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With towering volcanoes, sunshine, plenty of rain, and rich soil - Guatemala is a powerhouse for coffee in Central America.

Coffee has helped fuel Guatemala’s economy for over a hundred years. Today, an estimated 125,000 coffee producers drive Guatemala’s coffee industry and coffee remains one of Guatemala’s principal export products, accounting for 40% of all agricultural export revenue.

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  • Place In World For Coffee Exporter
  • Sacks (60kg) exported annually
    Approx: 3,613,000
  • Percentage of world coffee market
  • Other major agricultural exports
    Bananas, Sugar, Spices
  • Estimated number of families relying on coffee for livelihood?
  • Typical varieties produced
    Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Typica, Maragogype, Pache & Pacamara
  • Key coffee regions
    Antigua, Acatenango, Atitlán, Cobán, Huehuetenango, Faijanes, San Marcos & Nuevo Orientea
  • Typical harvest times
    November - April
  • Typically available
    From April
Guatemala square

The Rise of Coffee

It is most likely that Jesuit missionaries introduced coffee to Guatemala, and there are accounts of coffee being grown in the country as early as mid-18th century. Nonetheless, as in neighbouring El Salvador, coffee only became an important export crop for the country at the advent of synthetic dyes and industrialisation of textiles – in the mid-19th century. Throughout the latter half of the 1800s, various government programs sought to promote coffee as a means to stimulate the economy, including a massive land privatisation program initiated by President Justo Rufino Barrias in 1871, which resulted in the creation of large coffee estates, many of which still produce some of Guatemala’s best coffees today.

Today, coffee is grown in 20 of Guatemala’s 22 departments, with around 270,000 hectares planted under coffee, almost all of which (98%) is shade grown. The country’s production is almost exclusively Arabica and is most commonly prepared using the washed method, though natural and various semi-washed methods are gaining in popularity, with increasingly producing fine examples.

Guatemala benefits from high altitudes and as many as 300 unique micro climates. There is constant rainfall in most regions and mineral-rich soils. However, while the country’s reputation as a producer of specialty coffee is stellar today, it has not been an easy road. Guatemala’s long and bloody civil war (1960-1996) disrupted millions of lives, eroded the economy, exacerbated poverty, and created social and political instability that still plagues the country today. Coffee production really only stabilised and began to increase at the turn of the century, displacing macadamia, and avocado production in many areas.

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The Many Coffee-Producing Regions

Since the early 1990s, Anacafé, the country’s coffee board, has led pioneering efforts to define the country’s coffee-producing regions based on cup profile, climate, soil, and altitude. As a result of this ambitious project, 8 distinct regions producing Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) coffees have been identified in Guatemala:

Antigua Coffee
Antigua is, perhaps, Guatemala’s best-known coffee growing region. Rich volcanic soil, low humidity, plenty of sunlight, and cool nights characterize the region and make for some of Guatemala’s most extraordinary coffees. The valley around the town of Antigua (from which the region gets its name) is surrounded by three volcanoes: Agua, Fuego, and Acatenango. Every so often, Fuego—one of Guatemala’s three active volcanoes—adds a fresh dusting of mineral-rich ash to Antigua’s soil. Volcanic pumice in the soil retains moisture, which helps offset Antigua’s low rainfall. Nights can be quite cold. In Antigua, shade is especially dense to protect the coffee plants from the region’s occasional frost.

Average harvest season: January – mid March

Acatenango Valley
Just a hop across the Fuego and Acatenango Volcanos to the west of Antigua lies the Acatenango Valley, where coffee is grown under dense shade on steep slopes of up to 2,000 meters. Frequent eruptions from the nearby Fuego volcano keep the coarse, sandy soils full of minerals and the shade of Gravilea (Gravillea robusta), Cuje (Inga sp.), and Guachipilín (Diphysa americana) regulates temperatures and creates a habitat for diverse flora and fauna.

Temperate gusts from the Pacific Ocean and marked seasons allow coffee to be sun-dried, and its processing follows age-old family traditions.

Average harvest season: December – mid March

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Atitlán, Cobán, and Fraijanes Plateau,

Of the five volcanic coffee regions of Guatemala, Atitlán’s soil is the richest in organic matter.  Ninety percent of Atitlán certified coffee is cultivated along the slopes of the dramatic volcanoes that dominate the shores of Lake Atitlán. The daily winds (called Xocomil) that stir the cold lake waters are an important influence on the microclimate. The highly developed artisan tradition of the culture is reflected in the small producer’s skilled cultivation and processing.

Average harvest season: December – mid March

The annual precipitation in Cobán is around 3,500mm, with regular rainfall between nine and ten months of the year. Constant rain (much of it is a gentle drizzle/mist known locally as the chipichipi) means that flowering is staggered, with 8-9 flowerings per year. Due to this prolonged flowering season, coffee ripens at different stages, which means that up to 10 passes (with breaks of up to 14 days between passes) are needed to ensure that only the very ripest cherries are selected.

Average harvest season: December – March

Fraijanes Plateau
Volcanic pumice soil, high altitudes, plenty of rain, variable humidity and an active volcano characterize the region. Pacaya, the most active of Guatemala’s three erupting volcanoes, supplies the region with a light deposit of ash every so often, giving the soil an important mineral boost. The dry season is characterised by plenty of sunlight, 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.

Average harvest season: December – February

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Huehuetenango, Nueva Oriente, and San Marcos

Of the three non-volcanic regions, Huehuetenango is the highest and driest coffee producing regions. Thanks to the dry, hot winds that blow into the mountains from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain, the region is protected from frost, allowing Highland Huehue to be cultivated up to 6,500 feet (2,000 meters). These high altitudes and relatively predictable climate make for exceptional specialty coffee.

The extreme remoteness of Huehuetenango virtually requires all producers to process their own coffee. Fortunately, the region has an almost infinite number of rivers and streams, so a mill can be placed almost anywhere.

Average harvest season: January – April

Nueva Oriente
In this region, coffee has been cultivated, almost exclusively, by small producers since the 1950s. Today, virtually every farm on the mountain has become a coffee-producing unit and what was once one of the poorest and most isolated areas of Guatemala is vibrant and growing. Rainy and cloudy, Oriente is located on a former volcanic range. Its soil is made of metamorphic rock: balanced in minerals and quite different from soils in regions which have seen volcanic activity since coffee was first planted.

Average harvest season: December – March

San Marcos
The warmest of the eight coffee-growing regions, San Marcos also has the highest rainfall pattern, reaching up to 200 inches (5,000 mm). The seasonal rains come sooner than in other regions, producing the earliest flowering.

As in all of Guatemala’s remote regions, most coffee in San Marcos is cultivated on farms with their own processing mills. Because of the unpredictability of rainfall during the harvest season, much of the coffee is pre-dried in the sun and finished in Guardiola (mechanical) driers.

Average harvest season: December – March