Fraser reports from COE Guatemala

NZ Roaster Guild committee member Fraser Lovell was selected to be part of the Cup of Excellence international jury in Guatemala this year, we invited him to reort back on his trip. Fraser’s article first appeared on the Coffee Supreme website here>
We were based in Guatemala City for the duration of the competition, a modern and somewhat sprawling capital, with a population of around 1 million making it the largest capital in Central America. Having tried to gain selection for the international jury in Guatemala on a number of occasions I was stoked when I received my confirmation. It had been a competition that I had followed closely over the last few years, as the quality of the samples we had been receiving through the Cup of Excellence program had been right at the top of the quality scale and always appreciated on the cupping table. The competition was held at the ANACAFE (the Guatemalan National Coffee Association) headquarters- a modern, well-equipped facility with friendly and professional staff who made the whole experience easy and stress free, which allowed us to really focus in on the coffee. One of the resources provided during the competition was a digital cupping form especially developed by ANACAFE. This was a web-based platform allowing the use of ipad or other tablet devices to tabulate the scores. This made the collection of scores and data much simpler and meant that I was able to focus on the task at hand and not have to worry about mistakes or unreadable notes. With the adjustment to the cut-off score from 84 to 85 points this year, the quality was even higher than previous years. This also made for a pleasant pace of proceedings, meaning the days weren’t completely full of cupping so there was time in the afternoon to head out and see some of the surrounding areas, such as Antigua- an old town with cobblestone streets and pastel colored buildings that was once the capital city. Now it is a tourist hub surrounded by volcanoes, including the most active, Fuego, which even erupted a little bit while we were there. We also had the opportunity to visit Lake Atitlan- a picturesque lake surrounded by coffee plantations and yet more volcanoes.
Guatemala undoubtedly occupies one the top spots in Central American coffee production, particularly regarding its quality focus. Attention to quality seems to be the guiding principal of ANACAFE. Over the last decade this focus has seen a shift in the types of coffees being produced- moving from what are labeled as prime and extra prime coffees (coffee grown at lower elevations between 762 to 1066 masl) to higher elevations known as SHB (strictly hard bean, grown above 1370 masl). There are a number of influences that these higher elevations have over the quality of the coffee. One of the most noticeable is acidity and when in balance this can greatly improve the perception of sweetness in coffee. El Injerto are another outfit who are doing great things for Guatemala. On some time off we managed to sneak down to one of their El Injerto Cafes where they are reserving some of their export quality coffees for local consumption.
Guatemala has 8 recognized verdant growing regions spread throughout the mountain ranges that crisscross the country. From highland Huehuetenango in the north to New Oriente in the south, all offer distinct regional flavour profiles. Guatemala has an area totaling 270,000 ha planted in coffee, encompassing some 90,000 producers. Of this 270,000 ha 98% is shade-grown coffee. This provides numerous benefits to coffee quality and soil health. One of the key shade trees is a native tree, the Inga, which has the unique ability to fix nitrogen into the soil on nodules in the root base, providing additional nitrogen to the soil. Along with a rich biodiversity the shade canopy offers, the coffee-producing regions’ numerous volcanoes have deposited a mineral rich soil base providing the ideal conditions for coffee cultivation. If you add into this picture the abundant water resources of Guatemala you have the quintessential elements of quality coffee production. With over 85% of coffee farms in Guatemala lying inside the primary water recharge area, wet processing is the most widely used method for coffee processing, and results in cleaner and more uniform beans, further enhancing the overall quality.
While being hosted by ANACAFE I was priviledged with the opportunity to sit down and let Raul Rodas (Current World Barista Champ) run through his winning routine, just before he flew off to Vienna to win the 2012 WBC.
As always I met some skilled and passionate coffee professionals- some new to the business and other representing the fifth generation of coffee farming in their family. It is always encouraging to meet young farmers keen to take on the enormous challenges involved in coffee farming, doing so because they not only care about continuing proud traditions but are looking to the future and experimenting with new ways of farming and doing business.
I suspect we will see some strong prices generated from the auction in July and we wait in anticipation of the samples arriving and being able to share an insight into the coffees of Guatemala.