The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Guatemala

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Growing, Harvesting, and Processing

CBG 3.03 Traditional Processing

Guatemala has a long history of producing high-quality, fully washed coffees, dating back to the earliest days of coffee-growing in the country. In the early 1900s, commercial coffee was broadly divided into either of two categories: ‘Brazils’ and ‘milds’ (Ukers 1922). The term ‘mild’ denoted higher-quality, wet-processed coffee from any other country other than Brazil which was free of Rio or other harsh defects that were found in dry-processed Brazilian coffees of the time.

Before the outbreak of World War I, because coffee production was dominated by German-born landowners, Guatemala exported most of its coffee to Germany. The German market had exceptionally high standards for coffee quality at the time, and special attention was paid to the appearance of beans, which meant that the market would accept only wet-processed coffee (Fischer and Victor 2014). During the war, naval blockades put an end to most trade with Germany, and the United States rapidly became the biggest importer, but by then Guatemala’s reputation for quality wet processing had been firmly established.

Illustration: Early twentieth-century coffee pulping machines.

A 1908 article describes the washing process in Guatemala in detail:

  • ‘Immediately after picking, the cherries … are dropped into cement tanks filled with water.’ The floaters, which consist of over ripe beans or fruit that failed to produce a seed, are skimmed off, to be processed separately.
  • ‘The sound, heavy cherries which sink to the bottom … pass to the pulping machine, where the flesh is torn off by two copper lined, finely-toothed cylinders, moving in opposite directions and so adjusted that only the beans are allowed to pass.’ The pulp is composted, to be used for fertiliser.
  • After pulping, the beans are further separated by density or size and passed into fermentation tanks. ‘Here they remain for one or two days more, according to the temperature, until every particle of pulp can be washed off.’
  • Drying takes place either on cement patios,