... That is Quauhtlemallan, a "nahuatl" word the Toltecas used to use to name Guatemala. It is not just a nice name. One visit is enough for you to see the luxurious vegetation that covers the highest picks of Central America and 33 majestic volcanoes. In such a mystic small place, almost the same size as the state of Tennessee, not only the Mayans built one of the most outstanding civilizations of the Americas, but also Jesuit priests thought this would be nice microclimate for ornamental coffee plants.
By 1859, Guatemala did its first coffee export of 383 bags of 60 kilos. Cochineal and indigo were important export products, but because of the invention of synthetic dye, coffee started to become a promising substitute product. The first places where coffee was produced was the central zone (Guatemala municipalities) and then it started to expand to other cities as Antigua. By the end of the 1800, coffee had become an important agricultural product. All the harvest was exported and less coffee was available for locals.
Why are Guatemalan coffees so special? Altitude, microclimate and varieties combined to produce one of the fines coffee origins in the world. Coffee is grown from 900 mts. to 2,000 MASL, creating 5 different types of coffee: Prime, extra prime, semi hard, hard and strictly hard bean. The higher the altitude, the more intense and pronounced characteristics you can taste in the cup. Varieties, you can find tall growing plants like Bourbon, Maragogype, Typica, that some cuppers tend to describe with more elegant and fine cup characteristics, but lower production. Shorter plants like Caturra and Catuai, with higher production yields and very good attributes and characteristics. And others like Pacamara with very exotic characteristics but very rarely produced, Pache which is a natural mutation of Typica found in a farm of Santa Rosa, located in South-East of Guatemala, Catimor and very little Robusta.
Microclimate is key to produce great coffee. Guatemala has as many microclimates as departments it has. Rainforests, plateaus, valleys, mountains and picks are just some of them that live next to each other or separated just by a hill. Relative humidity vary between 65% to 80% with annual rainfall patterns between 1200 to 1800 mm. Soil is enrich with volcanic nutrients, some of them with the perfect balance of clay, limestone and sand.
Guatemala produces now about 3.75 millions bags of 69 kilos, the highest in Central America. 99% of it is from the specie Coffea Arabica. They use the wet process to remove the mucilage of the bean. Almost all farms have their own wet mill, which helps guarantee traceability and quality. Those farms of small coffee growers that can’t afford to have their own wet mill, they deliver to cooperatives that manage the wet mill for all their members.<
If you have chosen your perfect cup and it happens to be from Guatemala, its not just mere coincidence. It is nature, history, tradition and passion that has combine over time to delight your discerning palate. Enjoy it!
(Pictures by Antonio Arreaga)
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