Guatemala, a central American country which to be fair, I didn’t know much about before I got into coffee and to be honest, before writing this blog. They say you never stop learning…so true!
Anyway, I shouldn’t digress.
So, Guatemala, officially The Republic of Guatemala, is a Central American country which borders Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Ocean.
Guatemala’s geography, specifically the uplands in the interior of the country, is what makes different to its neighbouring countries. Within its interior, Guatemala has always had a strong and prevailing Indian culture.
The origin of the name Guatemala is in fact Indian but unfortunately the root of the name and its meaning are rather unknown. However, the original form is believed to be Quauhtemallan which apparently indicates an Aztec origin – rather than a Mayan. The word Quauhtemallan means ‘land of trees’. Another belief is, that the name comes from Guhatezmalha which means ‘mountain of vomiting water’ – believed to be referring to the volcanic eruptions that destroyed in 1773 the city of Antigua Guatemala which was the capital city under the Spanish Colonial period. After it was destroyed, the capital was moved to the current day capital Guatemala City. The western highlands today are the centre of the Indian population.
Ancient Ruins, Guatemala. Image by @amongthestones
COFFEE PRODUCTION – The past
Guatemala’s coffee production history goes back to the 1800’s. Specifically, coffee production gained momentum in the 1860’s when European immigrants were encouraged by the Guatemalan government to establish coffee plantations. This was following the failings of the country’s main export at the time, indigo. By this time, Guatemala, was exporting more than 300 million pounds of coffee annually and up until 2011 it held a place among the 5 largest coffee producing countries in the world – overtaken in recent years by Honduras.
Guatemala’s population at large consists of more than 20 officially recognised indigenous groups. The large percentage of these people are smallholder coffee farmers who are either working independently of one another or are loosely associated – mainly by location proximity and cultural ties – to cooperative associations. A number of these farmers are also formally associated with cooperatives.
COFFEE PRODUCTION – The present
Coffee growers developed their own union back in 1960 and this has since become the Assosiacion National del Café (Anacafe). This is now a research centre and financial organisation that provides support to growers throughout the various regions. It also provides financial support in terms of loans and helps with marketing.
Unfortunately, 2012 saw the beginning of an outbreak of coffee-leaf rust which lasted for several years. It obviously and without a doubt reduced the country’s yield and a state of emergency was declared by the government. Steps were taken by the growers to reduce the impact of such an outbreak in the future along with the government, Anacafe and the World Coffee Research centre. The result means that things have been put in place to protect and prevent future similar outbreaks and provide more productive harvests for the smallholder farmers.
In 2019, Guatemala produced in the region of 3.3 million bags of coffee – each bag is between 60-70 kg so you can do that math! 😊 That’s a lot of coffee, however, unfortunately due to erratic rainfalls during the year, Guatemala actually missed their production for the year!
Huehuetenango region, Guatemala. Image by @shttefan
Our coffee comes from the ASPROCDEGUA (Asociación de Productores de Café Diferenciados y Especiales de Guatemala) cooperative. ASPROCDEGUA is a producing organisation with 664 contributing members, 394 of whom have organic and Fairtrade certification.
The area – Huehuetenango
Huehuetenango – aka ‘Huehue’ – is located in the west of Guatemala and borders with Mexico. It sits at an elevation of up to 2200 masl and on the southern slopes of the Cuchumatanes Mountains, the highest in the country. The name Huehuetenango means ‘place of the ancients ‘ probably because there are ancient Mayan ruins near the city. The ancient site is called Zaculaeu which was the name of the ancient city where the Mam people resided. The Spanish invaders forced the indigenous people to work in the mins and on plantations in the region.
The area of Huehuetenango is one of the most remote regions of the country and is also one of Guatemala’s non-volcanic regions. It’s also the highest and driest. This dryness along with hot winds that come up from the valley below, Huehuetenango is protected from frost, allowing the crops to thrive at high altitudes. These high elevations in combination with the warm climate, is what makes the beans from this region spectacular tasty on the palate. Interesting to note that being remote it means coffee producers need to be process their own coffee. However, the silver lining is that, due to the region having a huge number of rivers and streams, mills can be placed almost anywhere!
ASPROCDEGUA association, Guatemala. Image: Cafe Imports
The women of the ASPROCDEGUA cooperative
Our coffee is grown at elevations between 1600 – 2200 masl. on the southern slopes of the Cuchumatanes Mountains, as I mentioned above. The ASPROCDEGUA association was founded in 2016 and women producers take up a mere 15% of the total number of producers. Although this doesn’t sound a lot, it is a step in the right direction. Coffee producing is very male dominated as an industry, but this is changing in many origins and so it’s great to see coffees from all women producers coming out of Guatemala.
The women’s association is not a formal subdivision of the cooperative. However, their women coffee producer’s coffee lots are sold separately and at a premium. The premium earned by these women growers goes mainly towards organic fertiliser distribution to them. However, the premiums also go towards other beneficial things. For example, during 2020 (pre COVID I am guessing) the premium was used to purchase dairy cows for the women, which were distributed to both augment their household nutrition and to give them better access to organic matter from which to make their own organic compost.
Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Image: Cafe Imports
So, we feel that there is a lot of scope for Guatemala’s women producers to begin gaining more from selling their amazing coffees and be able to become a formal part of the cooperative. This is why we are supporting them. You can too, through buying their tasty coffee.
Tasting notes: Sweet, citric and juicy with praline, caramel, berry and lemon flavours
Roast Level: Medium
Varietal: Caturra, Catuai, Pache, Bourbon
Altitude: 1600 - 2200 masl