With rich volcanic soil, multiple mountain ranges, and terrain ranging from rainforests to highlands to coastal areas, Guatemala is a small Central American country that offers big opportunities for coffee producers.
Despite its small size, Guatemala is one of the top 10 countries in the world in terms of coffee production, and it ranks even higher for specialty coffee. The country’s high altitude gives Guatemalan coffee beans a full-body, complex flavor, and well-balanced acidity that keeps devout coffee lovers (aka our people) coming back for more.
Part of the complexity of Guatemalan coffee comes from the country’s many growing regions. If you get your hands on a bag of single-origin coffee beans, you’ll notice subtle differences between each region — but all with irresistible chocolatey notes and hints of bright fruity flavor.
We’ll guide you through Guatemala’s growing regions, explain the tasting notes typical of each area, and help you pick out the best coffee beans to brew for your first cup of Guatemalan coffee.
Before we get into the unique features that set each of Guatemala’s coffee regions apart, let’s begin with the attributes that these areas have in common.
Guatemalan coffee is grown at very high altitudes. The finest coffees in the world are typically grown between 3,500 and 6,000 feet — the higher the altitude the better. A large percentage of Guatemalan coffee is grown at 5,000 feet, giving it its distinct flavor. The typical altitude for Guatemalan coffee growers is even higher than that of other distinguished coffee-producing nations, including Costa Rica and Brasil. A higher altitude produces coffee beans with a richer and more complex flavor profile.
Adding even further to the flavor profile, the majority of Guatemalan beans also come from Arabica coffee plants, which are considered the most high-quality of all the types of coffee beans. Arabica beans have a naturally sweeter flavor with more balanced acidity. (Not to be confused with acid in coffee, acidity adds a lighter, brighter flavor to your roast and doesn’t affect the coffee’s scientific acid content).
The two main types of Arabica coffee beans grown in Guatemala are the Bourbon and Typica varieties. These beans share a similar genetic lineage and therefore have a similar flavor. Both produce high-quality cups of coffee.
Keep these shared characteristics in mind as we dive into the differences between each of the Guatemalan agricultural regions where coffee grows.
Often considered the best coffee-producing region in Guatemala, if not all of Central America, the Huehuetenango region is located in Guatemala’s northern highlands. This coffee grows at altitudes between 5,200 and 5,600 feet.
It has a slightly lighter body than other Guatemalan regions with a flavor that’s buttery, floral, fruity, and delicate. It leaves a pleasant aftertaste lingering on the tongue. A light roast will emphasize this coffee’s fruity notes, while a dark roast will bring out hints of bittersweet dark chocolate.
Because this region is so prestigious, it’s easy to find single-origin Guatemala Huehuetenango Coffee.
Found in the northern-central region of Guatemala, Coban is a rainforest with coffee farms dotted along its slopes. The coffee cherries grow in clay and limestone soil under dense tree cover, producing beans with all the signature characteristics of Guatemalan coffee. (In fact, this region may be where our notions of Guatemalan coffee originate.)
The region produces a medium to full-body coffee with a balanced tasting profile that includes spicy, floral, and fresh fruity flavors.
Grown in rich volcanic soil on mountains overlooking the Pacific ocean, San Marcos is the warmest and wettest growing region in Guatemala. The beans from this region have a flavor profile consisting of delicate floral notes and strong acidity. While the region isn’t as well-known as the Huehuetenango region, it’s worth seeking out single-origin coffee beans from San Marcos if you love a distinct acidic flavor.
Located in the center of the country, coffee from this region grows on the slopes of the three volcanoes surrounding Lake Atitlan. The soil is rich in organic matter, producing coffee beans with a complex flavor that’s a little lighter-bodied and brighter flavored than in other regions around Guatemala. Expect a cup with well-rounded citrus notes.
Another of Guatemala’s volcanic growing regions, Nuevo Oriente is distinct from the other volcanic regions because its volcano is no longer active. The soil consists of mineral and nutrient-rich metamorphic rock, and it yields coffee beans with a full body and intense chocolatey notes.
Another volcanic growing region along the Pacific Coast, Acetenango is surrounded by two volcanoes — one inactive and the other constantly active. The continuous, mild activity from the Fuego volcano releases minerals into the soil that enrich the coffee plants. The rich soil coupled with the region’s high altitude — up to 6,500 feet — produces a complexly flavored bean. Coffee from Acatenango has a medium body, strong acidity, and a pleasant, lingering aftertaste.
Located just on the other side of the mountains from the Acatenango valley, Antigua coffee is perhaps the best known Guatemalan coffee and is almost as highly regarded as Huehuetenango coffee. The region is surrounded by three volcanoes, leading to a mineral-rich soil that produces beans with the broadest flavor profile in the country. Tasting notes include smoke, spice, florals, and chocolatey flavors. Because of the region’s popularity, it’s easy to find single-origin Guatemala Antigua coffee beans.
The southernmost coffee-growing region in Guatemala, the Fraijanes Plateau is located along the border with El Salvador. This region benefits from — you guessed it — volcanic soil. The nearby Pacaya volcano is the most active in all of Guatemala, filling the soil with nutritious minerals. The Fraijanes Plateau also has a very high altitude and gets enough sun to allow the coffee beans to be sun-dried, rather than mechanically dried. The flavor profile includes a distinct but not overwhelming acidity with notes of grape, citrus, or honey followed by a chocolatey or caramel finish.
The Best Guatemalan Coffee Brands
Crux Coffee Roasters Guatemala Coffee
This small-scale, family-owned coffee roaster is a hidden gem. They roast coffee fresh in their shop in small batches, leading to a richer flavor in every bag.
While ordering their whole bean coffee and grinding it yourself in your kitchen will give you the freshest and most fragrant cup, this is also a good place to get ground coffee because they will grind the beans when you order your bag, so the grinds never spend time sitting on a warehouse shelf, losing their flavor.
Crux Coffee Roaster’s Guatemala blend is a medium roast coffee with notes of chocolate, orange, and creamy caramel. Because of the medium roast, it’s deliciously brewed as a drip, pour-over, French press, or cold brew.
Coffeenaut Roasting Co. Single Origin Supernova Guatemala Huehuetenango Coffee
Available whole bean or ground, this single-origin coffee is sourced from small-hold growers in the prestigious Huehuetenango region. It’s a light-to-medium roast, so it retains the distinct fruity flavors that are a signature of Huehuetenango. These beans feature notes of berries alongside nutty almond flavors. They’re ideal for making pour-over or drip coffee.
Peace Coffee Guatemala Single-Origin Dark Roast Coffee
This fair trade and organic coffee are sourced from the San Marcos region. The dark roast tones down the beans’ acidity and brings out notes of dark chocolate, nutty almonds, caramelized sugar, and smoke. The rich flavor is ideal for your French press. When ground finely, it also shines as espresso, and when ground coarsely, it makes an indulgent cold brew.
Volcanica Guatemala Peaberry Coffee
Specializing in single-origin coffee, Volcanica sources their Guatemala Peaberry coffee beans from a variety of small-hold coffee farms in the Antigua region. Peaberry coffee beans come from coffee cherries that only produce one bean instead of the typical two. This gives each individual bean a richer flavor. Volcanica’s Peaberry Coffee has a full body with clean, bright acidity and notes of Strawberry. It’s medium roasted and shines in drip, pour-over, or French Press coffee.
Stouthaus Coffee Roasters Decaf Guatemala Coffee
These decaf coffee beans are Swiss water processed, not chemically processed, so the caffeine comes out, but the rich, full-bodied flavor stays in the bean. Much like Crux Coffee Roasters, Stouthaus is a small-scale coffee house that roasts its beans fresh once a week and ships them the next day. So even if you choose ground coffee, the bag should still have a fresh flavor.
Their Guatemala decaf blend is sourced from the Huehuetenango region and prepared with a light-to-medium roast that brings out notes of milk chocolate, graham cracker, and peach. Enjoy it as pour-over or drip coffee.
There’s So Much to Explore in Central America
Central and South America produce some of the best coffee in the world. Yet, even on this continent of coffee giants, like Colombia and Brasil, Guatemalan coffee stands out among the best of the best.
The rich volcanic soil and diverse agricultural regions, allow this small Central American country to produce incredible specialty beans. Guatemala’s coffee is recognizable because of its full-body and rich chocolatey notes paired with bright acidity from floral and fruity flavors.
But even with overarching characteristics, each coffee-producing region in Guatemala offers unique nuances. The best way to understand them all is to explore Guatemalan coffee beans for yourself.
And when you’re ready to experience more of the world through your coffee cup, trust Cup & Bean to be your guide.