Guatemala as a coffee landscape has a certain mystical charm unseen elsewhere in Central America.

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Royal Coffee offers specialty coffee beans from Guatemala. Learn more about the coffee from this origin and buy our Guatemala green coffee beans today.

A Brief History of Guatemala Coffee

Guatemala as a coffee landscape has a certain mystical charm unseen elsewhere in Central America. The first Guatemala arrivals each year is an experience of familiarity, sanity, relief, and appreciation. They are some of the first top-quality centrals to harvest each calendar year and their predictable depths of sweetness are profoundly comforting for buyers like us who spend the winter months spread across a vast range of profiles from South America, Eastern Indonesia, and sub-equatorial East Africa 

Royal frequently counts Guatemala relationships not in years, but decades. The exporters and farms we work with began in the early 1980s before “specialty coffee” as we know it existed, from whom we’re still buying excellent single-farm coffees like Huixoc (“wee-shock”) and San José La Laguna. In the 1990s, Royal began buying from small farmer associations ASOBAGRI and Guaya’b, some of the country’s most durable organic cooperatives who still provide most of our certified coffees from Huehuetenango, and whose resilience there continues to stabilize indigenous communities depending on the Fair-Trade minimums and premiums their membership provides. During the past twenty years, we have selectively added newer groups as they have formed in the evolving microlot market, focusing on our role as a point of discovery and exposure for new ideas in processing, lesser-appreciated regions, and more specificity Our buying is still based on our early fundamentals, naturally with additional flair in the mix 

To the United States in particular Guatemala’s coffees are strongly associated with the idealized baseline for the nebulous “washed mild” category. They bring layers of sweetness, precise acids, subtle aromatics, and, when good and fresh, a brisk herbaceousness that to the experienced portends a slow unfolding of simple sugars over many months in production. Many roasters would admit Guatemala coffees are one, if not the, ideal against which the balance of most of the world’s coffees are measured. 

Coffee is produced throughout its southern mountains, a varied high-elevation territory that includes thirty-seven volcanoes, deserted valleys, and Central America’s overall highest elevations. The mountains’ southern front is blessed with the nearby pacific climate, regulating temperatures and supporting the production of bright, exuberant coffees at otherwise prohibitively high elevations in places like Huehuetenango and San Marcos. Behind the mountains runs a humid corridor of Caribbean air whose cloud forest microclimates like those of Alta Verapaz are known for dense and earthy profiles–and, in the right hands, some of the more perfumed and layered coffees available anywhere in the country.  

  • Antigua

    The city of Antigua is in many ways a modern coffee eden. It’s iconic, laid back, gorgeously ornate, and for a city of its size, it is absolutely teeming with historic coffee infrastructure. Coffee from almost anywhere in the Sacatepéquez department is known simply as “Antigua”, and their sugar profiles range from butterscotch to marzipan sweetness, and acids from lemonade-like piquancy to dessert wine or tangy dried fruit. Guatemala’s best centralized wet mills and best boutique exporters are based in Antigua. There are thousands of farms in the area, from the city’s legacy estates to patchwork smallholder communities climbing most of the way up Volcán de Agua, one of three looming stratovolcanoes that seem to be visible from every street corner in town and play a large part in Antigua’s famous soil composition. Such a variety of producers beget coffees with endless combinations of microclimates, elevations, and varieties. There is a lot to work with here, and a lot of talent. Antigua was at one point the seat of the governor of the entire Spanish Colony of Guatemala, which included all present-day Central America and lower Mexico, and it continues to be one of the best-preserved colonial cities in modern Guatemala. Coffee estates, surprisingly large ones, still exist within the city limits, surrounded by stately walls and gated entries.
     
  • HuehuetenangoPerhaps always, but certainly for the past 15 years, Huehuetenango has had the best reputation of all Guatemala’s coffee departments. Coffees from here are often clear-flavored, buoyant, and brighter on the palate, with a balance evocative of tropical fruit juice and iced tea. Huehuetenango is a ruggedly steep and lush department consisting almost entirely of highland valleys that benefit from temperate climates at high elevations, narrow passages and sharp peaks, a landscape with seemingly endless potential for outstanding coffees. Coffee here is grown on a combination of medium and large estates, including some of Guatemala’s most legendary, as well as far-reaching remote communities of smallholder farmers selling cherry or parchment to established grower associations and, often, freelance brokers. Most of Huehuetenango’s smallholders descend from pre-Columbian civilizations and identify as Mam, Q’anjob’al, Chuj, Jakaltek, Tektik, Awakatek, Chalchitek, Akatek, and K’iche’. The department’s entire population is estimated to be 70% indigenous, many of whom live with daily political and economic insecurity despite producing some of the country’s top certified coffees. Sustaining coffee production in Huehuetenango has been one of Specialty Coffee’s focal points in recent years since the highland’s mass migrations and conflicts are emblematic of challenges to indigenous smallholders everywhere.  

FAQ

Guatemala follows other Central America producing countries, with most elevations harvesting coffee between November and March, and shipping coffee from January into the summer months. 

Dominant coffee cultivars in Guatemala remain bourbon and caturra but include small amounts of most arabica hybrids and strain-specific lineages (gesha, pacamara, etc.) available in the market to producers. The country produces a small amount of robusta, estimated to be about 3.5% of total production. 

By far the vast majority of coffee exported from Guatemala is fully washed. Guatemala is famous the world over for its quality and for many cuppers is considered a kind of definitive memory reference for the ideal “washed mild” profile that is clean, sugary-sweet, and balanced in acidity. If there is growing demand for honeys, naturals, and anaerobic-fermented coffees from Guatemala around the world, it hardly show in the country’s annual output, which continues to favor fully-washed processing, preferring instead to differentiate coffees by genetics and terroir rather than by process. 

Guatemala is an excellent source for certified coffees from Central America thanks to its many smallholder organizations and large estates prioritizing certifications. 

  • Fair Trade
    Fair Trade (both Fair Trade International and Fair Trade USA) certifications are abundant among Guatemala’s largest coops, most of which are predominantly made up of indigenous coffee growers and very small (1-2 hectare) farms. Some of these organizations are many decades old and some have been supplying Royal since their inception 
  • SMBC
    SMBC or “Bird Friendly” coffee can be available through both cooperatives and estates. 
  • RFA
    Rain Forest Alliance certification is very common among larger estates primarily because canopy health is easier for farmers to achieve than a costly changeover to organic certification. Many estates throughout Guatemala carry the RFA certification as a way of emphasizing their commitment to biodiversity above ground and contributing positively to the local climate.