A Focus On: Guatemala
Capital: Guatemala City
Currency: Quetzal (GTQ)
Ethnic Groups: 56% Landino/Mestizo, 41.7% Maya, 1.8% Xinca, 0.2% African Decent, 0.1% Garifuna, 0.2% Foreign
Area: 108,889 km2 Water: 0.4% covered of area
GDP: $85.9 Billion (2021)
Guatemala is a Central American country bordered by Mexico to the north and west, Belize to the north east and Honduras and El Salvador to the east and south east respectively. We were lucky enough to visit this beautiful country in 2019 as part of the Producer Roaster Forum where we were able to connect with farms and producers and build up relationships.
The History Of Coffee In Guatemala
- Coffee was supposedly introduced by Jesuits in 1747 and the country’s history of coffee is very similar to its neighbour, El Salvador. Due to a decreasing demand for Indigo after 1856, coffee was promoted as the cash crop to replace it and thus was supported by the government through preferential trade and tax treatment. By 1859, over half a million plants had been planted around Antigua, Coban, Fraijares and San Marcos. The Guatemalan Dictator, Justo Rufino Barios made coffee export the backbone of his government programme, taking land from Catholic Hierarchy and land owned by Mayans. By 1877 Barios had eliminated nearly all communal land ownership and was responsible for the mass relocation of indigenous people. Coffee was again involved in the countries policies following the global depression of 1929. Jorge Ubico’s dictatorship lasted 13 years, and during this time he worked to lower the price of coffee to stimulate export, this ultimately gave more power and land to the United Fruit Company (UFC) which led to a general strike and protests against him. What followed was a time of the democratic free speech, where populist Jacob Arbenz began implementing land reforms in 1953 to give back ownership to the people. These upset the large plantation owners and the U.S Government, who had an interest in Guatemala’s coffee industry. As a result, Arbenz was then overthrown in a C.I.A. organised coup in 1954. The country went on to suffer extreme hardship during the Civil War between 1962-1996 when the government tried to control the population and take away more land. It was mostly rural, poor and indigenous people that were targeted, leading to whole villages being wiped out and over 200,000 deaths. There is still a distrust of government and law to this day.
- Democracy is now in place, and peace and prosperity are returning to the country. In 2011, Guatemala was Central America’s largest producer of coffee and is considered some of the world’s best due to the great diversity in growing regions involving altitudes, soil and climatic conditions. With a population of only 15 million people, Guatemala was able to produce 204,000,000 kilos of coffee in 2015, coming 10th in the world for the amount of coffee produced. Most of the country’s coffee is grown in the fertile volcanic regions of Atitlan, Antigua, Huehuetenango and Nuevo Oriente.
- Guatemala growing regions have varying regional profiles that are influenced by the different varieties grown along with different microclimates.
The four main growing regions all produce quality coffee with tastes to suit all coffee drinkers. Antigua is situated around the three volcanoes, Aqua, Fuego and Acatenango at altitudes between 1300-1600 metres. The lack of rainfall combined with the volcanic soil give sweet and smooth flavours with lower acidic coffees. This is a stark contrast to Atitlan, where the windy and wet climate contribute to a chocolaty and nutty profile with some lemon acidity and florals coming through the cup.
Arguably one of the most renown regions, Huehuetenango, is at the highest altitude, on some farms it can be as high as 2,000 metres. The high altitude makes these coffees some of the best in Guatemala. These coffees tend to be full bodied with a citrus acidity and a toffee sweetness.
The small region of Nuevo Oriente, alongside the Honduran border has a much cloudier climate and a higher amount of rainfall. The stable climate and limited sunlight give this regions coffee an increased amount of balance in the cup and they tend to be much more full bodied.
We look forward to continuing to roast some of these very special coffees.