Central America

When I drink a fine Guatemala coffee it evokes an indelible image of its lands and peoples. Guatemala is the climactic heart of Central American culture, history, topography, and coffee production. No other Central American country has the cultural and geographical complexity or drama of this jewel-like country. It is a land of two evolving nations, one of ancient indigenous peoples, mainly Maya, constituting about 50 percent of the population, and the other of an invasive, still alien, complex European culture, there to stay forever. The Mayans guard their mysteries, which slowly recede into the mists of time as the pace of modern change accelerates, yet their two worlds coexist and have only begun to intertwine and blend.

Physically, Guatemala is a mosaic of micro-environments intricately nested within and upon two very different mountain ranges, separated from each other by the Motagua River, bursting with power from the west and slowly diffusing toward the east. Both ranges rise above 13,000 feet, higher than anywhere else in Central America. The southern range, bordering the Pacific Ocean, is the Sierra Madre; it has thirty-three volcanoes, many with perfect cones and several that are active. The northern range, Sierra Cuchumatanes, is part of the continental divide and features sharp ledges thrust upward in all directions and angles like a series of chaotic waves in a cataclysmic earthquake. All this in a country the size of Tennessee…

Guatemala’s multitude of landscapes is mirrored by its many unique coffee regions: they comprise the widest range of high-quality coffee expressions in North America, a true treasure trove! We have just started exploring in 2012 and will continue to do so in the coming years. We are featuring five regions of Guatemala from the 2012 harvest: Antigua, Acatenango, Patzún, Atitlán, and Huehuetenango. We invite you to explore these incredibly sweet coffees, many of great refinement with nuanced notes of fruit, and others quite bold.

Our Maya Cooperative Tzampetey (ZAM- pe [as in pet] -tey [as in hey]), in Sololá, from a mountainside overlooking the spectacular 5,000-foot-high Lake Atitlán, gives us particular pleasure: despite severe obstacles this determined group has produced a really well-crafted coffee with delicate notes of citrus-laced dried fruit and black tea.

From Pacific-facing Acatenango (ah-kah-tay [as in take] -NAN [as in naan bread] -go), we offered coffee from La Soledad, an area cooled in the afternoons during the dry season with clouds rising from the Pacific. This year we roasted it to produce a refined espresso with accents of pear and brown sugar. We expect to have it back next year.

Our classic Pulcal (pull-KALL) is grown on the slopes the Volcán de Agua, one of three volcanoes ringing the famed city of Antigua. Pulcal pedigree goes far back: it was awarded “Best Coffee in the World” at the Universal Exposition of Paris in 1898. The cup offers up plum, cherry, and orange scents from a bittersweet chocolate base as the cup cools.

Next, from an isolated ridge within a canyon in Patzún, comes the aptly named El Vergel (ver-HELL) Bourbon—The Orchard. Here is a farm completely separated from other coffee lands by steep walls in every direction. El Vergel has honeyed body with exquisitely nuanced layers of strawberry, green apple, and refined chocolate lace.

Finally we have Huehuetenango (way-way-tay-NAN-go), only a decade ago hardly on the Guatemala map of great coffee regions and now the homerun champion of all the world regions in the Cup Of Excellence competitions. Five distinctly different coffees are from Huehuetenango, a land of towering, drunken mountains with deep shaded valleys. Its unique terroir imparts distinct citrus minerality to the Bourbon, Caturra, and Maragogype coffee varietals. This characteristic is particularly clear with our La Bendicion (ben-dee-SION): here is a remarkably elegant cup with crisp pristine notes of the sweetest lime!

Then we have jazzy La Esperanza, featuring citrus-soaked apple cider and peach notes. Next come three tiny microlots from the Cup Of Excellence “Olympic champion,” El Injerto (in-HARE-tow). We have two contrasting giant bean Pacamaras: one from the farm section called Palo Gordo, with full bodied tangerine, cashew, and Assam tea notes, and the other from the Pandora Del Carmen section, serving notes of very dark molasses, cashew, and a hint of caramelized onion! The third microlot is a Maragogype (ma-ra-go-JIP-ay), a parent of the Pacamara variety, with even bigger beans and with flavors of delicate filigreed sweet lime, pear, and peach.