown here, then, can be more distinct than those produced in different countries, hundreds of miles apart from one another!
Coffee in Guatemala is governed by an association known as Anacafe, which was birthed in the ‘60s in order to gather information about the burgeoning industry. Anacafe have divided the country into eight coffee-producing regions, each with their own characteristics. Coffees must be tasted and approved by Anacafe before export, and those that do not meet the criteria of their labels (such as ‘Strictly Hard Bean’), are not granted permission to use the name.
Many among the more well-known Guatemalan coffees come from a mountain basin in the highland region of La Antigua Guatemala. Coffees grown here are invariably complex, with an array of smoky, spicy and floral flavours mingling in the cup, punctuated by a hint (or sometimes, an explosive blast) of acidity. In areas bordering the Pacific Ocean, the soil and air tend to be moister, which helps to take the edge off these qualities, resulting in a subtler and more nuanced profile.
Being slightly north of the equator, Guatemalan coffee-farmers must contend with colder winter temperatures than their counterparts in Ecuador and Colombia. At lower altitudes, young trees must be sheltered beneath larger ones. At higher ones, entire farms must be shielded from harsh northerly winds. Consequently, coffee in Guatemala is mostly grown under shade, and so farmers here have learned to stringently manage their crop within thickets of hardier wild trees.
Quality coffees grown in Guatemala are predominantly the work of smallholders – particularly in Huehuetenango. But the weather in this part of the world is unpredictable – and the infrastructure is not in place to allow such small operations to cope with extremes of wet weather. By forming into co-operatives, smallholder farmers are able to battle these problems, running their own mills and thereby benefitting from economies of scale. Where delays prevent fruit from reaching the mill on time, the coffee sometimes become subtly fermented – slightly altering the flavour.
Guatemalan Coffee: The Flavour
Many consider Guatemalan coffee to have the edge over those produced in neighbouring states because of the complexity in the cup that comes from a greater variety of typical and bourbon varietals. Why not try a few, and see the difference for yourself?
If You Like Guatemalan Coffee, Give These A Try…
If Guatemalan coffee is your thing, but you’d like to explore coffees from other regions, try the following:
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