The Atitlán region sits on the southwest edge of Guatemala, about 120 kilometers from the Pacific Ocean. It is one of the five volcanic regions in Guatemala. The lake itself is actually the remains of a volcano that erupted 84,000 years ago. Known as the Los Chocoyos eruption, it was one of the largest volcanic eruptions in the past 100,000 years. The resulting caldera, a cauldron-like hollow from a collapsed volcano, forms the shape of the lake today.
Atitlán gets its name from the Nahuatl word that means “the place where the rainbow gets its colors.” Nahuatl was spoken by the Aztecs who once lived in the region. Today, the Kaqchikel and Tz’utujil, two of the nations who live along the lake’s shores today are descendants of the Maya.
The soils in Atitlán are rich in organic material from plentiful rain and volcanic eruptions. Due to daily winds, called Xocomil, and altitudes that reach up from 1,500 to 1,700 meters above sea level, pests and diseases are much less of a threat, here. Farmers can focus wholly on quality production.
After selectively handpicking ripe cherry, farmers hand pulp cherry on their own farms and ferment it for approximately 36 hours. Then, farmers agitate the parchment to remove remaining mucilage, and wash it in clean water—mostly freshwater drawn from Lake Atitlán—and lay parchment to dry in direct sunlight on concrete patios. High ambient humidity of 70% to 80% means that parchment often takes longer to dry than in other areas.
Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) specifies the altitude at which the coffee was grown. A coffee must be grown at 1,200 meters above sea level or higher to be considered SHB. The higher altitude and lower temperatures mean that the coffee fruit matures more slowly, creating a denser bean.
Coffee in Guatemala
Guatemala boasts a variety of growing regions and conditions that produce spectacular coffees. Today, the country is revered as a producer of some of the most flavorful and nuanced cups worldwide. We are proud to work with several exceptional in-country partners to bring these coffees to market.
The Guatemalan coffee industry experienced a major setback with the 2010 appearance of Coffee Leaf Rust (CLR) in Latin America. The epidemic peaked in severity in 2012, and though CLR continues to affect some farms, Guatemala continues to produce high-quality, record-breaking coffees. In 2017, new and varied processing methods pushed prices at the Guatemalan Cup of Excellence contest to record highs.
The quality of coffee being produced in Guatemala is increasing, overall, due to the diversity of the industry’s producers. There are more and more small holder farmers producing exceptional coffee at high altitudes. Cooperatives are becoming more appealing to so many smallholders because they often offer farmers financing and other support for improving their farming and processing and are frequently able to offer higher prices for cherry than middlemen. Many cooperatives have initiated quality improvement training for farmer members and are becoming more adept at helping members market their coffee as specialty.