Take your coffee game to the next level by broadening your horizons with high-quality, properly-sourced Guatemalan coffee.
Not many people realize just how essential Guatemala’s role in the coffee industry is, both historically and in the present day.
Maybe your morning cup isn’t doing it for you anymore, and you’re looking for new options. Perhaps you’re traveling to Guatemala and curious about the coffee scene. Maybe you’re just curious, period! Regardless, look no further than this guide to all things Guatemalan coffee.
The Basics on Guatemalan Coffee Beans
- Guatemalan coffee is revered thanks to a well-developed coffee industry, deep roots of quality growing practices, a high altitude for growing (on average), and fertile soil affected by volcanoes in the region. Combined, this climate and soil quality make for great beans available in a wide variety of flavor profiles.
- Guatemala's Asociación Nacional del Café takes a proactive role in grading coffee, having established eight standardized growing regions and expected profiles in the country.
- Because the country's coffee growing industry remains more fragmented among smaller farms, rather than industrial-sized farms, many farming "best practices" have been passed from generation to generation consistently. This is just one reason that Guatemalan coffee is great for roasters and consumers who prefer single-origin coffee.
Advantages of Guatemalan Coffee: Why Is Guatemalan Coffee Great?
Altitude and soil composition are the two primary drivers of a coffee's flavor profile, quality, and bean consistency: Guatemala has advantages with both.
Guatemala is located in the so-called "bean belt," a region of the world which largely sweeps across the equator, and Guatemala's unique climate and volcanic soil conditions make Guatemalan beans particularly flavorful.
Active and inactive volcanoes surround many of the coffee-growing regions in Guatemala, including Antigua, San Marcos, Atitlán, Acatenango Valley, and Fraijanes Plateau. Over millenia, volcanoes spread mineral-rich ash across the landscape, creating deep fertile soil with powerful nutrients for coffee – perfect for growing a healthy coffee plant and flavorful coffee.
And, most of Guatemala’s 175,000+ small coffee farms are located at a 200-meter or higher altitude. In general, the higher the altitude at which coffee is grown, the better the coffee! High altitudes slow the bean maturation process, allowing it to develop stronger and more unique flavors.
Guatemala’s natural tropical climate and heavy rainfall also contribute to the quality of its coffee and consistency among coffee farming practices.
Because Guatemala produces coffee among so many small farms, families tend to pass their farms and practices from generation to generation, preserving generational knowledge and expertise related to growing coffee in their particular region and helping to ensure coffee maintains its edge over the long term. The USDA reports that nearly 97% of Guatemalan beans come from small coffee farmers rather than mega-producers that control the coffee industry.
Guatemalan Coffee Regions
Early in their growing history as coffee took off as a staple beverage globally, Guatemala recognized their unique coffee heritage and became the first country to develop an official origin system. This system separates coffee bean profiles by region to identify distinct flavors for exporters, importers, and discerning coffee roasters.
The primary coffee-producing regions of Guatemala, identified by the country's Asociación Nacional del Café (Anacafé) coffee association and branded under the slogan "A Rainbow of Choices", include:
- Fraijanes Plateau
- Neuvo Oriente
- San Marcos
- Acatenango Valley
Because of their varying climates — differences in altitudes, rainfall, and soil — each region produces coffee beans with unique flavor profiles.
In addition, Guatemalan farmers primarily grow Arabica coffee beans!
Coffee beans come from two primary plant species: Arabica and Coffea canephora, or “Robusta” coffee. While Robusta plants tend to be easier to grow, Arabica coffee generally has a less bitter taste and more flavorful notes. Many describe Arabica coffee as having a smoother flavor than the average Robusta coffee. Arabica coffee requires specific climate and care, but farmers (and consumers) deem the effort worthwhile! Guatemala has the ideal climate to grow Arabica coffee.
Arabica typically has less caffeine than Robusta coffee, though if you prefer more caffeine, you can remedy this through your brewing method.
The History of Coffee in Guatemala
Historical accounts posit that Jesuit priests brought coffee trees to a Guatemalan convent in Antigua in the 1700's. Around that time, Guatemala relied on sales of natural dyes as a primary export and agricultural economic driver; however, as the world slowly moved towards cheaper synthetic dyes, farmers began to cast around for new farming options.
In fact, the Guatemalan government offered tax exemptions and other monetary benefits for the production of coffee, which was only in its infancy as a consumer product globally. By the 1880's, Guatemalan-grown coffee beans had replaced dyes as the country's primary export.
Today, Guatemala remains one of the top coffee producers in the world, maintaining its status as a source of top-notch beans in the coffee industry thanks to its rich heritage, experience, and consistently flavorful whole bean coffee quality.
Guatemala's climate makes it the perfect location to grow coffee cherries, and the country uniquely leans on a wide network of smaller coffee farms and coffee cherry growers rather than large industrial farms mass-producing coffee beans. For that reason, it's also a great place to source fair trade, organic Guatemalan coffee for roasters like us!
What Does Guatemalan Coffee Taste Like?
After all of this talk about quality, you might wonder about flavor. Yes, Guatemalan plants tend to be of superior quality, and the climate influences their flavor beneficially, but what does Guatemalan coffee taste like?
Guatemalan Coffee Flavors
The taste of your Guatemalan coffee will largely depend on which region it comes from. However, a few staple qualities of high-quality Guatemalan coffee often include:
- Bright acidity
- Fruitiness (cherry or orange)
- Milk chocolate flavor profiles
Discerning coffee connoisseurs report that Guatemalan coffee has tasting notes of wine when farmers grow at higher altitudes.
The Asociación Nacional del Café of Guatemala employs two grading systems to ensure the quality of Guatemala’s coffee.
The first uses bean density and the elevation at which farmers grow to determine rank. The second guarantees that coffees match the flavor profiles of the regions in which they’re grown.
Much of the coffee grown in Guatemala is considered Strictly High Grown (SHG) – or Strictly Hard Bean (SHB), sometimes used interchangeably – defined as coffee grown at an altitude of between over 1200 meters. At these heights, coffee trees have a longer growth cycle, and the longer, slower process of accumulating nutrients in the coffee beans makes for a more firm structure and richer flavor profile.
Buying the Best Guatemalan Coffee
Now that you know all about Guatemalan coffee, it’s time to shop!
When it comes to purchasing exceptional coffee, Guatemala stands out as one of the world's premier coffee-producing regions.
Specialty importers are a great option to get a taste of the best Guatemalan coffee. Look for single-origin Guatemalan coffee that's not over-roasted or burnt, at which point subtle flavor is lost. Most medium or dark roast varieties will be ideal for experiencing a swathe of the varied flavor profiles that tend to come from Guatemala.
Next, consider Guatemalan coffee from a specific region! The Asociación Nacional del Café takes great steps to help exporters, roasters, and consumers identify where their coffee comes from, and each region tends to produce its own unique coffee flavors. Antigua, for instance, is renowned for rich, full-bodied coffees with notes of chocolate and spice, while Huehuetenango often offers brighter acidity and fruit-forward flavors.
Finally, look for fair trade, direct trade, and organic Guatemalan coffees, which are not only better for the earth and farmers, but also are more likely to adhere more closely to traditional growing practices of the region.
Ways to Brew and Drink Guatemalan Coffee
There is, of course, no "perfect" way to drink Guatemalan coffee. With arguably greater variety of growing conditions that any other region of the world, Guatemala is a great option for ground coffee, whole bean coffee, or even cold brew. At Philly Fair Trade, we like to think that there is no WRONG way to drink coffee – as long as you're enjoying it.
Drip brewing is a common method that suits Guatemalan coffee well. It involves placing medium-coarse ground coffee in a paper or metal filter within a drip coffee maker. As hot water is poured over the grounds, it extracts the flavors gradually, resulting in a clean and balanced cup. Guatemalan coffee's intricate taste notes can be appreciated through this method. The drip process captures the bean's nuanced flavors without overpowering them, making it a great choice for those who want to experience the coffee's distinct attributes.
French Press Coffee
Using a French press with Guatemalan coffee creates a rich and robust brew. Coarse, typically dark-roast grounds steep in hot water, allowing the flavors to infuse deeply. This method also preserves the bean's natural oils and results in a full-bodied cup, showcasing Guatemalan coffee's vibrant notes.
Cold Brew Coffee
Cold brew is a refreshing method that can bring out the smoothness of Guatemalan coffee. Coarse coffee grounds are steeped in cold water for an extended period, typically around 12 to 24 hours. This gentle extraction process results in a concentrated coffee base that's lower in acidity and bitterness. Cold brew is known for its mellow and slightly sweet flavor profile, making it a delightful choice for showcasing Guatemalan coffee's chocolatey and nutty notes. The cold brew method offers a unique way to experience the coffee's flavors in a chilled and refreshing format.
You Can Buy Guatemalan Coffee From Philly Fair Trade Roasters Too!
Here at Philly Fair Trade Roasters, we offer a variety of coffees from around the world, including our own Guatemalan coffee for sale.
Our Guatemalan blend is grown in the San Marcos region by Manos Campesinas Cooperative. This is the warmest of coffee growing regions in Guatemala, and they average 200 inches of rain each year with 70-80% humidity. Because they experience the first rains each season, their coffee trees generally flower earlier, and the taste is influenced by the nearby Tajumulco volcano.
Combined, this makes for a unique profile you won't want to miss. This Vienna Roast coffee offers flavor of silky brulee'd sugar, a perfect dessert or breakfast coffee for those who prize smoothness.