The Coffee Buyer’s Guide to Guatemala

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Notes for Green Buyers

CBG 4.01 Grading Coffee in Guatemala

The classification system for Guatemalan coffee dates back to 1928, when the Central Office of Coffee was established. This quasi-governmental organisation, the forerunner of Anacafé, was set up by representatives of the government; the Confederation of Agricultural Associations, representing coffee growers; and the Guatemalan Chamber of Commerce, representing coffee traders (Wagner 2001).

The classifications were intended to help growers negotiate appropriate prices for their coffee when they sold it into foreign markets — particularly the USA, the largest importer at the time. Coffee was divided into nine categories according to the elevation at which it was grown, ranging from ‘Fair’ (2,000–2,500 ft., or 610–762 m) through ‘Good’, ‘Prime’, and ‘Hard’ to ‘Fancy Strictly Hard’ (above 5,000 ft., or 1,524 m).

The Central Office of Coffee also designated special classifications for Maragogype varietals and for certain regions including Antigua, Verapaz (the area around Coban), Villa Canales (Fraijanes), and Barberena, an area east of Fraijanes.

Today, five grades are commonly assigned:

Higher-altitude coffees are associated with better-quality and larger beans, and some descriptions of the Guatemalan grading system (including those published by Anacafé in the past) also includes descriptions of the expected size and quality of the coffees (A M Feria-Morales 2002). However, quality and size are not a part of these classifications, and in 2013 Guatemala reported to the International Coffee Organisation that it did not maintain quality standards relating to coffee.

The vast majority (81.4%) of Guatemalan coffee exports are graded Strictly Hard Bean (SHB), with Hard Bean making up 10% and the lower grades and robusta making up less than 10% of all exports (USDA 2020). Virtually all specialty-grade coffee will therefore be graded SHB, and a proportion of SHB coffee will be sold as mass-market coffee (Fischer and Victor 2014).


Screening and Sorting

At the dry mill,