The 7 Coffee Regions
Guatemalan beans and coffee are considered to be some of the best in the world. Coffee production in Guatemala began to grow during the 1850s and now forms an important element of Guatemala’s economy. The country is currently one of the world’s top 15 largest coffee exporters, with over 125,000 coffee producers exporting 204,000 metric tonnes in 2018. Coffee is a principal export of Guatemala and accounts for 40% of agricultural export revenue.
There are 7 main coffee regions in Guatemala and coffees from these regions must meet regional profile criteria in order to be sold with the regional designation. ANACAFE, the Guatemalan coffee association, oversee the tasting, criteria and classification processes. If a coffee grown in one of the seven regions does not meet the ANACAFE criteria then the produce can still be sold but is labelled as Strictly Hard Bean (SHB), with no regional designation.
Antigua is possibly Guatemala’s most famous coffee growing region. Plenty of sunlight, rich volcanic soil and low humidity characterize the region and help to make some of Guatemala’s most extraordinary coffees. The valley around the town of Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes: Acatenango, Agua and Fuego. Fuego is one of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes and regularly adds a fresh dusting of mineral-rich ash to the soil of Antigua.
Antiguan coffees can reach high prices, which is why controlling coffees labelled with the Antigua name has become a concern. The Antiguan Growers Association was founded in 2000 to provide full traceability and certification to coffees labelled as Genuine Antigua and to assure that coffees labelled as such are actually grown in the region.
The flavour of Antigua coffee can be defined by smoke, spice, flowers and occasionally chocolate with ranging acidity.
Around ninety percent of coffee from the Atitlan region is cultivated on the sides of the volcanoes surrounding the Lake of Atitlán in south central Guatemala. The three volcanoes situated on the banks of Lake Atitlan mean that high levels of volcanic minerals are present in the soil which makes for perfect coffee cultivation conditions. Much of the coffee production in the Atitlan region is small-scale and many producers use water fresh from the lake for wet processing.
Lake Atitlan coffee typically offers the same intricate tones as Antigua coffee but is less heavy in body and more vibrant in flavour.
With regular rainfall for three quarters of the year in Coban, some of the most innovative and committed coffee producers in Guatemala are based in this region. Due to the damp conditions in which they cultivate they have had to experiment and innovate to perfect their production processes. Their experimentation in drying coffee beans in difficult conditions has resulted in some of the finest coffee that Guatemala produces.
Coban coffee can be described as having slightly stronger and more powerful taste profiles than other Guatemalan coffees.
Volcanic pumice soil, substantial rainfall, high altitudes and variable humidity characterize the region of Fraijanes. The Pacaya volcano supplies the region with a light deposit of ash every so often, giving the soil a mineral boost. The dry season is characterised by sun, and although clouds, fog, and heavy dew are common in the early morning, they burn off quickly allowing all Fraijanes Plateau to be sun-dried.
Cups of coffee from Fraijanes display similar characteristics as those from Antigua with smoky and spicey undertones.
Huehuetenango is the highest altitude and driest coffee producing region in Guatemala. Huehuetenango’s extreme seclusion requires coffee producers to process their own coffee. Because of the warm, dry winds that blow into the mountains of Huehuetenango from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain, the region never reaches freezing temperatures which mean that coffee can be cultivated at altitudes of up to 6,500 feet in the Highlands of Huehue. These high altitudes and regular climates make for outstanding specialty coffee.
With dark, fruity tones and hints of chocolate, Huehuetenango coffee is rich with a buttery body.
The Nuevo Oriente region, on the border of El Salvador and Honduras, has been producing coffee since the 1950’s but has seen significant growth in plantations in recent years with coffees from the region becoming increasingly popular. The climate of the Nueva Oriente region is wet and damp but as with many of the other great coffee regions of Guatemala, the soil has exceptional metamorphic rock volcanic properties. Cultivated on a former active volcanic mountain range, in what was once a deprived and isolated area, nearly every farm in the vicinity has begun to produce coffee.
Nueva Oriente coffee tends to be well-balanced and full-bodied with chocolate flavours.
The department of San Marcos is remotely situated in the North West of Guatemala on the border with Mexico. Expanding from the highlands down to the Pacific Coast San Marcos is known as one of the hottest Guatemalan coffee growing regions. The region has a microclimate and a high rainfall pattern that arrives sooner than in other areas which produces the fastest blooming coffee plants. Unpredictable weather means much of the coffee produced in San Marcos is dried in a mechanical dryer.
San Marcos coffee is defined by strong tones of nuts and is low in acid.
Have you tried coffee from Guatemala? Which is your favourite?