The last week has been spent in Guatemala. Both Kaminsky and I left last week and he is still there, probably headed up to Huehuetenango as I write this. When you detach from this online community and spend a little time chasing some good coffees, you begin to sort through a lot of things that were never really apparent before. The realities of production and the simple fact that due to language or otherwise, most exporters or mills are just beginning to have some awareness of what people like us are interested in.
For me, there are two producing origins that consistently produce top notch coffees, Kenya and Guatemala. The variation in exceptional regional coffees in Guatemala further reinforces this. I found myself being exposed to many different profiles from each region and variations within each that are quite unique. At times, you could take large representative lots and simply split them to find exceptional coffees therein.
You could literally spend weeks looking for good coffees from each region and there would be much exceptional variance within each to differentiate.
Huehuetenango - This remote mountain region produces some fantastic coffees but it also seems to produce them wildly inconsistently. Part of this may be because the region is so highly prized, many coffees are apparently bought sight unseen but another part is that invariably in this remote region, most producers are apt to process their own coffees. My impression of what Huehue coffees were supposed to be had been largely built on Vista Hermosa and El Injerto. This is possibly an unfair representation as what few chances we had to cup Huehues yielded some wild cups and only one we were excited about.
Atitlan - This region struck us as interesting on each and every cupping table we came across. A balance of delightful florals and mid tone fruits seemed to mark the coffees we came across this year. Lower acidity in general but more marked aromas came across well to our cupping group. The cleanest cups seemed to come from this region which may simply be a fact that it is largely overlooked next to the more highly prized name brands or it could have been the weather!
Fraijanes - This coffee presented us with an interesting set of descriptors. In some cases, it was like eating ripe apples, at other times slightly over ripe fruits. The variance of snappy acidity was apparent but it yielded intriguing cups that if cleaned up at the sorting phase or more attention during the washed process, it could be a very good cup worth chasing. The aromas were subtle and balanced in most cups.
Coban - I never met a Coban I liked. These coffees are a cleaner and fresher version of a Sumatran. The wild fruit and musty notes are a product of the lower elevation and the high humidity in the region.
Las Lapas/ New Oriente - These coffees were dominated by the presence of some very unique and interesting fruits that bordered on an intensity that ran the line of our tolerance for a 'fruity' or 'winey' notes dominated these cups.
Acatenango - This region is close to Antigua and was newly developed to separate it's product from that of Antigua in terms of branding. This coffee has a soft fruit profile described as peach and pear with subtle aromas. Since it's a late harvest, we only cupped a few which were not exciting.
Antigua - This bluish green bean is often considered a premium and therefore demands a higher price than many exceptional coffees. The profile is often coveted by many including the Japanese. Balanced acidity and aroma are common descriptions. I only cupped a few Antiguas and they simply were not why we went to Guatemala. These are also a late harvest coffee.
San Marcos - These volcanic coffees have a note as one of the most defined coffees I cupped came from this region and yet a multitude of wilder cups also came from this region. A high amount of rainfall in the area makes the drying phase critical and this seemed a problem with many coffees we cupped during our trip. The one great cup was part of a large lot that had been broken down to mill days to yield what I thought was a very unique coffee. Defined ripe fruits with a sweet finish but it was disappointing that the best lots seemed mixed into large untraceable lots.
What many may not realize is that there is relatively little low grown coffee in Guatemala. The soil types and quality of productions vary while the multitude of micro climates lend a huge variation in the coffees. This leaves me wondering what the future holds if we dig even deeper and persist in searching for lots of coffees with high expressions. Add to that impeccable sorting and some progressive (non jute) packing and you have the script for good coffees in the future.