Guide to Guatemalan Coffee Beans, Regions, and Flavor

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Beyond our kitchen countertops and the grasp of our local barista, we rarely know where our coffee comes from. 

We only get to see a small glimpse from the coffee grounds’ packaging, which usually doesn’t cover the amount and extent of effort that pours into every single cup of brew. But did you know that most of the coffee that everyone drinks used to come from just a single country, probably?

Guatemalan coffee industry has been on the rise for decades, despite a few bumps in the road. When it comes to exporting coffee, Guatemala is one of the top producers in the world. While other countries are catching up to the volume of beans produced, Guatemala remains a famous country due to its high quality and one of the world’s best-tasting coffees.

Learn more about what makes their beans so special and why Guatemala deserves to be your next stop when it comes to quality coffees.

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A Brief History of Guatemalan Coffee

Despite the unparalleled reputation of the country when it comes to coffee, the coffee plant isn’t native to Guatemala nor brought to them to manufacture it into a drink.

The existence of coffee trees in Guatemala dates back to the mid-1700s when Jesuit missionaries brought coffee trees as ornamental plants. Back then, the primary industry of Guatemala relies on indigo and cochineal dye. 

Come the mid-1800s, the invention of synthetic dyes left the Guatemalan economy devastated. As a response, the government began searching for alternative ways to revamp the economy. That’s when the coffee plant comes in. 

Coffee plantations were widely established throughout the years. By the late 1800s, the country’s economy boomed as Guatemalan farmers started refining their craft and exporting coffee beans. The nation established an excellent reputation for high-quality strong, full-bodied coffee. Up until 2011, the country consistently ranked as one of the world’s top five coffee producers and exporters in the world

Presently, aside from farmers cultivating, harvesting, and exporting coffee beans for a living, coffee is a central export product for Guatemala, with over 130,000 coffee producers driving the industry. Coffee represents 40% of all agricultural exports in Guatemala and remains one of the country’s major sources of revenue-despite some recent downturns due to natural disasters.

Harvesting Volcanic Coffee

Guatemala’s Growing Conditions

Guatemala produces various unique coffee beans that are beloved by the international community. The ability of Guatemalan beans to have different characteristics despite coming from a single country is attributed to its ideal growing conditions. 

Each coffee plantation in the country located in different regions has its own diverse climate and soil. The currently recorded microclimates in Guatemala are over 300 among various regions.

The country also experiences a largely tropical climate with a lengthy wet season. Combined with its natural high elevation and terrain, it makes an ideal coffee-growing condition that produces some of the most delicious coffee beans available in the market.

  • Guatemala benefits from high altitudes. The country features an average elevation of 1,600 to 16,400 ft. above sea level, depending on the region.
  • Today, 20 out of 22 departments continue producing coffee. And Guatemala’s total coffee farming area is around 270,000 hectares, which about 98% is shade grown.
  • Depending on the region, overall temperatures range from 60 to 90 °F.
  • While the soil is sandy and less fertile than many other countries, Guatemala boasts special sections of volcanic and mountain rainforests that are still found near agricultural plots where the plants grow wild and abundantly.

There’s a wide range of coffee varieties grown in Guatemala. However, coffee farmers are finding that some of them do not have the cup quality needed to participate in the specialty coffee market.

While Guatemalan coffee producers focus on Arabica varieties grown at high altitudes, in the highlands, farmers are struggling to keep the high quality Bourbons, Caturras, and Catuahi varieties free of disease because coffee rust is now well established up to 1,600 meters above sea level.

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Guatemalan Processing Methods

Each coffee plantation in Guatemala has its own way of processing coffee beans that matches the conditions. However, the majority of Guatemalan coffee goes through a method called the wet process because other methods are not suitable for the country’s climate.

Coffee processing starts once the beans are harvested. The typical harvest time is around November to April, depending on the region’s microclimate and the type of coffee beans grown. Once harvested, the coffee is thoroughly cleaned, and the beans are separated from their cherry. It is only then that the beans are ready for roasting.

When it comes to Guatemalan coffee, it goes through a wet process. This process involves high volumes of water all throughout the steps. Here is a breakdown of what goes within the wet process:

  1. The coffee berries are harvested from the plant and have to be manually sorted. Overripe berries are removed, and the remaining leaves, soil, and other elements are scraped off.
  2. Then, all coffee beans go through several machines that will wash away all the pulp and flesh from the bean. This step requires tons of water and is repeated as necessary.  
  3. Once the coffee bean is clean and free from any pulp or flesh, it’s stored in a large water tank that is filled with natural enzymes. It will be left there to ferment for one to two days. The fermentation process eliminates any impurities that weren’t removed during the washing and pulping cycles. The fermentation also helps the coffee beans release their natural sugar and oil, making their flavor more enhanced.
  4. After the beans are left to sit for a maximum of two days, the batch is again washed with water several times. This is necessary before being sent for cooling and drying. 
  5. The drying process takes as long as possible until the moisture level in the coffee beans goes down from 60% to 12.5%. The length of this process depends on the current climate and farming conditions. 
  6. Lastly, the last stage of the process calls for the final wash of the beans. However, some Guatemalan farmers often skipped this process to save water and time as long as the initial washing processes were appropriately done. Then the beans are free from any leftovers. 

While the wet process produces excellent coffee, the amount of resources that it takes is astronomical. In a wet-milling process, it can use up to more than 1,200 liters of water for every hundred-weight bag of the harvested coffee cherry. Once the whole process is complete, that amount can only produce as little as 16 pounds of market-ready coffee beans.

This means that for a single container of wet-processed coffee to be produced, it needs around more than 250,000 liters of water. The amount of coffee wastewater has been a constant concern in Guatemala, but with improved farming and processing techniques, coupled with the emerging technology, the wastewater produced during coffee processing can be reduced to a minimum.

What Does Guatemalan Coffee Tastes Like?

Guatemalan coffee is known to be one of the best-tasting coffee in the world. This is a result that can be credited to the country’s ideal growing conditions as well as the refined techniques the farmers use in processing the coffee beans.

In general, Guatemalan coffee has a distinct flavor that is rich with a medium to full body. The aroma is also centered on being fruity rather than acidic. The wet method used by the farmers produces beans with cleaner color compared to other coffee beans in the market. The color of the beans is also attributed to having a higher degree of quality.

However, the true taste of Guatemalan coffee depends on the growing regions on where the coffee beans were grown and produced. Guatemala’s mountains provide a range of soil types and atmospheres that promote coffees with fruit characteristics as well as naturally sweet coffees with body and flavor notes such as chocolate or caramels.

The 8 Growing Regions of Guatemala

As previously stated, Guatemala has different regions that produce different types of Guatemalan coffee. Each region is distinct when it comes to its growing conditions like the type of microclimate present, soil, elevation, and more.

Overall, there are eight main regions in Guatemala that are ideal for growing and producing one of the best coffee beans in the market.

1. Antigua Region

For most people, the best type of Guatemalan coffee is produced in the Antigua Region.

Besides being the best-known coffee growing region, Antigua is a city in the central highlands of Guatemala. It’s surrounded by three volcanoes, namely Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego. The volcanoes in this region made the soil incredibly rich in nutrients and fertile for growing coffee beans.

The previous eruptions of Agua and Acatenango primarily made the right terrain and soil deposits for coffee growing, and the active Fuego volcano continues to provide new minerals.

Combined with the consistent temperature and constant rain in the central highlands, Antigua became one of the leading regions in Guatemalan coffee production.

2. Acatenango Valley

The coffee plantations in Acatenango are located at a high altitude of 2,000 feet above sea level and are surrounded by thick forests. The region is near the slopes of Fuego, which makes the soil rich with minerals and nutrients deposited by the active volcano.

Aside from the fertile soil, Acatenango Valley also receives breeze gusts from the Pacific Ocean. This keeps the region’s overall temperature low and allows the farmers to sun-dry the beans, which add its own unique flavor to the coffee.

3. Atitlan

Atitlan is another volcanic region in southwestern Guatemala. The coffee plantation is located within the slops and surrounded by Lake Atitlan. This makes the atmosphere in the region warm and humid, which is ideal for coffee growth.

4. Coban

Unlike the previous regions, Coban experiences cold temperatures and rain all year round. Coffee is grown in soil with a mixture of limestone and clay, making the beans have a more balanced flavor with less acidity.

5. Fraijanes Plateau

The Fraijanes Plateau plantations are located at an altitude of 4,500 feet above sea level, near the Pacaya active volcano. The soil contains high potassium and volcanic deposits from Pacaya. Due to the altitude, the region experiences rain a lot, but the soil dries relatively quickly.

6. Nuevo Oriente

The farms in Nuevo Oriente have been exclusively cultivating coffee since the 1950s. The environment in Oriente is mostly cloudy and rainy, which provides the abundant water source the coffee plants need to grow.

The area is located on a former volcanic range, making the soil different from other volcanic regions as it is composed mainly of metamorphic rocks. The balance of the soil is unique to the region, making it ideal for producing coffee that is often described as having a chocolate flavor.

7. Huehuetenango

Huehuetenango is a region located west of Guatemala. The region is the highest and driest non-volcanic location in the country. With an altitude of more than 2,000 meters above sea level, Huehuetenango still receives warm winds coming from Mexico’s borders, which makes the soil quite saturated and ideal for producing Guatemalan coffee.

8. San Marcos

This region is the warmest and also receives the highest amount of rainfall in all regions of Guatemala. Because of this, coffee plantations in San Marcos have the earliest flowering season. The coffee production process is also different in San Marcos due to the unpredictability of the weather. The beans are pre-dried in the sun and are continued in machines.

Best Guatemalan Coffee Brands to Buy

1. Volcanica, Guatemala Antigua Coffee

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Volcanica coffee offers a wide range of flavorful single origin coffees from Central and South America. One of the most popular and high-quality single origins they produce is the Guatemala Antigua coffee, which is grown from the Medina Estate, region of Antigua.

This coffee has flavour notes of honey, apple, tea, and floral brown sugar. This coffee’s smooth, sophisticated flavor and intense aroma comes from Antigua’s ideal growing conditions and fertile soils.

But Volanica always fresh roast their beans with consistency to create unique attributes that differentiate this flavorful coffee from others. If you want to try this coffee, here’s a link to their website.

2. Volcanica, Guatemala Geisha Coffee 

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Although the term Geisha comes from an ancient coffee of wild Ethiopian origin, Geisha coffee seedlings from Ethiopia are exported to some parts of the world. One of Geisha Coffee varieties you can find in South America is this coffee from smallholder farms in San Marcos, Guatemala.

The Guatemala Geisha is a very unique type of coffee with some distinguishing special characteristics and properties. It has flavour notes of mandarin, bergamont, and jasmine. This coffee is also naturally lower in acid because the plants are grown at an altitude of 5,000 above sea level. You can also buy this coffee on Volcanica. Here’s a link to the product.

3. Fresh Roasted Coffee, Guatemalan Huehuetenango

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Fresh Roasted Coffee sourced this organic and high-quality coffee from HUEHUETENANGO, Guatemala. The beans came from utilized methods of sustainable agricultural, production and organic farming, which serves to preserve and enhance the flavor of this coffee. In addition, this coffee is mold and mycotoxins free, and has been declared toxicologically safe and compliant.

When it comes to flavor notes, this coffee present hints of milk chocolate and rounds off into a sweet orange finish. And since you can buy this coffee mostly medium roasted, you can taste Maillard notes, such as spice with medium acidity, notes of chocolate, caramel, and toasted nuts.

Although medium roasts may feature a little oil on the beans, this coffee is still revered for its balanced flavor and velvety smooth body. This makes it mild that tend to be light and bright on the palate. You can also buy this coffee on Amazon.

4. Volcanica, Guatemala Peaberry Coffee

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Peaberry beans are unique type of coffee but are produced in limited quantities only. In addition, peaberry coffee beans have a much richer flavor and finer quality than the rest of the crop.

Having notes of juicy strawberry, bright, clean, and balanced flavour, the Guatemala Peaberry coffee is also desired by a lot of coffee connoisseurs as it inherently stands out as being smoother and richer in body.  

This coffee from Volcanica is grown in Antigua, Guatemala, a region where ample amounts of nutrient-dense, fresh volcanic soil is available for development of an ideal growing place for coffee. This contributes to the characteristic of this peaberry as being one of the most aromatic coffees in the world. If you want to buy this coffee, here’s a link to their website.

5. Mayorga Organics, Guatemala La Hermosa coffee

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Mayorga Organics is a well-known company with ties to outstanding single origin coffee beans. One of the best single origins they produce is the Guatemala La Hermosa coffee, grown by La Hermosa co-op, located in Los Planes, in the foot hills of the Acatenango valley.

Since this is mostly light roast coffee, expect it to be clean, fruity and light in the tummy. It has floral aroma of jasmine and a delicate balanced acidity with distinctive white wine. It also highlights notes of berries, mango and tangerines that creates an unmatched taste and profile character. You can purchase this coffee on their website.

6. Java Planet, Guatemalan Single Origin

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This organic blend by Java Planet is also a great tasting coffee. This single origin coffee is shade-grown, without chemicals or GMOs, in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala.

It has flavour notes of fruit, caramel and chocolate with a creamy body. Although medium roasts aren’t that likable as light roasts, this coffee is roasted only to medium so as to maintain a powerful flavour and lower acidity. You can buy and see the latest price of this coffee on Amazon.

7. Pablo’s Pride Guatemala

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Known for quality and great flavor of specialty beans, Don Pablo Coffee pride themselves as a world-class grower and roaster of specialty grade, small-batch roasted-to-order beans sourced from the world’s best coffee-growing regions and top coffee producers.

Although Pablo’s Pride Guatemala coffee is roasted to medium-dark, it still retains its natural flavor character, giving it a sweet, pleasant aftertaste. This also gives slight caramelization of the natural sugars in the bean, making it rich and chocolatey with considerable depth of flavor. Overall, this coffee has a very smooth velvety body, low acidity, and a clean caramel and cocoa finish.

8. Intelligentsia, Guatemala La Soledad Geisha

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Guatemalan coffee is special. But what makes it more special is when you get the world’s most elegant coffee cultivar from award-winning growers in one of Guatemala’s most celebrated coffee regions.

Cupped, graded and roasted by Intelligentsia, La Soledad Geisha is also a great tasting coffee grown by the Perez Family in the region of Acatenango. It is a great coffee that expresses both the hallmark flavors of the cultivar and the terroir of its origin.

In Conclusion

Coffee-producing countries have always had an interesting reputation among consumers; some think that they make inferior tastes with lower quality than others while other nations produce top-tier flavors. With this dichotomy of opinions firmly in mind, we must ask ourselves: where does Guatemalan coffee stand?

As a coffee-producing country, Guatemala has an excellent reputation for high-quality coffee. They have a rich history in this field. They are no stranger to its economic benefits either with how it’s played such a serious role in their development and the overall economy.

As one of America’s favorite producers of high-quality roast goods, you can bet there’s plenty of worth exploring down the south.

With all aspects taken into account, Guatemalan is easily on my list of coffees to try that I’ve yet to indulge upon!

Featured Image Credit: Timothy Valentine via