Guatemala owes its distinctive, mountainous topography, lush rain forests, biodiversity and its coffee to massive volcanic activity. Volcanic peaks and mountains roll across the country and carve out Guatemala’s unique coffee growing regions. The mountain ranges help to create the country’s unique micro-climates. Together with the rich soil left behind in the wake of immense volcanic activity, Guatemala has the ideal conditions for coffee production.
Roasters and consumers prize Guatemala’s round chocolate and brown sugar cup profile. It is little wonder that coffee is the country’s biggest industry. Volcafe Guatemala, Genuine Origin’s sister company in Guatemala, estimates the country has 120,000 coffee producers — 98.5% of them are considered small growers. In total, 91% of the 160,000 bags that Volcafe Guatemala exports yearly are top-quality coffees.
The Big Picture
Guatemalan producers are constantly looking for better growing conditions: richer soil; advantageous micro-climates; and ideal shade conditions. Farmers are investing in moving to higher grounds to increase their options for growing specialty coffees. Producers are dedicating lands at higher altitudes to planting traditional varietals that produce differentiated cup qualities.
As to new plantings and renovating farms: producers are loyal and continue to bet on traditional varietals like bourbons, catuais, typicas, pacamaras and geshas. Time and again, these varietals have helped farmers yield better quality coffees.
Guatemala’s different regions create a rich mosaic of microclimates and nuanced coffee attributes. Producers are adept at taking advantage of their environment when establishing or expanding their farms. The diversity in micro-climates enables producers to differentiate themselves and provide a wide range of profiles.
Drilling Down to Farm Level
Guatemalan coffee culture is filled with tradition. Farming techniques and practices are generally handed down from generation to generation. Producers large and small who inherit land from their families remain committed to continuity in farming. In general, the children learn from the parents and make farming practices inconsistent from farm to farm.
Volcafe Way reports that most producers have distinct farm management and slightly different agronomical practices. To that end, Volcafe Way technicians work with individual farms and arrange tours for producers to demonstrate best practices in farm management and agronomy.
Working with Producers toward Sustainable Coffee
The Volcafe Way Guatemala team is working together with farmers to achieve Sustainable Profitability through the implementation of a Tissue Management System (TMS), record keeping, harvest and post-harvest trainings and follow ups. They are also gathering coffee from the farmers at farm gate, to ensure trace-ability.
Victalino Luis Castillo, a mid-altitude farmer from La Libertad, Huehuetenango, finished harvest in mid-January and immediately started with the TMS at his farm.
Jose Teletor Camaja, a high-altitude farmer from Cubulco, Baja Verapaz, finished harvest at the beginning of March and is now implementing the TMS. Volcafe Way technicians use VW model farms — like Jose Teletor’s — as a classroom to train other farmers.
Pushing the Limits of Great Coffee
Guatemala has a reputation for producing high quality coffees, but producers are trying to break out of the box. Small producers who have the right farm condition, sound agronomical practices and wet mill facilities are producing a wide array of quality coffees. Volcafe Guatemala reports that traditionally conventional producers are also dedicating more effort to developing a specialty branch (micro-lots). Farmers are exploring smaller batches and experimenting with differentiated processing techniques.
Specialty coffees, well-developed farms and good processing require resources and hard work and producers want to be paid for their effort. However, the price of coffee remains a key challenge for Guatemalan producers. That said, demand for specialty coffee continues to grow. Producers can usually find a market for their high-end coffees, but the quality and market connection can be unstable from year to year.
Trends in Coffee Production
Washed Guatemalan coffees are perennial favorites among coffee drinkers. The big, chocolate and brown sugar flavors make Guatemalan coffees crowd-pleasers. However, the specialty industry is keen to push the envelope. When Volcafe Guatemala finds a producer who can deliver high-quality coffees consistently they try to help them increase production.
The latest trend in Guatemalan specialty coffee is experimentation with processing. Volcafe Guatemala reports that Guatemala naturals and honeys are earning high marks in competitions, even in Cup of Excellence! These new processes have been gaining in popularity. In farm visits across Guatemala they are seeing a new wave of Macerations, Carbonic Macerations, Anaerobic, Lactic and Nitro Lactic fermentations processes along with yeast trials in fermentation tanks. These last processes are popping up in experimental batches of up to 50 Bags. However, achieving volume and consistency for the final buyer (ie — the roaster) is still elusive.
The Coffee Pipeline
Genuine Origin has always stocked community lots from Cubulco, Baja Verapaz, Huehuetenango (nicknamed, Candelaria) and San Vicente Pacaya. Reliably flavorful and versatile, roasters across the U.S. have come to know and trust these qualities.
As Volcafe Guatemala expands its specialty business and discovers new coffees, outstanding profiles, and new micro regions, Genuine Origin customers will find these new coffees on the website.
Volcafe Guatemala is working to solidify existing relationships with producers while developing new relationships and finding new coffees to source.
Coffee Production and COVID-19
The coffee industry in Guatemala is not immune to COVID-19. Farm visits have been postponed, but should start up again shortly. Travel is limited due to the government ban on travel from 3 pm to 5 am. The ban will last until the end of the month, so that limits a lot of the mobility to the fields. However, dry mill activities remain steady, with the necessary effort to continue to fill orders. Shipments are still going out and ports are running.
Guatemala in the Cup
The QC team at Volcafe Guatemala has noticed more delicate and floral flavors from its specialty and targeted community lots this harvest. They are seeing many higher scoring, complex coffees this year.
As far as single deliveries from producers: the Volcafe Guatemala QC team has reached scores in the high 80s and some even in the 90s! Unfortunately, these lots are quite small — low volume farms with 1 or half a bag. However, the important part is that these coffees and producers are out there.
This year Huehuetenango Candelaria has more accentuated winey/fruity flavors. The lot combines notes of red fruits and their delicate balance of sweetness and acidity.
Cubulco is notably sweeter than previous iterations. Volcafe Guatemala picked up on concentrated sweetness in Cubulco coffees this harvest and started separating producer deliveries by their sweetness intensity. Cubulco is also cleaner this year.
Volcafe Guatemala strives to increase the volume of specialty coffees without compromising quality. They have certainly achieved this in La Morena and Cubulco lots. Much of the improvement can be attributed to the Volcafe Way field team helping producers. Producers who have adopted the Volcafe Way methodology are showing better yields and quality improvement in the fruit. The success at farm level and marketing outside Guatemala, is creating a positive effect in the communities. As producers nearby Volcafe Way farms see their neighbors succeeding, more farmers are clamoring to join the party.
San Vicente Pacaya maintained its chocolaty, nutty flavors and strong body typical of the volcanic region. More producers participated in the lot this year, which gave Volcafe Guatemala more material to work with and select from.
What is Exciting the Sourcing Team?
Volcafe Guatemala is excited about La Morena and Cubulco lots this year. The cup quality is exceeding expectations and they’ve seen significant improvements in the livelihoods of the producers involved. They have witnessed healthy growth and prosperity in the producers participating in the Volcafe Way lots (ie — La Morena, Cubulco, San Vicente Pacaya, etc.).
The sourcing team at Volcafe Guatemala is also excited because many producers are diversifying into new processes and wet mill management. This has enabled them to expand into honeys, naturals and other differentiated processes. There is a lot to grow on.
Special thanks to Roberto Cardona and Carlos Umanzor of Peter Schoenfeld S.A. / Volcafe Guatemala. Learn more about Genuine Origin’s selection of fine specialty coffee from Guatemala.