Huehuetenango Highland Coffee Guatemala
Jesuit priests introduced coffee to Guatemala in 1773 and today the country produces some of the finest coffee in the world.
Huehuetenango, at the foot of the Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, is one of the best regions in Guatemala for coffee production. In Huehuetenango, currents of hot air sweeping up from the isthmus of Tehuatepec cross paths with cool air descending from the Cuchumatanes Mountains, allowing the cultivation of coffee at altitudes up to 1,900 meters, with the best product coming from the higher altitudes. Huehuetenango is in the northwest of Guatemala, on the border with Mexico. It is primarily a mountainous region, with altitudes ranging from 850 to 3,700 meters, though the region has an extraordinary variety of ecosystems (from subtropical forest to pine thickets).
The indigenous population, the majority of the local inhabitants, descends from various Maya tribes, including the Mam, the Akatecas, the Chuj, the Q’anjobal and the Jacaltecas, each of which has a distinct language and culture. Their historic isolation from the Guatemalan population and the international coffee prices crisis of the early 2000's have made the indigenous inhabitants of Huehuetenango among the poorest in Central America.
Coffee is practically a monoculture in Huehuetenango and the local economy depends on its export. The only means of escaping this damaging situation is through diversification: developing high-end quality coffees and introducing other products (hot peppers, anise, vegetables) in areas that are not so suitable for growing coffee.
The Presidium coffee is made from plants of Coffea arabica (of the Typica, Bourbon and Caturra varieties) cultivated in the shade of high trees. The coffee berries are hand-harvested, picked one by one and placed in a wicker basket tied round the harvester’s waist with a vine cord. The beans are extracted from the berries with a gentle fermentation that begins within four hours of harvesting and lasts 24 to 36 hours. After removal of the flesh, the beans are dried for at least three hours, during which time they are constantly turned manually with a rake.
From Guatemala to Turin’s Vallette prison
In 2005 an ambitious idea emerged to install a coffee roasting facility in Turin’s Vallette prison. The idea came about in the summer of 2004 and progressed through the efforts of Pietro Buffa, the prison director. It was a very interesting venture, not solely for the context, but because it directly involved 170 Guatemalan producers from the Presidium.
The social cooperative Pausa Café manages the project and since 2006, a group of inmates have worked daily to learn the art of traditional wood-fired roasting with assistance from recognized Italian coffee roasters. The Guatemalan producers are members of the cooperative and sell their coffee directly to roasters at a fair and profitable price.
The Presidium, set up in 2002, initially limited the production area to coffee grown above 1,500 meters. A careful mapping of the production area has shown that there are five zones particularly suited for coffee production, and some cru products have been selected. The Presidium now includes about 170 small producers who grow and process coffee in accordance with a production protocol prepared in collaboration with technical experts, which guarantees the sensory, environmental and social quality of the final product.
Improved quality of yields has been achieved by constructing around 150 individual fermentation units (the first coffee processing stage) and by organizing training courses for producers. Four tasting laboratories have been set up and eleven tasters trained, enabling producers to appreciate the value of their coffee and better understand how they can meet market demands and secure a fair price for their product.
The producers’ organizations in the last few years begun to sell directly to the international market of coffee roasters where more attention is placed on quality and sales are much more profitable due to the lack of intermediaries as used in the local market. Since 2004, Presidium coffee production has increased from 28 to about 180 tonnes. At the same time, producers have, as a result of participation at fairs and other events, have strengthened commercial relations with international buyers, with the price received for green coffee beans rising from 2.9 to 6.1 dollars (US) per kilogram.
Western Huehuetenango Highlands, Municipalities of San Pedro Necta, La Libertad, Cuilco, La Democracia and Todos Santos Cuchumatanes
Pausa Café social cooperative, Torino (Italy)
Equoqui social enterprise, Alba (Italy)
Download il ‘Cafendario’, a manual on high quality coffee production produced by small-scale coffee growers (in Spanish)
170 small scale producers joined in the ASODESI (Municipality of San Pedro Necta), ADINUT (Todos Santos), ESQUIPULAS and ADIENIL (La Libertad) cooperatives.
If you would like to know where to find roasters that sell the coffee of this Presidium as single-origin or mixed blend, consult the Slow Food Foundation for Biodiversity website.
Iliana Lucia Martinez Matias
Tel. +502 77633049
Fax +502 77633042
Francisco Rivas De Leon
Tel. +502 77226868
Fax +502 77226868
Slow Food Coordinator
Tel. +39 0172 419723
Fax +39 0172 419725