A beginner’s guide to Guatemalan coffee
Today, coffee is one of Guatemala’s biggest exports. Exports of up to $723 million make it one of the cornerstones of the country’s agricultural export business.
But if you’re visiting our country, what do you need to know about this wonderful product? Where are the best growing areas, and how is coffee made? And finally, where is the best place to get a great cup of fresh coffee? Here is our beginner’s guide to Guatemalan coffee.
Guatemalan coffee: a brief history
For a long time, our country was the biggest producer of coffee in the region. That crown has now been taken by Honduras, but there is a tradition of coffee growing here that goes back to the 1800s. Coffee plants were actually first brought as an ornamental plant, but serious production didn’t get going until a little later.
Today, Guatemalan coffee is still considered to be one of the highest quality beans in the world. Much of this is down to the ideal coffee growing conditions you find here. Rich, fertile volcanic soils, misty mountains and the perfect temperature range make this a coffee growing paradise.
Where are the best coffee-growing areas in Guatemala?
There are eight main coffee-growing regions in our country: Antigua, the Acatenango Valley, Atitlán, Cobán, the Fraijanes Plateau, Huehuetenango, Nueva Oriente and San Marcos. The most famous are Atitlán (famous for its volcanoes and its lake), and Antigua. Both these areas grow their coffee in the rich volcanic soil of the region. This contributes to the complex flavour of beans from these regions.
Once again, it is the diversity of Guatemala’s growing regions that makes it so fascinating for coffee lovers. From the humid rainforest of Cobán to the dry slopes of Oriente, the varying conditions all play a part in the taste of the final brew.
How is coffee made in Guatemala?
Whether it is due to high humidity or plentiful rain, Guatemala coffee beans don’t tend to dry naturally. So, the producers rely on a ‘wet process’, in which they take off the outer covering that surrounds the beans before washing them.
They then use water to sort and grade the beans (the best beans float to the top, while ones that are rotten sink). Is it any better than dry processing? Well, many coffee drinkers seem to think so – and enjoy the consistent taste that it produces.
Where are the best places to get a good cup of coffee?
Until relatively recently, finding a good, freshly-brewed cup of coffee in Guatemala was surprisingly difficult. That might seem odd.
But that big number at the beginning of this article is the main reason. When a country exports over 700 million dollars-worth of coffee, it means that much of the best beans head overseas. Happily that situation is changing. Ironically, the coffee culture encouraged by chains such as Starbucks is having an impact on coffee drinking habits in the country. Today, particularly in the big cities, it is now much easier to get a quality brew rather than a cheap cup of instant.
So, where to go? Well, our top pick has to go to Café El Injerto in Guatemala City. Fresh from the Aguirre family’s plantation in Huehuetenango, their café in Zona 13 serves an impeccable cup of coffee. It’s a lovely space to spend time in, and their plantation is also carbon neutral.
Staying in Guatemala City, our other choice has to be Las Cien Puertas in Zona 1. You can get food here, and it stays open late too. But it is also simply a great place to enjoy catching up with friends over a cup of the very best Guatemalan coffee.