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Guatemalan Coffee Beans: Facts, Guide + Best Brands

Guatemalan coffee has long been a favorite with everyone, from the occasional coffee drinker to serious caffeine fiends. And with the country among the top ten producers globally, it’s not too tricky to get your hands on some of these beans.

But before you reach blindly for the first bag of Guatemalan coffee you see, let’s take a look at some of the facts and best brands to try.

A guide to buying coffee from Guatemala

Guatemala has been growing coffee since Jesuit missionaries brought it to the country in the 1700s. However, the original trees were only intended as ornamental plants. It wasn’t until the mid-1800s that it became a commercial crop, but it’s now one of the world’s top ten producers (1). The country doesn’t just produce a lot of coffee, but it also makes some of the best. 

So, what makes Guatemalan coffee so unique?

Guatemalan coffee beans facts

Coffee growing regions of Guatemala

Profiling coffee by regions is par for the course these days, but Guatemala was one of the first countries to do this. The National Coffee Association (Anacafe) realized the potential of connecting each area’s growing conditions and microclimates to the beans’ flavors (2). This meant that customers would know exactly what they were getting when they chose their coffee.

Guatemala has eight designated coffee growing regions, five of which are volcanic. Volcanic soil, rich in phosphorus, potassium, boron, iron, and zinc, is ideal for quality coffee trees.

Volcanoes offer a multitude of benefits to the coffee plant—but the answer lies primarily in the soil.

Three of the country’s volcanoes are still active, which means the soil’s nutrient levels are topped up from to time.

Guatemalan Coffee Guide Infographic

Acatenango Valley – the word valley might conjure up the low-lying ground between two mountains. Still, this coffee-growing region sits at a high altitude of 6,500 feet on active volcano slopes. It’s characterized by dense forest that allows for shade-growing coffee beans and winds from the Pacific Ocean that keep the temperatures cool. Expect marked acidity with a clean finish.

Antigua – this is one of the most famous of the country’s regions and one of the five that sits on volcanic soil, at around 5,000 feet. It’s not exactly surprising since the area sits between two volcanoes. It’s this mineral-rich earth that contributes to it being some of the best coffee grown in Guatemala – especially when the still-active Feugo showers the trees with extra nutrients. The ash also helps the soil to retain moisture in an area with a lot of sun and little rainfall. Guatemala Antigua coffee has a rich body, lower acidity, and pronounced sweetness.

Atitlán – another of Guatemala’s volcanic coffee-growing regions, Atitlan possibly has the richest soil of them all. The three surrounding volcanoes provide the nutrients, but the proximity to Atitlan Lake contributes most to the unique climate. Daily winds (known as Xocomil) whip the lake’s cool air and onto the coffee trees. Beans from this area have a full body and a citrusy acidity.

Cobán – this area is designed by Anacafe as Rainforest Coban, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s said that there are two seasons here; rainy and rainier, with the coffee trees growing under the influence of constant drizzle and fog. In the cup, you’ll get a balanced body with fruit-forward flavors.

Huehuetenango – unlike the country’s volcanic areas, the coffee here grows in an arid climate. While the altitude is a heady 6,500 feet, winds from the Tehuantepec plain in Mexico protect the trees from frost. Farmers here do not use communal washing stations due to how isolated the area is but instead are required to process their beans. 

Huehuetenango coffee is big on body and acidity, with winey notes.

Fraijanes Plateau – the unique microclimate here incorporates a few of other volcanic growing regions’ different characteristics. There is plenty of rain, but also plenty of sun during the dry season. And although mist and dew are daily, it burns off quickly enough to allow beans to be sun-dried. Coffee from the Fraijanes Plateau has a strong aroma with bright, lingering acidity.

Nuevo Oriente – while coffee farms in this area technically sit on volcanic soil, there has been no volcanic activity since harvesting began here in the 1950s. This, along with the high rainfall, lends different characteristics to the harvest. Nuevo Orienta is full-bodied and well-balanced.

San Marcos – here you’ll Guatemala’s first coffee crops of the year, as the early rainy season prompts quick blooming. The rain is also incredibly plentiful, meaning sun drying is not an option – instead, the beans are finished in Guardiola dryers. San Marcos coffee has a delicate floral aroma and flavor profile.

Guatemalan coffee varietals

Of course, it’s not just the country’s many microclimates that determine the taste of your coffee. Some of the bean characteristics come down to the variety, though you’ll also find some regions plant more of a particular type.

Just as the variety of wine grapes will impact the taste of a glass, the variety of coffee beans will have a big influence on your cup.

The most popular is the Bourbon variety, planted in almost every central coffee-growing region in Guatemala. This is closely followed by Caturra, Catuai, Pache, and Typica – all considered to be traditional Guatemalan varieties. More recent introductions include Geisha, Pacamara, Maragogype, and Maracaturra (3). 

The majority of the country’s coffee farms grow Arabica. Still, in recent years there has been an upswing in planting Robusta at lower altitudes, accounting for around 2% of the total harvest.

The Guatemalan coffee flavor profile

The country’s 300+ microclimates, plus the number of varietals grown, will mean that your coffee’s flavor will depend on what it is and where it was grown. However, some general characteristics have helped Guatemalan coffees retain their popularity over the years.

Regardless of the particular notes, the overall taste will tend towards sweetness. You’ll also find notes of chocolate, whether this is the milk variety or in the form of bitter cocoa. This is complemented by nutty or caramel flavors with a hint of spice. When it comes to aromatics, though, it’s all about complex floral and citrus fruit scents.

The acidity will depend on how high up it was grown, but in Guatemalan coffees, it’s not as pronounced as in other coffees farmed at this altitude. But one of the best characteristics is the full, balanced body.

Flavor profile of Guatemalan beans

The best Guatemalan coffee brands in 2021

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Guatemalan_Peaberry Volcanica Guatemala Antigua Peaberry
  • Bean type: Arabica – Peaberry, Medium roast
  • Best for: Pour over, cold brew
  • Whole bean or ground: Both
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Java Planet, Guatemalan Organic Coffee Beans Java Planet, Guatemalan Organic Coffee Beans
  • Bean type: Arabica, Medium roast
  • Best for: Pour over
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean
amazon-logo See on Amazon
Fresh Roasted Coffee Dark Guatemalan Dark Huehuetenango Fresh Roasted Dark Guatemalan Dark Huehuetenango
  • Bean type: Arabica – Bourbon & Caturra, Dark roast
  • Best for: French press
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean
amazon-logo SEE ON AMAZON
Volcanica Guatemala Antigua Peaberry
Guatemalan_Peaberry
  • Bean type: Arabica – Peaberry, Medium roast
  • Best for: Pour over, cold brew
  • Whole bean or ground: Both
Java Planet, Guatemalan Organic Coffee Beans
Java Planet, Guatemalan Organic Coffee Beans
  • Bean type: Arabica, Medium roast
  • Best for: Pour over
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean
Fresh Roasted Dark Guatemalan Dark Huehuetenango
Fresh Roasted Coffee Dark Guatemalan Dark Huehuetenango
  • Bean type: Arabica – Bourbon & Caturra, Dark roast
  • Best for: French press
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean

Now that we’ve armed you with a few facts about Guatemala coffee, here are some of the best-tasting coffee beans to try.

1. Volcanica Guatemala Peaberry

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica – Peaberry, Medium roast

  • Best for: Pour over, cold brew
  • Whole bean or ground: Both

Volcanica Coffee has a reputation for selling quality single-origin beans from some of the best volcanic-growing regions worldwide. Among the specialty offerings are Jamaica Blue Mountain beans and Central American coffees like Honey Processed Honduras coffee or Costa Rica Geisha.

So it makes sense that their Guatemala coffee beans come from one of the country’s best-known growing regions, Antigua. Nestled between three volcanoes, it benefits from a combination of mineral-rich ash and clay soil, creating an ideal platform for coffee farms. 

The dense shade cover in this area means that the beans mature at a slower rate, allowing them to develop a sweetness typical of Guatemalan coffee (4). This is amped up by the fact that this is Guatemalan peaberry coffee. The beans, which only occur in 5% of any given crop, have an inherent sweetness due to their density.

These particular beans have fruity flavors of ripe strawberry, with bright but balanced acidity. You’ll get the most out of this coffee with a manual pour-over method, but it also makes a lovely cup of coffee as a cold brew.

2. Java Planet, Guatemalan Organic Coffee Beans

“Java

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica, Medium roast

  • Best for: Pour over
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean

It was a shared love of coffee that brought Jennifer and Mike Simmons together. But it was their idea that coffee could support a healthy body and healthy planet that led them into business in 2009. Their research led them to discover just how dangerous the pesticides and chemicals used in conventional coffee production are and how important it was to do things differently.

As a result, all coffees they sell are certified organic. Select coffees also carry certifications such as Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade, and Bird Friendly. The brand is quick to point out that their coffee is good for people, too, with a line of low-acid beans and a list of every pack’s health benefits.

These single-origin beans carry the Smithsonian Bird Friendly certification and form part of the brand’s low-acid range. They’ve sourced them from the Huehuetenango region, where it’s is grown under the shade of plantain, banana, and guava trees. The result is a coffee with a creamy body and flavors of fruit, caramel, and chocolate.

3. Fresh Roasted Coffee Dark Guatemalan Dark Huehuetenango

“Fresh

Specifications

  • Bean type: Arabica – Bourbon & Caturra, Dark roast

  • Best for: French press
  • Whole bean or ground: Whole bean

The commitment to making specialty beans available at accessible prices has made Fresh Roasted Coffee a success since they opened in 2009. They offer single-origin organic options like Colombian and Nicaraguan coffee, as well as carefully crafted artisan blends.

Fresh Roasted’s commitment to sustainable and ethical sourcing and production is just as important. Their beans come via Direct Trade, and they offer lines that are Fair Trade, Organic, Bird Friendly, or Rainforest Alliance Certified. 

The company uses a Loring roaster, a smokeless roaster that helps to eliminate carbon emissions.

The darkness of the roast makes this Huehuetenango coffee a good contender for brewing with a French press. This method also allows you to get the most from the bold body, with dark chocolate and baking spice notes.

The Verdict

If you’re looking to buy something slightly different from your regular American coffee, Guatemalan coffee beans are a great place to start. The sweet flavors of chocolate and caramel, with balanced acidity, make it a highly approachable coffee. Keep your eye out for quality Guatemalan coffee brands like the ones above, and you won’t go too far wrong.

FAQs

Guatemalan coffee is considered strong, but this labeling refers to the fact that it has a full-bodied flavor. The caffeine content of Guatemala coffee is at the higher end of the scale, but the actual amount will also depend on the roast and brewing method (5).

The best Guatemalan coffee is generally considered to be Antigua coffee. However, in recent years, Huehuetenango beans have taken out the Cup of Excellence’s top spots (6).

Starbucks sells Guatemalan Antigua whole beans in select stores and Huehuetenango beans as part of their Starbucks Reserve range (7).

References
  1. Origin Spotlight: Guatemala. (2017, September 03). Retrieved from https://driftaway.coffee/origin-spotlight-guatemala/
  2. Regions and profiles. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://www.guatemalancoffees.com/main/regions-and-profiles/
  3. Ospina, A. (2020, April 17). A green BEAN buyer’s guide to GUATEMALA’S COFFEE. Retrieved from https://perfectdailygrind.com/2017/10/a-green-bean-buyers-guide-to-guatemalas-coffee/
  4. 5 Reasons to Enjoy A Cup of Shade Grown Coffee. (2014, April 20). Retrieved from https://www.woodshedroast.com/-5-Reasons-to-Enjoy-A-Cup-of-Shade-Grown-Coffee_b_30.html
  5. Caffeine levels in coffee: How much caffeine in coffee. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2021, from https://coffee.org/pages/caffeine-levels-in-coffee-how-much-caffeine-in-coffee
  6. Guatemala 2019. (2020, January 07). Retrieved from https://allianceforcoffeeexcellence.org/guatemala-2019/
  7. Starbucks®. (n.d.). Retrieved March 28, 2021 https://www.starbucks.com/menu/at-home-coffee/whole-bean
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