A complete guide to roasting Guatemalan coffee

Matteo Pavoni
July 2, 2021
roasting guatemalan coffee

Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Nicaragua – Central America boasts an impressive array of coffee-producing countries. Blessed with fertile soils, high altitudes, and an optimal climate, the region offers the perfect conditions for growing high-quality coffee.

Among Central America’s most intriguing origins is Guatemala. Home to more than 40,000 smallholder farms, it’s known for producing well-rounded coffees with a wide range of characteristics, from full body to bright acidity. Until recently, it was the region’s top producer, exporting to dozens of countries around the globe. Today, Guatemala produces 2.5% of the world’s coffee.

Like all origins, unlocking the potential of Guatemalan coffee beans and transforming them into a consumable product is the responsibility of the roaster. However, highlighting specific characteristics, finding the best roast profile, and making them work in blends can be challenging.

To find out about roasting Guatemalan coffees, I spoke with three-time Guatemalan Cup Taster Champion and Head of Quality Control at Bella Vista Coffee, Dulce Barrera.

Read next: A complete guide to roasting Colombian coffee

guatemala coffee
Guatemala is a diverse origin made up of eight distinct coffee-growing regions

What makes Guatemalan coffee so special?

Similar to other Central American origins, Guatemalan coffee is largely characterised by its rich diversity and optimal growing conditions, including consistent rainfall and mineral-rich soil.

More than 225,000 hectares of land are dedicated to the growing of coffee, with production spread across eight distinct regions: Antigua, Acatenango Valley, Atitlan, Cobán, Fraijanes Plateau, Huehuetenango, Nueva Oriente, and San Marcos.

Although large-scale farmers account for around 45% of the country’s total coffee output, there are approximately 40,000 smallholder family-run farms that produce a range of varieties, including caturra, bourbon, catuai, and pacamara.

Guatemala’s national coffee association, Anacafé, represents the majority of these farmers. Founded in 1960, it has led pioneering efforts to promote, support, and improve Guatemalan coffee and the people involved in its production.

Dulce Barrera works as Head of Quality Control at Bella Vista Coffee in Guatemala and has participated in three World Cup Tasters Championships, finishing as a finalist in 2019. She explains that what sets Guatemalan coffee apart is its unique growing conditions and its wide range of microclimates.

“Guatemalan coffees are unique mainly due to the many microclimates,” she tells me. “It has over 300, which is more than any other origin. For example, coffees from Antigua can be very aromatic with flavours of chocolates and panela. Whereas from Huehuetenango you tend to find more exotic and fruity flavours.

“The fertile and volcanic soil found in San Marcos, Acatenango, Antigua, and Atitlan is also important, while the washed processing contributes to the clean and sweet cup profile.”

In addition to the soil, Guatemalan coffees benefit from the high elevations at which its grown: the altitude of farms range from 1,600 ft to 16,400 ft. This, together with other factors, provides the ideal conditions for growing high-quality arabica coffee.

coffee roasting
Due to the density of Guatemalan coffee beans, a high charge temperatures is often needed

How to unlock the potential of Guatemalan coffee beans

Due to the wide range of varieties, microclimates, and growing conditions, it’s hard to define a single approach to roasting Guatemalan coffee. However, there are a few points worth considering.

One of the most important is the density of the beans. Green bean density is a complex mix of varietal, growing conditions, and sorting. However, in general, the higher and colder the growing conditions, the denser the bean.

Because Guatemalan coffees are typically grown at high altitudes, they tend to be denser than coffees from other origins. This can influence how you approach them in a roast. 

Generally, denser beans are more resistant to heat, which means they may require a higher charge (initial) temperature to produce the same results as “softer” beans.

In terms of roast profile, roasters have various options. Central American coffees often have high potential sweetness that can be well developed through during a longer, darker roast. On the other hand, a lighter roast may highlight more of a malty sweetness with a bright acidity.  

Dulce says that, in her experience, Guatemalan coffees tend to produce the best results when roasters apply a medium roast.

“The roasts I recommend for Guatemalan coffees are medium roasts,” she tells me. “I think this is the best approach for highlighting the flavours of washed coffees, because they have so much sweetness. 

“It also helps to deliver a clean and sweet brew when it comes to filter coffee and a caramelly character when it comes to espresso. I cannot speak exactly about temperatures and times as we already know coffees act differently in roasters, but I generally prefer medium roasts in Guatemalan coffees.”

While it may be tempting to apply a light roast to highlight the bright acidity, it could potentially lack sweetness and balance, which can have a negative impact on mouthfeel, too.

sustainable coffee packaging
Well-designed coffee packaging can help showcase the quality of Guatemalan coffee

Highlighting origin on coffee packaging

While finding the perfect roast profile for Guatemalan coffee is largely a case of trial and error, specialty roasters must be decisive when it comes to choosing packaging.

High-quality packaging is crucial not only to protecting the coffee and preserving freshness, but also highlighting the origin and driving sales. It is one of the most effective marketing tools available to specialty roasters and it can make the difference when it comes to winning customers.

To highlight Guatemalan coffees using packaging, one option is to use vibrant imagery that incorporates various elements of the country. Guatemala has a rich history and culture, as well as breathtaking scenery, all of which can be conveyed using illustrations.

“Images such as figures, mountains, volcanoes, or something characteristic of the farm is a great way of highlighting Guatemalan coffee,” Dulce says. “You can also use colours to transmit the different flavours and aromas of the coffee.”

One roastery that does this to great effect is Atlas Coffee Club. The designs on each of their bags are inspired by the coffee’s origin, using a blend of colours, shapes, and patterns to depict various aspects of the culture. This creates a striking design that stands out next to other bags, while also bringing the customer closer to origin.

Sustainable packaging will help protect the coffee and preserve its freshness

Finding the perfect roast profile for Guatemalan coffee is a process that can take considerable time and effort for specialty roasters. It demands close attention and patience, as well as a significant level of control over the equipment.

As a result, the last thing any roaster wants is for all their hard work to go to waste due to poor quality packaging. At MTPak Coffee, we can help you design the best packaging available and ensure your coffee is at its peak when it arrives at the consumer. We have a selection of biodegradable, compostable, and recyclable bags, sustainable printing techniques, water-based inks, and BPA-free recyclable degassing valves.

For more information on our coffee packaging, contact our team.

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