Un verano cafetero en Guatemala

They can take away everything in life but your wisdom. I remember hearing this on countless occasions from my dear father. Although I didn't pay attention to it at the time, that catch phrase always stayed with me and, as time goes by, it makes more sense. Unintentionally or not, in every new project at Cuela we always try to take shelter in the element of education. We don't just want to sell you a product, that's not our purpose. Our desire has always been to present you with the best coffee proposals that Puerto Rico has, but highlighting its history and also the mission of each of the brands; we understand that this is the best way to honor the history of Puerto Rican coffee and that's how we continue to learn.

On the other hand, keeping in mind the element of education and with the mission to continue transmitting knowledge through Cuela, we decided this past July to take a trip to Guatemala. And why Guatemala, you may ask? Because it is a country with an impressive coffee tradition and, in turn, was the largest producer of coffee in Central America from the twentieth century until the beginning of the twenty-first century. At the moment, Guatemala as a producer is very well regarded worldwide and is among the 10 largest coffee producers in the world with an annual production of 449,743,000 pounds of coffee. Truly impressive.

On the other hand, coffee producing countries have long had to deal with the bad reputation that they are not good at making a good cup of coffee. On the one hand, this is true because the big world buyers like the European countries and the United States have tirelessly dedicated themselves to perfecting the roasting and the cup of coffee from a scientific point of view. The great importance of the producing country was to produce, process, export and, God willing, distribute luck. The producer never knew where his coffee was going and this norm at the level of producing countries is being changed. The producer wants to know what is happening with his coffee and learn about the latest trends in roasting, cupping and cup making. One of the big culprits of this change in Guatemala, without a doubt, has been the Guatemalan National Coffee Association and its coffee school.

Anacafé was created in Guatemala in 1960 with the purpose of strengthening the economy of Guatemala through the production and export of coffee. Anacafé is a guild institution that looks after the interests of coffee growers and is responsible for providing its services in order to create a competitive, quality and sustainable coffee culture. We, as coffee enthusiasts, saw a great opportunity in Anacafé to continue developing as professionals and begin to learn about the coffee industry in a country that has much more access to international markets.

Here Gustavo and I were taking courses in roasting, cupping and making alternative methods to improve our skills. As coffee professionals, we understood that it was imminent to take these courses a little more advanced. And I say advanced because Anacafé has not only focused on production, but has developed its coffee school in which professionals and amateurs from other parts of the world and local producers come monthly to take courses in order to learn what happens with their coffees in the cup. For us to be able to share with other coffee professionals and Guatemalan producers was very gratifying. To learn about their experiences and the results of their coffees in the cup, according to their region and variety, was very impressive.

It is worth mentioning that Guatemala is divided into eight coffee growing regions and they are the first country to create cup profiles according to coffee region. It is very interesting to perceive the marked differences that one coffee has from another, regardless of whether they are in the same country.

8 coffee growing regions of Guatemala

  • Acatenango Valley (4,300 - 6,500 psnm): It is located at an altitude of 6,500 psnm and in a volcanic zone. It is distinguished for being a coffee with tangerine, peach and peach sensations.

  • Antigua Coffee (5,000 - 5,600 psnm): It is one of the most famous regions of Guatemala and is distinguished in the cup for its balance, elegance, rich aroma and chocolatey sweetness.

  • Traditional Atitlán (5,000 - 5,600 psnm): This coffee is produced on the shores of Lake Atitlán, surrounded by five volcanoes. This gives the cup an incredible complexity, rich aroma, bright acidity and robust body.

  • Rainforest Cobán (4,300 - 5,600 psnm): This region is characteristic for being humid and rainy all year round. In the cup you will find notes of fresh fruit, well-balanced body and excellent aroma.

  • Fraijanes Plateau (4,500 - 6,000 psnm): An active volcanic region with high altitude. In the cup you will perceive persistent acidity due to the high mineral content in the area, lots of aroma and defined body.

  • Highland Huehue (5,000 - 6,500 psnm): One of the most recognized regions in the past 10 years for Finca El Injerto and its seven national Cup of Excellence awards. In the cup you will find intense acidity, robust body and vinegary sensations.

  • Nuevo Oriente (4,300 - 5,600 psnm): A region that, thanks to coffee cultivation, its poverty rates have decreased. In the cup you will find very good sweetness, balance and chocolate flavor.

  • Volcanic San Marcos (4,300 - 6,000 psnm): This is the region with the most rain; up to 200 inches of rain can fall. In the cup you can find sweet sensations, brown sugar and jasmine.

On the other hand, from these eight regions we had the pleasure of meeting producers from Nuevo Oriente, San Marcos, Huehuetenango and Antigua. They are breaking with the traditional schemes with exotic varieties such as Geisha, Pacamara, Maragogipe, Maracaturra and Mocca. They also continue with traditional varieties such as Caturra, Borbón and Catuaí, but using new processing processes such as anaerobic, natural, natural anaerobic and honey fermentations with the purpose of giving their coffee more value in the consumer markets.

One of the most rewarding experiences we had was with the young producer Felipe Contreras, owner of Finca Gascón, in Antigua. With him we toured his farm, mill and cupping and roasting lab. We met his staff in charge of the processes and they gave us a brief talk about the different processes they work with.

Enio and Felipe Contreras at Finca Gascón talking about the characteristics of the soil on the farm and the effect on their coffee plants.

The one that impressed us the most was anaerobic. This is a fermentation process without oxygen that seeks to enhance the attributes of the coffee even more and offer different profiles of the same variety. Here we can achieve much more complexity in the cup, fruit, caramel and chocolate flavors. A good quality washed coffee can give these notes, but in anaerobic processes, they are enhanced even more.

Gustavo and Enio tasting different samples of Finca Gascón with its owner, Felipe Contreras.

Felipe, as a young producer of only 26 years old, seeks to give a new concept to what a coffee farm is. "Currently the farms are not brands as such, they have little identity in the market. At Finca Gascón we are looking to develop a brand at the forefront of the times and to work with coffee in a way that is more adapted to the times in which we live, focusing on innovative processes and an image that identifies us as a new project in the field of coffee in Guatemala" - Felipe Contreras, founder of Finca Gascón.

We also met the great Herbert Juarez at his Coffee Shop, Bio Coffee in Panajachel, Lake Atitlan. A young producer from San Marcos who increasingly seeks to honor the great legacy of his family, who has been producing coffee in that area for decades. One of his greatest desires is to perfect his coffee processing practices in order to be able to sell more coffee above the price set by the stock market on Wall Street. According to Juarez, sometimes, if the price on the stock market is very low, they are hurt because their costs on the farm are likely to be higher.

The San Marcos producer, Herbert Juarez in his coffee shop at BioCoffee in Panajachel, Lake Atitlán.

On the other hand, we were also sharing with the roaster, cupper and barista champion of Guatemala in 2014, José Miguel Echeverría, a tireless perfectionist of roasting, coffee making and fierce believer in his country's coffee culture. "In Teco Coffee House we seek to change the history of coffee consumption in Guatemala; On the one hand, working hand in hand with the coffee grower and teaching them about their product and making it the most potential and on the other hand, teaching the Guatemalan consumer what our coffee represents to the world, while we give value to the people behind a cup of coffee. We build a community proud of its land and what it produces." José Miguel Echeverría, Founder - Teco Coffee House

José Miguel Echeverría in his lab and coffee house in Guatemala.

Guatemala gave us a lot this past July; we learned a lot and we are looking forward to continue learning more about coffee in Puerto Rico, Guatemala and all the coffee producing countries we get to know little by little. We want to give a big thank you to the staff of instructors at the Guatemala Coffee School. They are: cupper Jackie Medinilla, roaster and barista, Carlos Cuellar, barista Wilber Hernandez, coffee specialist Diego Aguilar and barista Edvin Gonzalez. They were key to our experience and to ignite our curiosity to continue learning about the world of coffee.

As a surprise and a fun fact. We brought some coffee from Guatemala from three coffee growing regions: Huehuetenango, Antigua and Finca La Labor in Guatemala City, Guatemala.

Guatemalan coffees: https://bit.ly/3joun2U

Note: Lab photos of Finca Gascón were provided by Finca Gascón.

Written by Enio A Suasnávar Torres

Comments

Les felicito de corazón y muy orgullosa de ustedes. Jóvenes emprendedores puertorriqueños sedientos de aprender y comunicar.
En moemntos retantes es que se demuestra la consagración o la perdición de cada cual.
Fueron valientes y se tiraron a ésta aventura en el mejor lugar. Guatemala. Con todo y pandemia. Del cual me han dicho, conocedores de café en Puerto Rico que hay que ir. Luego vendrán otros lugares, otras experiencias.
Algo verdaderamente loable.
Les felicito ! Adelante !

Emma Matos on Aug 26, 2021

Excelente reseña y tremenda experiencia. Sigan por la ruta trazada, que lo que se hace con pasión siempre la recompensa llega.

Enio Suasnavar on Aug 26, 2021

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