Great Guatemalan Coffee Taste Test

February 07, 2015

While in Guatemala last month, I enjoyed the coffee. The country's coffee - especially from the Antigua area - can be found in Starbucks and other coffee shops in the United States. But I was excited to try it in the country. The coffee was good, especially in Antigua.

During a visit to a grocery store, I knew I needed to pick up some coffee to take home. Looking at the options, I suddenly felt unsure. The main domestic coffee brand - Tostaduría Café León SA - sold coffees from different regions in the fertile county. Since each region includes unique geographical features, the coffee from each would include different tastes and smells. So I did what any reasonable coffee connoisseur would do: I bought coffee from all four regions. Although the beans looked the same, I knew I would soon find differences.



My Churchnet friend and colleague (and translator) Gary Snowden bought some León coffee from the Antigua region that others who've traveled there requested he grab for them. When I decided to go for all four regions, I told him I'd try them and let him know for future trips which one tasted better. This week I opened them up and set up my official coffee-testing session.

The four regions I bought were Antigua, Cobán, Fraijanes, and Huehuetenango. The only one I know I had in Guatemala was Antigua, though most of the time I didn't know where the coffee I drank had grown. Some people claim Jesuit priests first brought coffee to Guatemala, which makes trying it out sound holier.



Antigua coffee, from the southwestern part of Guatemala, grows in rich soil with volcanic ash. The region also offers a nice climate for coffee growing. León notes that these features give coffee from the region "a consistent aroma, a fine pronounced acidity, intense body with a floral fragrance and exquisite sweetness."

Cobán coffee, from the central part of Guatemala, grows in a rainforest environment with lots of rain and dense cloud cover. León describes this coffee as being "very aromatic, with a full body, bright acidity and an exquisite flavor with fruity notes."

Fraijanes coffee, from the southwestern part of Guatemala (a bit southeast of Antigua), grows in even more volcanic ash and sunshine than Antigua coffee. León says this coffee has "an intense fragrance, an aroma reminiscent of tender almonds, a good body, and a pronounced and outstanding acidity."

Huehuetenango coffee, from the northwestern part of Guatemala, grows in a high, non-volcanic mountain region near Mexico. León describes the coffee as "full-bodied coffee, sharp and lively acidity, intense and lasting aroma as well as an exotic and pleasant taste with winey accents."



I invited my parents and wife to join me in the taste test. The results were fairly similar, except for my wife who thought the coffees tasted the same (they didn't!). She must not have gotten my coffee connoisseur genes. She claims she's not sure which one she would really like better since our testing was with black coffee while she normally drinks hers with organic, fair-trade hot cocoa mixed in.

On the smell test, the clear winner for my parents and I was Fraijanes, followed by Antigua. The coffee from Cobán had only a slight aroma at all and thus clocked in last. On the more important test - taste - my dad and I agreed on Fraijanes, followed by Antigua. My mom preferred Antigua. Although I placed Huehuetenango ahead of Cobán on smell, I switched them on taste (but my dad still favored Huehuetenango for third).

All together it seemed like a victory for Fraijanes for those who enjoy coffee, especially those who enjoyed a richer, bolder cup. Antigua, however, scored highly and is toned down just a bit, which might explain its popularity on the international scene.



Interestingly, Fraijanes and Antigua are the two volcanic coffees in the test. Fraijanes happens to have more volcanic ash in the soil. Clearly that creates a flavor I like. All four coffees, however, are quite good - which is fortunate since I still have quite of bit of them all.

As I continue to drink my Guatemalan coffees for the next several weeks, I will think again and again of the beautiful country I saw and the wonderful people I met. Good coffee is not just about smell and taste, but about culture and relationships. 

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