Over the past two or three years, we have seen Guatemala climb into the top positions of our personal favorite origins. In the past, throughout the coffee world, this country has been seen as a dependable source for consistently good coffees, but not really the most exciting or unique. While it has always played a foundational role in our most popular blends, it has rarely entered the spotlight. Recently, we have seen these coffees continuing to improve and work their way into being the coffees we most often take home on the weekends; even become some of our annual favorites. As we are entering our sixth year of coffee-buying, these are the stories that excite us the most.
At Spyhouse, we have worked with the CODECH cooperative in Concepción Huista since our very first year. The coffees out of CODECH have historically reflected the classic profile that the Huehuetenango region has been known for—rich chocolate with orange and berry fruit notes. Being a Fair-Trade and Organic certified group with reliably good coffee, the group was an easy fit into multiple blends.
For the past six years, ATLAS has organized a micro-lot competition to highlight individual members within CODECH’s three sub-associations. I traveled down as a judge for the first time two years ago. While there, I found a coffee that each round stood out to me as a favorite. It ended up ranking third in the combined scores, but I knew this was the coffee for Spyhouse and bartered my stake to take it exclusively. After everything was revealed, we found out that the producer's name was Juan Domingo and he lived in the small community of Canalaj.
When this coffee arrived a few months later, it was even better than I experienced in Guatemala. It became a staff favorite that year and we anxiously awaited its return last year, which showed more improvement over the previous year. It was the coffee I chose to take home to my family most often.
Planning our sourcing travel for this year, returning to Guatemala was a top priority. We had to see what was happening on the ground there that makes this coffee so good.
I returned once again with Atlas to judge the micro-lot competition, but finding a new producer was not my priority. After two days of judging sixty submissions and rescoring twenty to determine the winning ten, I was finally able to taste Juan’s coffee this year. I was anxious. We had committed to purchasing his coffee, removing him from the competition, and I was about to find out if the quality sustained for a third year.
The grounds smelled amazing, which made me uneasy—often coffees with such a strong fragrance lose everything in cup. When I finally was able to take my first sip the tension was gone. This coffee did not fall apart. As I continued to see it grow in complexity and vibrancy as it cooled, I was elated. This is the greatest expression of what I look for in coffee from here. This is the coffee I look for in general. Wild fruit tones full of complex sweetness and acidity, but balanced enough to drink day after day. I paced the room in exuberance with my hands above my head in disbelief at how a coffee I loved two years ago has grown year after year into this cup. I can’t wait to share this coffee with you in a few months when it arrives.
Juan Domingo wasn’t the only victory this year. Another coffee stood out to me round after round for its uniqueness. Each time I tasted it, I was reminded of well-crafted beach cocktails. Notes of aged rum and tequila were contrasted with complex tropical fruit tones. This was the coffee I had to claim for Spyhouse this year. I was able to meet the farmer, Baltazar Ramirez, at a party Atlas hosted for the producers in the competition.
Talking with Baltazar, I learned that this was his very first year selling on the specialty market. He has moved back from Mexico to take over his father’s farm and has spent the past three years securing organic certification in order to be able to sell to CODECH. Up until this year, he has had to sell to buyers on the local market known as “coyotes” who pay below the market value. We talked about his farm, how he ensures quality and improvements he hopes to make. Mostly we talked about the impact this competition has made on his life, jumping from submarket prices to competition premiums in his first year.
This program is important. ATLAS and CODECH have put years of hard work into developing these producers, helping to improve their products and their lives. The quality of the winning coffees six years ago would not have even met the baseline this year. In just the two years since my first visit, qualified entries nearly doubled. It is extraordinary to see these developments in such a short amount of time.
Tony Querio / Director of Coffee
Church in Northern Huehuetenango | Rooftop coffee drying in Jacaltenango
Don Alonso of CODECH | Coffee delivery to the Dinamica mill
Fat Cat Espresso in Antigua | Finca La Labor in Zona 18, Guatemala City