The Devil’s Brew: Coffee in Guatemala

By Mark Nunziata

If you’ve been blessed with any of the five senses, you’ve probably figured out by now that the Guatemala is bursting with The Devil’s Brew. Yes, Guatemala is a huge supplier of that most popular drug of choice: coffee. In the cities of Xela, Antigua or San Pedro you may see espresso bars or French press coffee advertised.

In the Highlands from Alta Verapaz to Huehuetenango you may see mature cafetales (coffee farms) with coffee shrubs boasting branches of ripe red cherries lining roads beside patios spread full of pale beans. In towns located among the fields, you may be overwhelmed by the rich aroma of decomposing pulp. This is naturally a coffee lovers’ dream, right? I mean, coffee is everywhere! You smell it from the streets, see it from the roads, watch pickers pick it and workers carry it and trucks transport it.

Yes, but, if one of those senses you’ve been blessed with happens to be taste, you may have found by now that most of the coffee to be had for the drinking is…well…terrible.

You see, almost every country where coffee is produced relies on the bean as an export, so all the best stuff gets shipped out, leaving instant coffee or second quality – defects, mold, fungus, late harvests – for consumption in-country. Unfortunately, this means workers and farmers who devote their lives to bringing us our fix have no idea what it tastes like! It also leaves travelers dry for months with nothing that resembles that morning cup. No fun. Trust me.

Guatemalan Traveler, you’re in luck. Unlike other places, you can find higher quality coffee to enjoy here. When seeking good brew, the first thing to ask is if they have “café de la maquina,” or brewed with a coffee maker. This will always be better than “café instantaneo,” i.e. instant coffee that’s served in many restaurants.

In San Pedro, you need not go far to find satisfying cups. Chiles, the café and salsa bar near the Pana dock serves hand-ground French press coffee. Not the best coffee, but worth it for the experience of pouring your own press pot on a deck overlooking the lake. For the best coffee in town, try Fata Morgana. At this Italian style bistro they roast their own beans after carefully sorting them and prepare their drinks with care and attention that would make any coffee farmer, or lover, smile.

In Xela, places like Baviera select and roast their own quality beans, as well.

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