Tradition, Diversity & Measured Innovation Elevate Guatemala Coffees

Tradition, Diversity & Measured Innovation Elevate Guatemala Coffees

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Women taking a break whereas working in a coffee nursery on a Guatemalan farm. Courtesy of Kenneth Davids. 

While some individuals within the specialty coffee trade nonetheless consult with the “basic Central America cup,” successfully lumping collectively the various coffee-producing international locations of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica, it’s extra the pattern now to make more and more nice distinctions amongst these origins by way of varieties, processing, and cup profiles particular to every. Single-origin coffees are the first driver of gross sales within the specialty market, and this month, we have a look at the coffees of Guatemala, one thing we haven’t performed in report format since 2013.

When Coffee Review editor Kenneth Davids surveyed the landscape of Guatemala coffees more than 20 years ago, the themes that emerged had been rising area, roast degree, and the efforts of Anacafe, the Guatemalan Coffee Association based in 1960, to border the nation as a worthy and distinct competitor within the specialty coffee enviornment after many years of civil struggle. In 1990, “Guatemalan Coffees” was launched because the branded identify of an rising specialty coffee output, and in 2018, coffee was acknowledged by the Guatemalan authorities as an “Intangible Heritage of the Nation” for its contribution to the nationwide economic system and its historic rootedness within the tradition.

By the time we printed our 2013 Guatemala report, producers had been beginning to experiment with planting totally different coffee varieties, however we didn’t see the processing experiments that had been already properly underway in close by Costa Rica. Perhaps battles with leaf rust slowed down the experimental spirit, however it might simply be that basic washed coffees represented the Guatemala identify properly sufficient to fulfill each producers and customers.

How are issues in 2021? In one sense, the story of coffee in Guatemala is just like the story of specialty coffee throughout the globe: Coffee drinkers, importers and roasters are busy searching for the subsequent nice novelty. This impulse is an element human nature, half the privilege of quick access to coffees from virtually wherever. For coffee producers at origin, scratching that itch by providing uncommon varieties or experimental processing strategies can lead to larger premiums. But what was attention-grabbing about cupping the 52 coffees we acquired for this report is that conventional varieties and processing strategies nonetheless appear to rule the Guatemala roost, a minimum of if we decide by way of scores.

Planting seeds in a Guatemalan coffee nursery. Courtesy of Kenneth Davids.

Of the 52 coffees we acquired for consideration, 33 had been washed-process, 15 had been natural-processed, two had been honey-processed, and two had been processed anaerobically. The highest-scoring ten, which we overview right here at 92 to 96, are primarily conventional washed-process, with two naturals.

In phrases of sorts of Arabica among the many submissions, if we think about the standard varieties grown in Guatemala to be Bourbon, Caturra, Catuaí, Typica, Maragogype, Pache and Pacamara, then the one outliers we overview listed below are two Geishas, each washed. Since its rediscovery in 2004 the Geisha selection has been carried into each coffee rising area on the planet, or so it appears, prized for its wealthy florality, targeted fruit, and balanced construction. But it’s the standard varieties that dominate this month’s evaluations and scores.

Two Standout Washed Geishas Roasted in Taiwan

GK Coffee’s Sierra Roja Geisha, which rated 96, is a Geisha in technicolor — targeted and assured with exuberant florals all through the cup — and it’s woman-farmed. Lorena Castillo Castellanos of Sierra Roja Farm, within the cloud forest of Sierra de las Minas, started farming her father’s shade-grown bushes two years in the past. Castellanos has a background in conservation and sustainability, values she brings to Sierra Roja as she experiments with new varieties and processing strategies.

For GK roaster Gary Liao, Guatemala is the epitome of a basic producing area as a result of the coffees it produces signify a spread of sensory expression, which helps him excellent his personal sensory coaching in figuring out particular coffee varieties. Geishas from the highlands, he says, are unmistakable for his or her wealthy floral sweetness and high-toned acidity. (He likes this Sierra Roja as cold-brew, in addition to filter coffee.)

Another Taiwanese roaster, woman-owned Green Stone Coffee, submitted a lovely washed Geisha that’s additionally from the high-altitude, Geisha-friendly Sierra de las Minas area. This coffee, which scored 93, is extremely fruit-driven with notes of ardour fruit and spicy florals.

Of this coffee, Green Stone proprietor and educator Kelly Wang says she likes the brilliant, balanced acidity that high-grown Geishas can supply. She notably admires fourth-generation farmer Teodoro Engelhardt’s imaginative and prescient to create a farm representing a self-sustainable ecosystem within the micro-climate of a tropical rainforest.

The Many Faces of Classic Washed Varieties

The coronary heart of our personal expertise cupping by greater than 50 Guatemala coffees from everywhere in the nation resided notably within the success of basic varieties processed by the standard washed methodology. What’s attention-grabbing is that the highest six washed, non-Geisha samples we overview right here, starting from 92-94 in rating, had been grown in 4 totally different areas: Huehuetenango (within the northwest highlands), Fraijanes (a south-central plateau), Lake Atitlan (within the southwest), and Lake Amatitlán (south of Antigua). And virtually all the conventional varieties are represented right here; solely Maragogype is lacking.

Freshly launched from the fermentation tank, coffee beans at a standard Guatemalan mill are “washed” or cleaned of fruit residue in a channel of shifting water. Courtesy of Kenneth Davids.

Of these basic coffees, San Diego’s Nostalgia Coffee Roasters’ Guatemala La Voz earned the highest rating at 94. Owner-roaster Taylor Fields says this coffee was initially chosen for Nostalgia’s Memory Lane mix, however the workforce liked it a lot that they determined to supply it as a single-origin choice. Comprised of Typica, Bourbon and Caturra, the cup profile shows each deep chocolate and high-toned citrus notes. Grown close to the shores of well-known Lake Atitlan, this coffee is produced by smallholding members of La Voz que Clama en el Desierto cooperative, whose manufacturing is extremely regarded all through the nation for its readability and brightness.

Iconic farm El Injerto is thought for its early adoption of a coverage of not supplementing its personal manufacturing by shopping for coffee in parchment from different farms. This coverage created what is actually an “property” coffee, very like an property wine, with the Aguirre household controlling each step, from planting to milling and each different stage alongside the way in which. Women-owned Equator Coffee, primarily based in San Rafael, California, despatched us El Injerto’s washed Pacamara (93), an attractive instance of this inherently candy savory selection, richly bittersweet (assume hop flowers) and deeply chocolaty with a full, viscous physique. El Injerto is positioned in what is maybe Guatemala’s most well-known rising area, Huehuetenango, on the slopes of the central mountain vary, the place soils are principally clay and altitudes vary from 3,000-6,000 toes, permitting for a broad vary of expression.

Equator’s Director of Coffee Ted Stachura says, “The Aguirre household has a laser-focused method to new varieties and processing strategies. Once experimentation is full, the ensuing coffee they’re able to produce is of the very best high quality. If the outcomes of their testing doesn’t present nice potential, they don’t hassle providing these varieties. Pacamara has a confirmed observe report on the farm and we at the moment are buying a small amount of this coffee yearly.”

Another Huehuetenango coffee, a Pache grown in Santa Barbara, was submitted by States Coffee (93). Owner Keith Gehrke says of Guatemala coffees, usually: “I actually fell in love with coffee from Guatemala again in 2007 once I met Edwin Martinez from Finca Vista Hermosa. His coffee was superb, and he grew to become a buddy. That was additionally the primary time I used to be a head roaster for an organization. So, a really memorable and nostalgic expertise for me now. Guatemala coffees have such an incredible steadiness within the cup, together with physique and sweetness, in order that if I had to decide on just one origin to purchase endlessly, I might in all probability decide Guatemala.” This Pache exemplifies Gehrke’s commentary with its vibrantly candy, subtly advanced profile. Pache is a pure dwarf mutation of Typica, found in Guatemala in 1949.

Finally, Denver-based Novo Coffee Roasters submitted an El Mirador (93), additionally from Huehuetenango. This mix of Caturra, Catuai and Bourbon grown by smallholding farmers is crisply chocolaty with undertones of candy herbs.

One entry from the Fraijanes Plateau, a area that started exporting in earnest to the U.S. solely within the final 20 years, comes from Kakalove Café in Chia-Yi, Taiwan. It’s thought that as a result of a lot of the soil on this space is volcanic, coffees grown in Fraijanes exhibit distinctively balanced acidity, which is actually true of this coffee, a Yellow Catuaí (93). Owner-roaster Caesar Tu says that Oscar Pimentel’s farm is generally experimental microlots, however due to transport delays associated to Covid-19, his choice for importing to Taiwan was fairly restricted, so he felt fortunate to seek out this candy, vibrant, resonant cup, the epitome of a daily-drinker.

Charlotte, North Carolina’s Magnolia Coffee affords this Guatemala Finca San Gerardo. Courtesy of Magnolia Coffee.

Rounding out the most effective of the basic submissions is Charlotte, North Carolina-based Magnolia Coffee’s Finca San Gerardo Bourbon (92), a deep-toned floral and nutty cup grown within the Lake Amatitlán area of south-central Guatemala, simply south of Guatemala City (and to not be confused with the bigger Lake Atitlan). Owner Jay Gestwicki has been shopping for inexperienced coffee from this farm for quite a lot of years. He says he was searching for “an distinctive on a regular basis consuming coffee” with clear chocolate notes and many nuance, and this coffee suits the invoice.

Two Compelling Natural-Processed Coffees

The variety of natural-processed coffees we overview at Coffee Review has steadily elevated, yr by yr. In the context of Central America, Guatemala could also be far much less exuberant in experiment than Costa Rica, El Salvador and positively Panama by way of getting on the “funky prepare” of anaerobic processing, however naturals — coffees which were dried in the entire fruit — seem like approaching robust. Of the 15 natural-processed coffees we acquired for this report, two scored 92, which we overview right here: Taiwan-based Qin Mi Coffee’s Acatenango Pacamara Natural and Plat Coffee’s Finca Granada Natural.

The former represents one more rising area, Acatenango, whose sandy soils are enriched by minerals from common volcano eruptions close by, maybe encouraging coffees that show savory tones in addition to candy. Qin Mi’s Pacamara is cleanly fruity and richly bittersweet. The Plat Finca Granada is a Bourbon-Caturra mix from Huehuetenango with notes of pie cherry, lavender, and cocoa nib. Plat’s Raymond Cheung likes Guatemala naturals for the worth they provide, whereas Qin Mi’s roaster “Hank” selected this explicit pure from 40 Guatemalas he blind-cupped.

Qin Mi’s roaster “Hank” selected an Acatenango Pacamara pure from 40 Guatemala coffees he blind-cupped. Courtesy of Qin Mi Coffee.

Balance, Familiarity, Quality

The greatest takeaway from our cupping is that Guatemala is a go-to origin for balanced coffees of a mode we acknowledge and love, whose high quality is excessive throughout the board, and whose innovation is measured and largely profitable.

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