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The Coffee Journey

The Coffee Journey

Home to volcanoes, Mayan ruins, and lush rainforests, Guatemala is a Central American country rich in culture, history and landscapes. And the high quality coffee market is an excellent intersection of these three characteristics.

Coffee arrived in Guatemala towards the end of the 18th century, but it was not until the late 20th century that it became the main export. Today, the country is among the top ten coffee exporters in the world.  Guatemalan coffee is distinct in its full body and complex, nuanced flavor profiles that often include notes of caramel, chocolate and nuts. The quality is arabica, with floral aromas and a quite low caffeine percentage.

Coffee is cultivated in the mountainous highlands by using a technique called bajo sombra: coffee plants are placed amongst taller vegetation so they will be protected from direct sunlight thanks to the canopies of the trees. This cultivation method is much less invasive and harmful to the ecosystem than intensive monoculture plantations because it recreates an ideal habitat for many Guatemala’s native animal and plant species to thrive.

Coffee growers founded what is now known as Anacafé, or Asosiación Nacional del Café (National Coffee Association), in 1960. It promotes Guatemalan coffee internationally, organizes training courses, and analyzes soil types, plants, and water sources to improve coffee production. Anacafé also created Funcafé, a foundation that supports very isolated communities, working single mothers, and their children during harvest time. Since the early 1990s, it has led pioneering efforts to define the country’s coffee-producing regions based on cup profile, climate, soil, and altitude. As a result, 8 distinct regions produce Strictly Hard Bean coffees (the best quality Guatemalan coffee) have been identified in Guatemala. The particularities of each area make the beans unique, with their own notes and characteristics:

• Acatenango Valley: This is a forested and mountainous volcanic region. The frequent eruptions
from the nearby Fuego Volcano keep the coarse, sandy soils full of minerals. Temperate gusts
from the Pacific Ocean and marked seasons allow coffee to be sun-dried, and its processing
follows age-old family traditions.
Antigua:  It’s probably Guatemala's most famous coffee region. The valley around the town is surrounded by three volcanoes and the microclimate is characterized by a combination of rich soil, sunny weather, low humidity, cool nights and high altitudes.
Lake Atitlán:  Of the five volcanic coffee regions, its soil is richest in organic matter. Furthermore,
the daily winds (Xocomil) that stir the cold lake waters are an important influence on the
microclimate. The highly developed artisan tradition of the culture is reflected in the small
producers' skilled cultivation and processing. Although some take their coffee to nearby farms for
grinding, many belong to cooperatives with their own mill or process their crops at home.  Agricultural cooperatives are associations of small landowners, farmers who have been given
access to land and support eachother in their coffee production.
Cobán:  Probably one of the darkest regions in the country, Cobán has a cloudy, cold, and rainy
climate and a light fog that perpetually shrouds the area. Constant rain (much of it gentle
drizzle/mist known locally as the chipichipi) means that flowering is very staggered, with 8-9
flowerings per year! Cool and rainy climates make it difficult to dry coffee in Cobán. Traditionally, mechanical drying has been widespread.
Fraijanes: It’s a humid and rainy region, home to the country's most active volcano, Pacaya, which supplies the region with a light deposit of ash every so often, giving the soil an important mineral boost. Here there is a special event for the Coffee Harvest. It takes place between two Christian celebrations: Virgen de Candelaria (February 2) and Sagrado Corazòn de Jesus (February 4). The city comes alive with processions, colours, music, dancing, and good food.
Huehuetenango: Of the three non-volcanic regions, Huehuetenango is the highest and driest one. Thanks to the dry, hot winds that blow into the mountains from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain, the region is protected from frost, allowing Highland Huehue to be cultivated up to very high altitudes.
Nueva Oriente: Rainy and cloudy, Oriente is located on a former volcanic range. Its soil is made
of metamorphic rock, balanced in minerals and quite different from soils in regions which have
seen volcanic activity since coffee was first planted.
San Marcos: The warmest of the eight coffee-growing regions, San Marcos also has the highest
rainfall pattern. The seasonal rains come sooner than in other regions, producing the earliest
flowering.

   The journey from the tree to the cup takes time.

The best coffee must not only have been harvested at the right time of ripeness, but must also have "stabilized" sufficiently before being roasted. After drying, the coffee must rest with controlled humidity. This resting period can last up to two months. The result is fine aromas and flavors that can be experienced at their maximum strength.

Next time you have a good cup of coffee in your hands, enjoy it to the fullest and think about how far those beans have traveled, how long it has taken them to become perfect, how much work our communities have done so that all the Guatemalan aroma and flavors can be concentrated in that little cup of love!

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