A Complete Guide to Guatemalan Coffee (+ Buying and Brewing Tips)

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Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. He started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Now on a road trip from the U.S. to Brazil, Alex visits coffee farms and shares his firsthand experience from field visits.


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Guatemalan coffee is a true gem in the world of coffee, with a rich history, unique growing regions, and bold flavors that set it apart from other countries. 

If you’re a coffee lover, you owe it to yourself to discover the nuanced and complex flavors of this Central American country’s coffee beans. In this buying guide, we take you on a journey through the coffee-growing regions of Guatemala, explore the history and facts behind this beloved beverage, and introduce you to some of the best Guatemalan coffee brands on the market. 

Get ready to awaken your taste buds and experience coffee like never before!

Key Takeaways

  • Guatemala has a long history of producing high-quality coffee, dating back to the early 1800s.
  • Guatemalan coffee is highly sought after in the specialty coffee industry due to its complex flavor profile and versatility in brewing.
  • The main coffee growing regions in Guatemala are Antigua, Atitlán, and Huehuetenango.
  • Guatemalan coffee typically has a medium body and bright acidity with flavor notes of chocolate, nuts, and caramel.
  • The most common processing method in Guatemala is the washed (or wet) process.
  • Guatemalan coffee beans are graded based on its size, shape, and color, with the highest grade being Strictly Hard Bean (SHB).
  • Volcanica, Fresh Roasted Coffee, Java Planet, and Cooper’s Cask Coffee offer great options if you want to sample the flavor of Guatemalan coffee.

About Guatemalan Coffee

A Brief History of Coffee Production in Guatemala

Coffee production in Guatemala has a long and rich history that dates back to the early 1800s. The first coffee plants are rumored to have been brought to the country sometime in the late 1700s by Jesuit priests, who planted them in the Antigua region. Over time, producing coffee grew more popular. By the mid-1800s, Guatemala was exporting coffee worldwide. (1)

Coffee quickly became an essential part of Guatemala’s economy, with many small farmers cultivating coffee plants on their land. By the early 1900s, coffee had become the country’s largest export, and it remains an essential part of the Guatemalan economy today.

Guatemala has faced many challenges throughout its coffee production history, including disease outbreaks, political instability, and natural disasters. However, the country’s coffee industry has remained resilient, and Guatemalan coffees are now known worldwide for its unique taste profile and high quality.

One reason for the importance of Guatemalan coffee is its unique growing conditions. The country’s high altitude, volcanic soil, and tropical climate create the perfect environment for growing coffee beans with complex and nuanced flavors. Guatemala produces some of the best coffee in the world. In addition, Guatemalan coffee is often shade-grown, which helps to preserve the natural ecosystem and supports biodiversity. 

Today, Guatemalan coffee is still primarily grown by small-scale farmers, who make up a significant portion of the country’s population. Many of these coffee farms and producers belong to cooperatives that work to support sustainable and socially responsible practices.

Guatemalan-Coffee

Guatemalan Coffee in the Specialty Coffee Industry

​​Guatemalan coffee is highly valued in the specialty coffee industry for its unique taste profile, which is influenced by the country’s high altitude, volcanic soil, and ideal climate conditions. The coffee has a medium body and acidity, with flavors of chocolate, nuttiness, and caramel. The country’s coffee industry is also known for its commitment to sustainable and ethical practices.

Many coffee roasters and specialty cafes around the world feature Guatemalan coffee on their menus, often highlighting the region or farm where the beans were grown. The country’s coffee is also commonly used in blends with other Central and South American coffees to create complex and flavorful blends.

Coffee from Guatemala works well as a light, medium, and dark roast thanks to its acidity, sweetness, and body that all work well together. Different roast levels with highlight different aspects of the bean.

What is Special About Guatemalan Coffee?

What sets Guatemalan coffee apart from other countries is its nuanced flavors. Coffee from Guatemala is known for its bright acidity, floral and fruity notes, and chocolatey undertones. These flavors are influenced by the country’s unique growing conditions and processing methods. Thanks, volcanic soil!

One key factor in the flavor of Guatemalan coffees is the altitude at which it is grown. Most coffees here are grown between 1,200 to 1,800 meters above sea level (4,000 to 5,000 feet), with some reaching over 2,000 meters (6,500 feet). The higher the altitude, the slower the beans mature, resulting in a more complex and flavorful coffee. 

In addition, the volcanic soil in many of the country’s growing regions provides a mineral-rich foundation for the coffee plants to thrive. Lake Atitlán, one of the most famous tourist attractions in Guatemala, provides some of the best terrain for growing lots of crops, including coffee. About 84,000 years ago, volcanoes erupted and created this lake, leaving tons of nutrients for growing fruits and vegetables. (2)

lake-atitlán
Beautiful View of the Lake Atitlán

Guatemalan Coffee Flavor Profiles

When it comes to flavor profiles, Guatemalan coffee is known for its bright acidity, balanced sweetness, and complex flavors. The exact profile will depend on the growing region, processing method, and roasting style. However, some common tasting notes found in Guatemalan coffee include milk chocolate, citrus, berry, and caramel.

In addition, the altitude at which the coffee is grown can greatly impact its flavor profile. Coffee grown at higher altitudes tends to have a brighter acidity and more complex flavors, while coffee grown at lower altitudes may have a heavier body and more chocolatey flavors.

yes-plz-coffee-subscription-freshness
Guatemalan coffee from Yes Plz

Guatemalan coffee is also known for its variety of processing methods, which can greatly impact the final flavor of the coffee. 

Most coffee farms use the traditional “washed” (or “wet”) method, which involves removing the outer layers of the coffee cherry before the beans are dried. Guatemala’s abundant rainfall during March to October provides more than enough water in most regions. This process tends to result in a cleaner, brighter cup with more pronounced acidity. 

Other farms use the “natural” (or “dry”) method, which involves drying the beans with the coffee cherry still intact. This method can result in a sweeter, fruitier cup with lower acidity. However, the constant high humidity in this country makes this method much more difficult.

Due to the diverse microclimates and volcanic soil, more exotic floral notes like jasmine or lavender also appear quite frequently.

You can taste (and smell) a little bit of everything with coffee from Guatemala – prepare for a flavor explosion!

Coffee Growing Regions in Guatemala

The three major coffee growing regions in Guatemala that produce most of the country’s coffee are Antigua, Atitlán, and Huehuetenango. 

Guatemalan-Coffee-Plantation

Antigua Coffee Growing Region

Antigua is renowned for producing some of the world’s finest Arabica coffee. The region’s unique microclimate, volcanic soil, high altitude, and ideal weather conditions create a perfect environment for growing coffee. Elevation sits between 1,200 and 1,800 meters (4,000 to 6,000 feet).

The Guatemalan beans here are shade-grown, harvested by hand, and sun-dried, resulting in a complex and balanced flavor profile. Notes of chocolate, caramel, and citrus shine through in the final cup. Antigua coffee has a medium-to-full body and a bright acidity.

Antigua-Volcano-Agua
Volcano Agua in antigua

Atitlán Coffee Growing Region

This region is located in the highlands of southwestern Guatemala, surrounding the beautiful Lake Atitlán. It is known for producing high-quality, specialty coffee with distinct flavor profiles due to the special microclimate and volcanic soil in the area. 

Moderate temperatures year round of 22°C (72°F) and an elevation between 1,200 and 1,500 meters (4,000 to 5,000 feet) make this an ideal place to grow Arabica coffee.

The coffee beans are grown by small-scale farmers who use traditional farming methods and take great care in their cultivation and processing. Organic production is the norm here.

In addition to the breathtaking scenery, the coffee is also spectacular. Coffee from this area has a bright and tangy acidity with a floral aroma. The brown sugar and caramal sweetness balance well with the honeysuckle, almond, and hazelnut notes.

Huehuetenango Coffee Growing Region

The region’s high altitudes, steep slopes, and cool temperatures contribute to the development of complex and flavorful coffee beans. The coffee produced in Huehuetenango is characterized by its bright acidity, fruity notes, and floral aromas. Many claim that cups from Huehuetenango taste winey (which is a positive attribute).

Flavors range from chocolate and caramel to citrus and tropical fruits. The region’s coffee farmers take great pride in their work, carefully selecting and processing the beans by hand to ensure the highest quality. 

Altitude is high between 1,500 and 1,800 meters (5,000 to 6,000 feet) and humidity stays around 70-80%.

Other Coffee Growing Regions in Guatemala

  • Cobán: Located in the northeast in a humid and subtropical forest, this region is known for producing milder coffee with bright acidity
  • Fraijanes Plateau: This region is located in the south of the country near Guatemala City and produces a balanced coffee with hints of chocolate and nuts.
  • New Oriente: Located in a dry climate in the east of the country, expect to find coffee with a delicate aroma and bright acidity in this region.

Tips on Brewing Guatemalan Coffee

There are many ways to brew Guatemalan beans, with the most popular methods being the French press and a pour-over. 

If you want to focus on the bright acidity and more delicate flavors, try a pour-over with a paper filter. I recommend a V60 or Chemex to get the cleanest tasting cup.

chemex-vs-v60-coffee-taste

If you prefer a fuller body with a focus on sweetness and notes like chocolate and nuts, a French press will be your best best. Make sure to grind coarser than you normally would to ensure the right extraction for this method.

Most people prefer a medium or medium-dark roast for coffee from Guatemala. This allows both the acidity and sweetness to shine through, while still producing a medium bodied cup. If the Guatemalan coffee that you picked up has floral tasting notes of jasmine or lavender, a lighter roast is better to preserve these flavors.

Whatever you choose, you can’t go wrong. Guatemalan coffee is generally pretty amazing and hard to mess up! Keep experimenting with your brewing method of choice and enjoy the process.

Guatemalan Coffee Grading

Guatemalan beans are graded based on several factors, including the size, shape, and color of the beans. Aroma, flavor, and acidity also play a part in the final score. 

The grading system is overseen by the National Coffee Association of Guatemala (Anacafé) and is separate from the 100-point scale for specialty coffee used by the Specialty Coffee Association. The grading process is as follows:

  • Strictly Hard Bean (SHB): This is the highest grade of Guatemalan coffee and refers to beans grown at altitudes above 1,400 meters (4,500 feet). SHB beans have the highest density. Almost all specialty coffee falls under this category, and 81.4% of coffee grown in this country reaches this standard. (3) SHB beans tend to have the most complex flavors.
  • Hard Bean (HB): HB beans are grown at altitudes between 1,200 – 1,400 meters (4,000 and 4,500 feet) and are slightly less dense than SHB beans. They have a balanced flavor and acidity.
  • Medium Hard Bean (MHB): MHB beans are grown at altitudes between 1,100 – 1,200 meters (3,500 and 4,000 feet) and have a lower density than SHB and HB beans. They have a mild flavor and acidity.
  • Prime Washed: This grade is given to beans that have been processed using the wet method, which involves removing the outer layer of the bean before drying it. Prime washed beans have a clean and consistent flavor.
  • Standard Washed: This grade is given to beans that have been processed using the wet method but may have some defects or inconsistencies in flavor.
  • Natural: This grade is given to beans that have been dried with the outer layer still intact. Natural beans have a fruity and complex flavor but may have some defects.
  • Off-grades: This grade is given to beans that do not meet the standards of the other grades and may have defects or inconsistencies in flavor.

By using this grading system, Guatemalan coffee growers can ensure that their beans meet certain standards of quality and flavor.

The Guatemalan Coffee Brands We Like

Alright, now that you know just how good Guatemalan coffee is, where can you try some? Here are a few of our favorite roasters that have excellent Guatemalan coffee for sale right now.

Volcanica Guatemalan Coffee, Antigua

This medium roast comes ground and ready for you to brew. With notes of honey, apple, and tea, this coffee is sure to surprise you in the best way possible. Try this coffee from the Antigua region and see how the rich, volcanic soil adds complex flavors to the coffee grown there.

Fresh Roasted Coffee, Guatemala Huehuetenango

Do you prefer a light-to-medium roast and grinding your own beans? This coffee from the Huehuetenango region boasts a mild body and tasting notes of cherry, chocolate, and baking spice.

Java Planet, Guatemalan Low Acid Coffee

This medium roast is certified organic, with notes of fruit, caramel, and chocolate. If you prefer creamy sweetness over a strong acidity, this coffee will be perfect for you. It comes in various sizes so that you can choose the right amount for your coffee consumption needs.

Cooper’s Cask Coffee, Cold Brew

This coffee was roasted specifically for cold brew. Smooth, sweet, and organic, this medium roast will produce a cold brew with flavors of milk chocolate, orange, and caramel. You can even choose between whole bean or ground, but we always recommend grinding your own coffee at home.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is Guatemalan coffee high in caffeine?

Caffeine content mostly depends on the variety of the bean. Popular Guatemalan Arabica coffee varities are Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Catuai, and Maragogipe. These are common Arabica varities that contain the average amount of caffeine between 1.2% – 1.8%. Arabica coffee has less caffeine than Robusta coffee.

Is McDonald’s coffee from Guatemala?

McDonald’s coffee is sourced from Colombia, Brazil, Guatemala, and Honduras. Their McCafe line of espresso drinks incorporate coffees from these areas, so you may be drinking Guatemalan coffee when you order an iced latte from McDonald’s!

Does Starbucks use coffee from Guatemala?

Coffee from Guatemala (specifically the Antigua region) has been a huge part of the Starbucks portfolio since the company’s inception. Starbucks features a washed Guatemalan coffee with notes of cocoa and soft spice that they have been serving since 1971. You can try it in their store or order a bag of roasted beans for home.

Final Thoughts

Alright fellow coffee lovers… that’s a wrap on everything you need to know about Guatemala coffee beans!

In this guide, you learned the history of coffee in Guatemala, where it grows, and how coffee growers process their beans. We even gave you a few of our recommendations for the best Guatemalan coffee beans to try.

Enjoy the high quality coffee that this country has to offer. Happy brewing!

Explore other famous coffee regions around the world:

References

  1. FOCUS COUNTRY Guatemala – https://worldcoffeeresearch.org/focus-countries/guatemala 
  2. Lago de Atitlán – Guatemala – https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/lago-de-atitlan
  3. CBG 4.01 Grading Coffee in Guatemala – https://www.baristahustle.com/lesson/cbg-4-01-grading-coffee-in-guatemala/ 
Photo of author

Alex DeCapri

Alex DeCapri is a specialty coffee roaster and curious coffee writer. During his time living in Brazil, he spent months learning directly from producers how to pick and process coffee the right way. One thing led to the next, and he started sourcing his own green beans to roast and ship worldwide and later became the head roaster at OOP Café in Belo Horizonte. Currently, Alex is traveling slowly from the United States to Brazil in his self-converted camper van, trying to visit as many coffee farms as possible along the way. If you see him on the road, be sure to say hi!