The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Guatemala

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Growing, Harvesting, and Processing

CBG 3.09 Recap and Glossary

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  • The Guatemalan coffee industry was once characterised by large, full-sun coffee plantations. Since the coffee price crisis of 2001, the larger farms have mostly switched to other crops, and smallholder coffee farmers now dominate the industry.
  • Smallholder farmers typically grow coffee at high altitude under shade, with minimal mechanisation or chemical inputs. As a result, they produce a high proportion of specialty-grade coffee.
  • Most coffee is hand-picked and then wet-processed with traditional methods. In wetter areas of the country where sun-drying is impossible, mechanical dryers are used.
  • The Guatemalan coffee harvest lasts from November through February. In some parts of the country, late rains can interfere with harvesting and processing, and tropical storms can damage crops, infrastructure, and houses.
  • Climate change and the industry’s interest in alternative processing methods have led some farmers to experiment with innovative techniques such as controlled fermentation.
  • Despite Guatemala’s reputation for quality coffee, the country’s producers are among some of the poorest in the world.
  • Without mechanisation, coffee production is labour intensive. Picking relies on seasonal migrant workers, who often travel with their entire family across Guatemala and into Mexico.
  • Migrant workers usually earn less than the minimum wage, and it’s common for extended families, including children, to work together to increase the family’s earnings.
  • The spread of diseases such as leaf rust and the effects of climate change emperil Guatemalan coffee farmers. The current low coffee prices mean that many farms operate at a financial loss and cannot invest in agricultural practices, varieties, or agrochemicals that would defend them against these environmental threats.



Eco-pulper A machine for pulping coffee, designed to reduce or eliminate the water used during pulping.

El Niño A periodic change in the climate in the tropical eastern Pacific Ocean that causes global changes in temperature and rainfall. An El Niño event can last anywhere from nine months to several years, causing worldwide disruptions to weather, ecosystems, and agriculture.

Extension service A governmental organisation that provides farmers with information, education, and support to help them make their farms more productive and sustainable.

Manzana A unit of area that varies by country. In most of Central America, the manzana is equivalent to approximately 7,000 m2, or 1.7 acres.

Quintal A unit of weight that comprises 100 of some smaller unit. Depending on the country, it may be equivalent to 100 kilograms, 112 pounds, or 100 pounds. In most South and Central American countries, a quintal refers to 100 libras (an old Spanish unit of measure),  equivalent to 46 kg or 101.4 lb.

Relationship coffee A marketing term for coffee traded with some sort of direct connection between the buyer and the seller. Relationship coffee is a broad term which implies the coffee is bought through an exporter and importer, rather than directly traded. The relationship may involve an ongoing commitment or contract, or it can be based on a personal connection formed during a farm visit.

Technified A term that refers to farms that grow coffee in full sun. High-yielding varieties  adapted to growing in the sun are cultivated at high density, with intensive agrochemical inputs.