Central America is known for producing some of the best coffee in the world, and Guatemala is often considered the crown jewel.
With diverse microclimates and rich land, Guatemalan coffee perfectly reflects the lush landscapes and vibrant cultures that make the country what it is today.
So what exactly makes it so unique, and which region's coffee should you try? I'm about to cover it all, so pull up a seat!
What Does Guatemalan Coffee Taste Like? (Explained By A Barista)
Guatemala is not only one of my favorite countries in the world - its coffee is also one of my favorites.
While it does vary a bit from region to region, it’s known for having a citrusy or sweet floral aroma, with chocolate undertones, fruity, wine, toffee, or even nutty flavor notes.
Many will also have a bittersweet chocolate or even smoky taste. Guatemala coffee generally has a medium to full body with a pleasant acidity level.
Why Is Guatemalan Coffee Taste So Unique?
Once I stepped foot in la tierra de la eterna primavera (the land of the eternal spring), I understood why Guatemala coffee tastes so darn delicious.
From the energy of the people to the land itself, Guatemala is simply magical. The fertile region features different microclimates with high elevation and ultra-rich volcanic soil.
Coffee plants absolutely love this soil comprised of clay, metamorphic rock, and volcanic minerals, along with the high altitudes of the rugged terrain.
With 8 different Guatemalan coffee growing regions and exceptional biodiversity, you’ll find a variety of nuances, resulting in consistently high-quality coffee beans that you’ll never get bored of.
Your Guide To Different Types Of Guatemalan Coffee Beans
There are 6 main varieties of coffee beans grown in Guatemala coffee farms: Typica, Caturra, Bourbon, Catuai, Pache, and Maragogipe.
Let’s take a look at these Arabica coffee beans a bit further.
Guatemalan Coffee Grading & Roasting Explained
The Guatemalan coffee classification system was initially created to help local coffee growers negotiate fair prices for their beans when selling them abroad - namely, with the US.
While the coffee bean categories have changed throughout the last nearly hundred years, the different grades are still very relevant today.
You may notice that Guatemalan coffee has certain indications on the bag, like “SHB” or “HB.” SHB stands for “Strictly High Grown/Strictly Hard Bean,” and HB stands for “Hard Bean.”
The SHB grade refers to Guatemalan beans grown over 1,350 meters above sea level. The HB grade refers to those coffee beans grown at least 4,000 to 5,000 feet above sea level.
Generally speaking, the higher the elevation, the higher the quality of coffee beans.
Why? Because the higher up you go, the slower the growth and ripening of the Guatemalan coffee beans, resulting in a denser bean.
Denser beans contain higher sugar levels and more complex flavor profiles.
Coffee bean density directly affects roasting and how they develop.
Denser beans contain less air than softer ones, requiring higher temperatures while roasting to ensure all heat moves evenly through the delicious coffee beans.
To really bring out all of that fine Guatemalan coffee flavor, it's usually best to roast denser beans in small batches to ensure minimized under or over-roasted beans.
Roast types are usually categorized into light, medium, and dark roast.
Lighter and brighter coffees range from light to medium roasts, though most Guatemalan coffee will still have a full body with bright flavor notes.
Darker roasts have more complex flavor notes where you can expect to taste bittersweet chocolate, floral notes, and even a spicy flavor!
Short History Of Guatemalan Coffee
In the 1700s, growing coffee beans was seen as simply ornamental, brought to the country by Jesuit missionaries for aesthetic purposes.
However, in the 1800s, the Guatemalan economy took a nosedive when its main export of natural dye became largely irrelevant due to the arrival of synthetic dye.
To improve the local economy, the country started to focus on coffee producing, and coffee plantations quickly started popping up all around the country.
Coffee soon became the dominant crop, and though growth was relatively slow due to a lack of more sophisticated technology and skill, it eventually paid off.
Coffee has since remained Guatemala's most prominent export. Guatemala has also been Central America's top producer of coffee for most of the 20th and all of the 21st century so far.
Explore The Beautiful Coffee Growing Regions in Guatemala!
Ah, Antigua. It boasts some of the most breathtaking architecture and natural landscapes I've ever seen in my life and produces some of the most mouthwatering coffees.
It has all the typical Guatemalan coffee qualities, such as that full-bodied, smooth taste with chocolate and spicy notes.
Surrounded by three volcanoes (one of which is active!), the soil is super rich, with a climate ideal for coffee growing.
The coffee grown here retains its flavors well, even in a dark roast or espresso roast!
If you want a recommendation, I absolutely love the Guatemala Antigua Coffee by Volcanica.
The area surrounding the expansive, mirror-like Lake Atitlan is also right near these three volcanoes.
It receives a ton of rain every year, so combine that with the volcanic soil, and you have a recipe for success!
Atitlan coffee grows almost the entire year, and the coffee cherries are harvested from December to March.
The fact that the farmers do not use chemical fertilizers makes for not only a very pure coffee but also doesn't mute any of the taste.
The results are a very typical Central American coffee with spicy or floral acidity.
With mist and clouds almost constantly lingering overhead, Cobán has abundant rainfall and limestone-and-clay-rich soil that has the ideal climate for coffee producing.
This coffee-growing region produces a cup with a lively aroma and a slightly fruity acidity, almost to the point that it could have notes of wine!
When I was in Antigua, this was the only one of the three volcanoes whose name I couldn't remember.
However, I did remember that the area has some of the most ideal coffee-growing soil around and produces some of the most interesting brews.
Coffee grown in this region of Guatemala tends to be very comforting, with a light, fruity, and floral flavor profile that tastes almost like honey and peaches.
At almost 2,000 meters above sea level, the sandy, mineral-rich soils combined with temperate winds off the ocean help nurture well-balanced yet complex flavors.
Not to be confused with Atitlan, Fraijanes Plateau is a coffee-growing region right next to Lake Amatitlan.
It helps comprise the surrounding mountains of the bustling capital, Guatemala City, and has a very consistent climate all year round.
You can expect a soft aroma with a well-balanced flavor profile, bright acidity, and sweet mouthfeel.
Rich in minerals (and only more so due to the recent eruption of Volcan de Pacaya just a few years back), the soil quality is some of the best in the world.
Thanks to these factors, some of the most distinguished Guatemalan coffees are produced here.
Huehuetenango coffee is some of the most interesting I've ever tasted in the world. For coffee lovers who just want to try something different, this is it.
It's complex and layered, yet smooth and easy to drink (maybe too easy).
Huehuetenango coffee has a light body with a buttery mouthfeel. You should be able to identify green apple and other subtle fruit flavors like berry and citrus.
With altitudes ranging from 5,000 to 6,000 feet, the coffee cherry features very bright flavors.
Generally, those coffees grown in areas next to the Pacific Ocean will boast delicate fruity flavors, as well.
This next growing region is located right on the border of Honduras to the east, with clay and metamorphic volcanic soils and a drier climate in comparison with the other areas of Guatemala.
Here, coffees tend to result in a strong and refreshing cup with a full body and chocolate notes.
Thanks to the booming coffee industry in this region, it’s transformed from a more run-down area to a thriving community.
Volcanic San Marcos
Volcanic San Marcos is the warmest and wettest region where coffee is grown in Guatemala. It's also the first to produce flowering coffee plants every year.
They get so much rain per year that they often reach up to 5,000 mm annually (200 inches)!
However, weather during harvest season can be quite unpredictable, so they follow a natural processing method of letting the coffee first pre-dry in the sun, and then finish up in a Guardiola dryer. This process creates a more delicate floral aroma and taste.
What Are The Best Brewing Methods For Guatemalan Coffee?
For the most enjoyable cup of coffee, there are three ways to brew Guatemalan coffee beans:
1. Pour Over
Place a filter in the carafe, pouring coffee grounds inside them and pouring hot water over them. Time and gravity will get to work, with the delicious coffee dripping into the bottom.
Brewing with the pour-over method can really help bring out clear and bright flavors with a paper filter. It's an excellent method for lighter and brighter coffee.
2. French Press
A French Press is ideal if you really like darker roast coffee, as it shows off a coffee's good body while bringing out its natural sweetness.
The immersion-style takes a bit longer than a pour-over, which allows those sweet-tasting notes to come through.
If you brew too long with either method, you could end up with over-extracted coffee.
3. Cold Brew
Cold brew coffee made with Guatemalan coffee beans ends up perfectly balancing sweetness, complexity, and medium acidity.
It’s one of the best ways to extract all of that natural flavor, resulting in a strong and refreshing drink you’re sure to love.
Related Questions About Guatemalan Coffee
What is the current state of the coffee industry in Guatemala?
Guatemala remains a big player in coffee production, ranking 10th in the world. As Guatemala coffee beans account for nearly half of their agricultural export revenue, local coffee growers won't be out of a job anytime soon.
What is the most suitable roast type for Guatemalan coffee?
Medium roast is the most suitable roast type for Guatemalan coffee. However, most can also withstand a darker roast while remaining smooth and tasty.
Guatemalan coffee brands are increasingly popular, and when you consider all the different types of coffee grown in this magical land, it makes sense.
Each coffee-growing region has its own special characteristics that will take you on a delicious journey, no matter what your tastes are.