South America is home to some of the world’s best coffee, and Guatemalan coffee brands are no exception. If you’re a coffee enthusiast, you have probably tasted (or want to taste) Guatemalan coffee. It is arguably one of the best beans you can get, and learning more about where the beans come from, how they are made, and what they should taste like will heighten your appreciation.
However, the Guatemalan coffee industry is facing a lot of challenges. They used to be one of the top producers in South America but lost that accolade years ago. For this reason, they could also potentially stop being one of the top coffee producers worldwide. But despite these setbacks, Guatemala still produces the finest and highest of quality Guatemalan coffee beans.
In this article, we are going to look at the brief background of Guatemalan Coffee – a few facts about it and its history as well. We are also going to discuss the Guatemalan coffee crisis and the current state of the Guatemalan coffee industry, and why the country is struggling to keep its status on the world stage.
Facts about Guatemalan Coffee
There are some things you should know before buying a new bag of Guatemalan coffee brands, including the flavors to expect, the production process, and how to brew it at home. If you’re new to Guatemalan coffee and curious about what it is, here are some brief facts to check out.
Flavors of Guatemalan Coffee
While there are many different Guatemalan coffee brands out there, they all share one commonality, their flavor notes. Guatemalan coffee is well-known for its sweet flavor and abundance of chocolaty flavor notes. Many of its beans typically taste either like bittersweet cocoa or a sweet, milk chocolate.
For those that are grown at higher elevations, such as at Huehuetenango, they typically have flavor notes of green apples, berries, and citruses in general. If you are feeling experimental, add some orange rine to the top of your coffee, the flavor combination can’t be matched.
If you are looking for a well-balanced flavor with medium, to high acidity levels, this coffee is for you.
The Guatemalan Coffee Process
Guatemalan farmers and coffee lovers often prefer the method of wet processing for their coffee. This is used in Guatemala because it has a large amount of rainfall and humidity. Because of this, Guatemalan coffees are wet-processed. There’s not much alternative processing anyway, considering its climate. Besides, the wet-processed method showcases the natural acidity in the coffee beans.
Over 80% of the coffee farms in Guatemala are small-to-medium-sized with only a few farms being on the larger side.
How to Brew Your Guatemalan Coffee
Guatemalan coffee lovers often love to highlight either one of Guatemalan coffee’s characteristics: its flavor or acidity. Each brewing process listed below will help you just do that.
- French Press – French press is best if you want a dark-roasted Guatemalan coffee.
- Pour Over – Best for bringing out its acidity and its flavor note.
- Cold Brew – Perfect if you want a combination of full-body, medium acidity and heavy sweetness from your Guatemalan coffee.
Guatemalan Coffee History
To learn about Guatemalan coffee, we must discuss the history behind it, and how it came to be one of the leading exporters in the world.
Before the 1700’s coffee wasn’t something that Guatemala produced. It all started in the 1700s when Jesuit missionaries brought coffee trees to Guatemala. However, they did not plant them for their beans, but instead for decorative purposes.
Around one hundred years passed before the Guatemalan coffee industry was formed in the 1800s. Before this, Guatemala’s major industries consisted of cochineal and indigo dye. But once synthetic dyes were invented, it caused Guatemala’s major industries to suffer a variety of losses.
As a result, the coffee beans of Guatemalan coffee trees were finally used properly, mainly as a cash crop for the country. In 1880, just before the turn of the century, Guatemala’s coffee industry began to boom. It became so large that coffee took up 90% of Guatemala’s exports. Unfortunately, things did not stay steady for very long. The 1900s hit, and the coffee industry in the country took a dive.
During and after WW2, exports were greatly damaged and a lot of trade policies were changed to benefit corporations and other major associations involved. This took a toll on small Guatemalan coffee farmers, the same ones who built the very industry that became the Guatemalan economic backbone.
When President Jacobo Arbenz was elected, he aimed to reverse these policies to favor the Guatemalan farmers, but he was overthrown – which would be followed by civil war, further damaging the Guatemalan coffee industry and Guatemalan economy in general.
The end of the 1900s wasn’t good for the Guatemalan coffee industry either. During the 1990s, prices of coffee dropped below its production cost, once again costing the small-time farmers the most. And although the civil war ended in 1996, things never really went back to what they once were. The war might be over, but some issues from the civil war still exist today.
The 21st century hasn’t been great for Guatemala either. However, because of the hardships they faced, Guatemalans became resilient – and that’s why they still strive to produce the best coffee beans for export.
Guatemalan Coffee Crisis
The coffee crisis in Guatemala continued well into the 21st century. The same issues it experienced before – the civil war, low coffee price – and new issues like gang violence and natural diseases affecting the crops, impact the Guatemalan coffee industry today.
Because of these problems, the coffee industry suffers consistently. First, the greatest being financially, then economically by a reducing human workforce. The pressing and consistent problems that the Guatemalan coffee industry faces has caused many people to flee the country.
Many farmers and other workers have migrated to the United States in hopes of a better living. Or as Cipriano Juventino Niz Chilel, president of the Entre Rios Coffee Cooperative in San Pablo, once said, “You have two options in this part of Guatemala: grow coffee or migrate.”
In 2013, around 70-90% of crops in Guatemala were eliminated, a large blow against Guatemala’s coffee. This also hit the overall farming industry negatively. This crop epidemic is one of the largest factors in recent years’ crisis’.
Guatemalan coffee farmers have faced crisis after crisis, and eventually, this becomes economically unbearable. Already operating below their production costs, many small farmers have had to make the difficult decision to shut down.
As advised by ANACAFÉ, Guatemala’s national coffee association, one thing the farmers can do is to diversify their crops. They can plant another crop like banana or macadamia nuts, to bring up their bottom line. That can only help so much, and for the coffee industry, it still didn’t address the fact that coffee production is in a crisis.
The Current State of the Coffee Industry in Guatemala
If Guatemalans decide not to migrate to the United States or another country, they typically head into big cities for education in hopes of getting a higher-paying or, at least, decent-paying and stable job.
Due to this migration from rural areas to the cities, the cities have become increasingly bigger, so that they have begun to take over lands that were once allotted for coffee farming.
If this trend continues, they could begin to take up too much of the coffee farming land. Key farming lands such as Atitlan or Antigua can potentially be converted for urban development – and that will surely hit a blow to Guatemala’s coffee industry.
What will happen to the industry?
However, overall Guatemala’s coffee industry is slowly decreasing. So far, it is the 10th largest coffee producer in the world, with over half of the coffee exporting to the United States. In the years 2016 and 2017, the total production was about 3.32 million bags – that’s 10% higher than the previous harvest year.
Farmers are hoping that the production number will increase this coming year. They estimate their production to around 4 million bags, but coffee rust fungus threatens the coffee industry as it kills coffee trees. At the same time, coffee farmers are still facing the same financial problem that they have for decades.
In the end, though, Guatemala’s coffee industry is still strong – or striving to be strong. The coffee is high-quality and delicious, which is one of its biggest assets against its competitors.
Guatemala’s coffee bean is arguably one of the best in the world. However, the industry faces threats daily.
We can only hope that the Guatemala coffee industry will overcome these challenges. One way we can help is by simply buying from them. Simply choosing to buy Guatemalan coffee brands will help boost their economy, while supporting their small-businesses farmers as well. Not only you get a nice coffee every morning, but you will also help farmers who struggle to make a living.
And don’t forget to… disfruta tu café! (“enjoy your coffee!”)