Guatemalan coffee is arguably the crown jewel of Central America. That doesn't not mean all Guatemalan coffees are good ... but it does means that the potential on the upside, the possibility of 88+ point coffees, is greater from regions in Guatemala than it's neighboring countries. Great Guatemalan coffees have a bright cup character, floral hints, clean fruited notes, moderate body, and a lingering clean aftertaste. With varying qualities, farms ranging from huge estates to tiny small-holders perched on steep slopes, and different cup characteristics from within the same micro-regions, there is much to learn to appreciate the complexity of Guatemala coffee.
Floral scents, tropical fruit, intense sweentess: This cup is Gesha all the way and with the right roast it's like sipping a bouquet of flowers. If you don't know the story of the Gesha cultivar, it is an old coffee type from Ethiopia that was brought to an experimental coffee garden in Costa Rica years ago as a specimen sample. It was distributed to a few farms for testing on small plots, but not much was thought of it until one of these, Esmeralda in Panama, separated it from the other cultivars and entered it in the national competition. It was so outrageously different, with fruited and floral character like a Yirga Cheffe coffee from half a world away. Now that the word is out, other small farms that received some of the seed have tried to separate their Gesha coffee as well, as is the case here. The results are always a bit different: the cultivar "expresses" itself differently in terms of cup flavors at each location, influenced by weather, soil, altitude and the like. With this coffee, from the region of Acatenango, we have a Gesha cup that literally shouts out "Gesha". It has the elongated seed form, it roasts like Gesha, and has the pronounced cup character.
We wait all year for this Gesha from Acatenango to arrive, and for good reason. From aroma to cup, this coffee's "essence" is akin to walking through a field of star jasmine and honey suckle - sweet, "Summery", and oh so floral. The dry fragrance is really potent with dried flowers, pastry fruits, sweet pomelo citrus, and peach. There's a tropical scent as well that has elements of dried pineapple, guava, and papaya. The wet aroma has a strong honey sweetness, and is very floral and bright with rose water and citrus. Much of the aromatic profile is intensified when breaking the wet crust. The cup might initially seem mild compared to these strong aromatics, but give it time to cool - as the temperature descends, floral and fruited notes ascend. There's a syrupy sweetness, red honey, caramel, jasmine flower, fresh cherry, blackberry, and kaffir lime; the list will definitely grow and change in the cooling cup. It's such a sweet coffee, with a juicy body and an acidity that's very balanced. It finishes nicely with Assam tea notes and essence of lemon. This Gesha's overall profile is articulated beautifully, with a marked distinction between its varied characteristics. It's a coffee that takes on a long list of adjectives and still keeps them coming. Prime roast level is around City+, but this coffee will retain the "Gesha" profile at slightly darker levels too.
Francisco Mendez is a coffee farmer in the Chichimes region of northern Guatemala. He is part of our program we call Proyecto Xinabajul (pronounced She-nah-bah-hool), named for the ancient Mayan name for the Huehuetenango region. In this project, we have cupped many hundreds of samples to identify small producers who are producing quality coffee in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountains. I wrote a in-depth and detailed description of the project as well. The Mendez family is an extended group in this area and across the valley, each with their own coffee plots, and we noticed in blind cupping that many of their lots stood out significantly.
This microlot from Francisco Mendez is mildly spiced, with a deep confectionery sweetness, and chocolatey finish. The dry grounds are laced with the smell of Bing cherry, honey wheat, and cinnamon sticks. Butterscotch candy and a scent of praline emanates from the steam, and a burst of malted chocolate is released on the break. Darker roasts are layered with chocolate roast tones and are also very sweet. The cup is like apple juice, with a silky mouthfeel and body. Lighter roasts have flavors of demerara sugar and black cherry, along with a note of all-spice. Full City roasts have the bittering quality found in Hershey's syrup, and with the flavor of stewed fruits like pear and peach. The finish is sweet and clean, and lingers in the best of ways. Francisco mendez is a versatile coffee that does well at light and dark roast levels, and will make a great drip coffee as well as SO espresso.
Finca Retana is a very traditional farm in central Antigua situated at 1550 meters on the valley floor. This lot is from a small portion of the farm where they grow Yellow Bourbon. Bourbon coffees are named after an island in the Indian Ocean where French colonists originally grew it, now called Reunion. Bourbon coffees tend to ripen earlier than other cultivars, and have a very balanced flavor profile with moderate acidity when cupped with other types planted in the same plot. They seem to have good bean density, and the plant is not stressed to overproduce fruit, unlike some of the modern Catimor hybrids as well as other types. Bourbon trees can remain productive for many years with good care.
This lot of Retana Yellow Bourbon has such sweetness, and with a cleanly fruited profile that lingers pleasantly long after the final sip. The grounds are perfumed with dried stone fruits, apple, and toasted nut. There's also raw honey comb - that waxy/floral smell that brings about a retronasal response. The crust has floral sugar and fresh baked fruit pie, with concord grape and all-spice coming through on the break. Retana makes such a nice cup of coffee. The sweetness grows as the cup cools, and will be a great dessert coffee or daily drinker. There's equal parts caramel and cocoa, that make for a delicious flavor combination. Fruits like fresh peach, plum, and apricot make appearances in the cooling cup. There's also a note of saturated black tea that brings a nice tannic quality to the acidity. This coffee is very versatile and will do best in the City+ to Full City roast realm, really giving the starch content to develop into sugars. The more developed roasts will make an interesting SO espresso.
Hacienda Carmona is located in Antigua at 5200-6100 feet altitude. They call the single-farm coffee from Carmona "Cafe Pulcal" which is the name of their mill as well. The farm dates to early colonial times, but coffee was planted in the 1800s when the farm was acquired by the Zelaya family, and first exported in 1918. Carmona is run by Maria Zelaya Aguirre since 1959, and she is the third generation that works and lives at Hacienda Carmona. While Maria certainly cares for her coffee, she is also so fond of her herd of cattle that she has named each one after a name of her friends (human friends, that is), so she is indeed quite a character. Luis Pedro Zelaya helps to manage the coffee at this point, and in fact we tried to visit after I finished my duties at the Cup of Excellence this year, but the explosion of Volcan Pacaya followed by torrential rains meant all routes to the farm were impassible. Carmona is said to have a unique micro-climate in the Antigua valley as well as hillside exposure and well-draining soils. To form this lot, we cupped too many small "day lots" to count, selecting those that had the best sweetness and brightness. Day lots are small harvest batches from particular areas of the farm. We opted for middle-of-the-harvest day lots since even and abundant ripeness means better cherry selection, and these are also from the higher reaches of the farm.
Pulcal is a supremely balanced coffee with equal parts sweetness, body and acidity. Dried dark fruits like prune and raisin protrude from the fragrance along with cacao, and a savory note lingering in the background. The crust is like one of my favorite breakfasts - oatmeal with pecans, dried currants and drizzled with honey. More walnut appears in the break with a bittering note of baker's chocolate. At first sip Pulcal is a silky coffee. It's elegant in terms of the acidity and the way it plays off of the mouth feel. A mandarin note is first apparent - effervescent and crisp - followed by red currant. As the cup cools a distinct baker's chocolate flavor lingers in the finish before a ripe blackberry note appears. This is a versatile coffee that makes a crowd pleasing cup and also makes great SO espresso at more developed roast levels.
We had the pleasure of paying Profesor Gabino a visit this year, touring his farm, and getting a good look at end of harvest processing. Gabino's farm is tucked away high up in the mountains of Michicoy, just outside the city of Huehuetenango. Access to this area is along a steep ridge that peaks around 2000 masl. The view is spectacular, to say the least, and the ride feels slightly "daring" at times, with cliffs dropping off along both sides of your vehicle. Gabino's farm is somewhere around 1600 masl and is bordered by the farms of his family. They all process there coffee onsite, fermenting and washing in the same tiled tank. The coffee is then spread out on a large patio and raked through to facilitate even drying. He is part of our program we call Proyecto Xinabajul (pronounced She-nah-bah-hool), named for the ancient Mayan name for the Huehuetenango region. In this project, we have cupped many hundreds of samples to identify small producers who are producing quality coffee in the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes mountains. We wrote an in-depth and detailed description of the project as well.
The dry grounds of El Profesor are perfumed with fruited notes of spiced plum, Thompson raisin and pear, and are loaded with the sweet smell of raw honey. There's also a sort of citrus quality in the aromatics that along with a hint of graham cracker, reminds me of lemon squares. The wet coffee is very sweet and has a smell of fresh baked oatmeal cookies; with raisin, brown sugar, cinnamon, and raw walnut coming up off the steam from the crust. There's a saturated sweetness to be found when breaking the crust, with notes of stone fruit pie filling and a lactic quality that is like steamed, sweetened milk. At City+ roast level, this lot of El Profesor makes for a really nice, bright cup of coffee. Aromatic citrus seems to hang in the air as the flavors make their way from palate past the inside of the nasal passage. This has quite an effect, and effortlessly balances out the intense sweetness of ripe fruits and red honey. As the cup cools down a bit, there's a syrupy note of cooked peach and apricot that is offset by malic flavors of red apple and Bartlett pear. El Profesor is a complete coffee, with amazing syrupy mouthfeel. The finish is sweet and smooth with pleasing notes of cocoa powder and stone fruit skin hanging on til the end. This coffee brews so well and makes a beautiful SO espresso at darker roast levels.
Guacatepeque is an ancient local name for the area this coffee comes from, a group of small coffee producers in the Alotenango area. The farms are on the rising slopes of the Volcan de Fuego, which has been moderately active in the past few months. The soil in the area is unique, and contains quite a lot of sand and ash from Fuego. Producers must take care to balance this with organic materials to keep the coffee trees in production. Some of the small farms I visited in the area were very casually tended, with large, long-branched old Bourbon trees, unkempt and in need of a good pruning. Other producers were clearly more active, and had been re-planting the trees on a regular cycle to achieve better production and quality. The area these small farmers work in is adjacent to the large La Candelaria farm, in fact they are just upslope from it on the same side of the Fuego volcano. Much of the area is forest preserve, which protects the water supply, as well as providing the much needed organic soil inputs. We find the cup to be uniquely different than other coffees in the zone. We built this lot of Guacatepeque by cupping each day lot batch, looking for a target flavor profile.
This is a classic crowd-pleaser coffee. The dry fragrance has hazelnut, caramel, and some slight herbal sweetness. The wet aromatics have toffee brittle, butter and caramel. The cup has good caramelized-sugar sweetness, especially in the light roast where orange notes and hazelnut roast taste are so complimentary. There is a dark honey taste in the finish, and a hint of cinnamon stick. More developed roasts reveal dark toffee with almonds, milk chocolate and raisin fruit notes. It's not an overly complex coffee, but delicious all the same. And as a new 2013 crop coffee, it blows the top off all the past crop offerings out there. It's lively, clean and fresh. And it makes a great SO espresso as well.