December's Roaster's Choice Coffee Box subscribers will be enjoying Huehuetenango, a coffee from Guatemala.
The Morales family, with over 30 years of coffee farming experience under their belts, initially bought the Los Aguacatones farm to grow avocados in 2009. Poor soil quality and difficulty accessing fresh water meant that some coffee was planted but it was primarily to facilitate experimentation rather than being considered a viable crop. The coffees however started to present unusually high levels of quality grown at this extreme altitude and when a fire on the farm wiped out the avocado plants the family refocussed Los Aguacatones on the production of specialty coffee.
Seeds were brought over from the family’s origin farm and an advanced irrigation system utilising rain water catchments was set up to create healthy growing conditions for the coffees. Within a short time coffee quality was expedited and began to achieve recognition with coffees being awarded in the Guatemalan Cup of Excellence Competition.
Heavy rainfalls in 2021 have affected crops across the Huehuetenango region and labour shortages have meant that farms struggled to find pickers to complete the harvest. We’re lucky that we were able to obtain this lot and thrilled to be sharing it here in the UK.
Huehuetenange, commonly referred to as ‘Huehue’ (pronounced whe-whe) is situated in the highlands of north-west Guatemala bordering on Mexico. Around 65-75% of the inhabitants come from indigenous Maya groups, specifically the majority Mam people, whose connection to the land dates back to 200 AD as part of the Mayan Empire.
Like many regions of Guatemala, Huehuetenango was crippled by the Guatemalan civil war. Civilians were frequently terrorised in addition to being conscripted into both joining the war and building bases for the Guatemalan army at the equivalent of $0.32 USD a fortnight. The result was a deep depression which persists today.
Around 70% of Huehuetenango’s population are estimated to live in poverty with 22% of those defined as living in extreme poverty. Although historically precious metal mining and livestock were prominent economically, today coffee is the most significant export of the region.
Cool air from the high mountains and warm air from the Gulf of Mexico collide in Huehuetenango creating a sort of tropical highland that breaks down further into many unique pockets of microclimate use for growing coffees. Although Huehuetenango is the driest region in Guatemala, in terms of average rainfall, it is uniquely abundant with rivers and fresh water streams. This means that, unlike in other coffee growing regions where farmers deliver coffee cherries to centralised processing stations, many smallholders in Huehuetenango can access enough water to process their own lots.
Although the diversity of latitude and climate within the region can create a wide variety of flavours we often find coffees from here present prominent berry and stone fruit notes which, combined, with the unique combination of processing and varied microclimate create some of the most distinct flavour profiles anywhere in the world of coffee.