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Travel the world of Coffee/Origin of the month: Guatemala.

Dear coffee travelers.

November marks the visit to our second-to-last origin around the world of coffee, namely Guatemala! The best comes last. 

Yes Indeed, because Guatemala has a reputation for producing excellent coffees. This is one of the most climatically diverse regions in the world, with rich volcanic soil that is great for coffee farming. On these volcanic steeplands more than 125.000 smallholders grow some of the most unique and distinct coffees in the world.
Here is a small intro to the origin of the month and the 3 coffees we selected for you.


With over 125,000 producers and eight distinct growing regions, Guatemala offers considerable cup variety. Within each region, there are numerous varieties and terroirs. Young, innovative producers are taking advantage of the 300+ microclimates across the country and experimenting with exotic, honey, and natural coffee processing, in addition to the washed processing Guatemala 
is famous for. 98% of Guatemala’s coffee is also shade-grown, as part of the country’s ongoing investment in sustainable agriculture. (source: Perfect Daily Grind

As for in El Salvador, coffee only become an important crop in Guatemala after 1856, when the invention of chemical dyes reduced demand for indigo, which was at that time the main cash crop. Starting from then, the governments made coffee the backbone of the economy. The efforts to stimulate coffee production certainly worked and by 1880 coffee made up around  90% of Guatemala’s exports. Considered its economic weight and the interconnections between coffee, the issue of land reforms and indigenous people rights,  It is not surprise that the coffee sector was deeply involved in the country’s politics and its violent history. Indeed, throughout the second half of the XX century Guatemala experienced several coups, strikes and social unrest, which outburst in the country’s civil war that lasted from 1960 to 1996. (J.Hoffmann, The World Atlas of Coffee p.217)

Altitude Grading
Similar to other Central American countries, Guatemala uses a version of the altitude grading:

Prime: grown 750-900m
Extra Prime: 900-1050m
Semi Hard Bean: 1050-1220m
Hard Bean: 1220-1300m
Strictly Hard Bean: grown over 1300m

(J.Hoffmann, The World Atlas of Coffee p.217)

Guatemala’s coffee production peaked at the turn of the millennium, as many producers moved away from coffee into macadamia nuts, avocados after the coffee crisis in 2001. Coffee leaf rust has also been an increasing problem for producers, damaging a large portion of their production. This is why, among the coffee of this month we included a batch of specialty robusta. from the Panama farm located in the city of Santa Barbara in the Suchitepequez in the volcanic region of Atitlan. Here at an altitude up to 1400-1500mt, the grower Alex Herrera decided to plant robusta coffee trees, to reduce the risk of a major crop failure (due the fragility of arabica vis-à-vis the coffee leaf rust, a fungus which can bring to the complete die back of the coffee tree).

Atitlan is one of the most beautiful regions of the country with amazing landscapes that have inspired many writers and attract travelers.There are several nature reserves to conserve biodiversity and fight against deforestation. Coffee production is currently under pressure  because of rising labor costs and competition on the labor force.The problem also comes from urbanization where it is more interesting for farmers to sell their land than to continue to grow coffee.

The second coffee of the month is from the famous region of Huehuetenango where coffee plantations reach very high altitudes up to 2000 meters thanks to warm winds from the Tehuantepec plain in Mexico. Although the soil is limestone and rocky, shade crops provide quality production. Most producers process the coffee themselves. This is one of the best known and most fun regions to pronounce. This “place of the ancestors” is very dependent on coffee and some producers are exceptional.

 The coffee we selected is named La Mochilita (little backpack in Spanish, because it is always what you bring when traveling!) is a blend from their three farms: El Rincon, Terrazas and La Bolsa. These farms, located nearby the town of La Libertad, have a total surface area of 133 hectares. Blend from two varieties, red bourbon and caturra processed in fully-washed, la Mochilita is produced on a limestone soil typical from the Huehuetenango region, which brings all the typicality of this terroir.
All the coffee is processed at Finca La Bolsa as it is the only farm having a wet mill. The wet mill is just by a water spring (50m), so the water used to wash the coffee comes directly from the soil. the water doesn’t go thought any pipes or machines. It is a pristine, pure an drinkable water. The fermentation last from 16 to 30 hours depending on the weather, as temperatures can reach 33-35°C. The coffee dries on patios with a constant moving to avoid fermentation. Over 2000 lots come out the Mill. La Mochilita is a blend of lots that scores 84+, with an acid, chocolaty and lightly spicy profile.

We decided to buy and roast a second Huehuetenango, named Waykan. This coffee was selected by one of our suppliers (Cafè Imports) to highlight the dynamic character and profile of coffees from this subregion. In the Maya Q’qnjobal dialect from Huehuetenango, waykan means “star (or light) that shines in the sky at night.” (And for the record, the region’s name is commonly pronounced “way-way-teh-NAN-go.”). As We can read on Cafè Import webpage: this coffee is a “regional blend”, that is when the importer  operates a selection at the origin blending all the similar scoring coffee from the same area displaying similar cup profiles. This is how it works: producers who own farms of any size are invited to bring their coffee to be cupped, and whether they bring 2 or 200 bags their coffee is sampled and scored: Coffees that score 85–87 with the clean and crisp Huehuetenango profile are blended into the Regional Select lot, while coffees scoring 88 and above are kept separate and offered as microlots, with price incentives attached to reward that quality.The producers of Waykan are situated in the municipalities of Chajul, Quiche, Cotzal, and Nebaj.

The waykan has a soft and sweet cup with tart fruit acidity and a smooth mouthfeel; lots of fruit flavor with apple, coffee cherry, citrus fruits, cider, lemongrass and floral flavors.
We hope you will enjoy these delicious coffees as much as we did. We are going to learn more about this beautiful origin, its coffees and the producers when attending the Producer & Roaster Forum in May 2019. If you are a roaster or a coffee producer check this out!

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All best from the
NCR team


 
References:

The main source of inspiration for this small text has been the already quoted James Hoffmann with his The World Atlas of Coffee, in particular pp. 216-219 about the history of coffee in Guatemala.

Another source is the prolific and terrific coffee website Perfect Daily Grind, and in this particular case their article about the Gutemalian coffees, available here The information about the three coffees comes from the 2 importers we bought the coffee from, Belco for the Robusta Panama Estate. and Huehuetenango La Mochilita, and Cafè Import for the Huhue Waykan
 

 

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