Since the specialty movement first hit the U.S. market in earnest some 20 years ago Central American producer Guatemala has been on the forefront of market development to make sure that as much of its coffee can be sold at value-added prices. With close to 80 percent of the country’s entire national production today sold at premiums, the result of Guatemala is simply unmatched. But this success story cannot be told without giving credit to two decades of tireless efforts by the country’s coffee industry as a whole.
BY MAJA WALLENGREN
It was 1989 and the Specialty Coffee Association of America (SCAA) was just starting to take shape as an actual organization with its first convention underway. Guatemala was still at civil war, and although an official peace agreement was in the initial stages of being drafted, the Guatemalan coffee industry and its 300,000 producers would waste no time to rebuild the strength of its main source of employment and the backbone of the national economy.
“In the late 1980s I was getting some Antiguas but then we went on a tour to Guatemala to learn about Guatemalan coffee. The country was still at war and bridges were being blown up, but the country was just breath-taking and the coffees were spectacular,” said expert coffee cupper George Howell, who today runs his own Terroir Coffees roaster business out of Acton, Massachusetts.
It’s easy to find fans of Guatemalan coffee. In fact, it’s hard to find anyone in coffee, from roasters to buyers, from cupper to high-end consumers, who will not happily talk of how at least one of the different Guatemalan coffees available in the market today is always on their personal top-5 or top-3 list of favorite beans. A Japanese roaster fell so in love with Guatemalan coffee that he named his small coffee shop chain in Japan the “Cafetenango” after all the main coffee cities and regions in Guatemala with this name, such as Huehuetenango, Quetzaltenango and Acatenango.
In most cases in the world of coffee such bold statements would not go un-contested for long. The case of Guatemala, however, is a different story. Few countries can actually justify such statements, but Guatemala’s case is both easily proven and justified on the mere share of coffee sold at premiums.
“Guatemala is today growing a boutique of specialty coffees. Last year 77 percent of all our coffee was sold as specialty coffee, according to the grading and premiums paid for it, and as a country we are now approaching 80 percent of all out coffee to be qualified as specialty and for which buyers are paying significant premiums in the market,” said Ricardo Villanueva, the former president of the Guatemalan National Coffee Association, or Anacafe.
The key to success goes much deeper than quality improvement and intelligent marketing development campaigns. The development of the map of Guatemalan coffee regions introduced a whole new thinking of how to promote and further develop coffee marketing that prior to Anacafe’s campaign 20 years ago had never been seen in the world of coffee.
“Guatemala has done a terrific job and it’s a model for what producers should be doing to move toward valued added coffee,” said Ted Lingle, who was the founding Executive Director of the SCAA and who has dedicated his life to work to promote the drinking of and production of top quality coffee, most recently with the Coffee Quality Institute.
Taking the top price in the Cup of Excellence a record seven times with some of the highest rated beans of all times Guatemalan producer Arturo Aguirre has built an uncontested reputation for consistency in quality. Visitors to his farm El Injerto are so overwhelmed of the detail to quality given here they don’t even know where to start when trying to describe what impress them most.
In four of the last five Guatemalan auctions Arturo took home the top prize and he holds the world record for the CoE auction of $80.20 per pound with his best lot of all years from 2008, a lot that scored 93.68 points out of a maximum in the 100-point grading system, which evaluates a coffee on everything from body, acidity, flavor and aroma to aftertaste.
“What Aguirre is doing is simply extraordinary; he never stops evolving and continues to take coffee to another level and El Injerto has … ”
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