Tradition, Diversity & Measured Innovation Elevate Guatemala Coffees

Women taking a break while working in a coffee nursery on a Guatemalan farm. Courtesy of Kenneth Davids. 

While some people in the specialty coffee industry still refer to the “classic Central America cup,” effectively lumping together the diverse coffee-producing countries of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica, it is more the trend now to make increasingly fine distinctions among these origins in terms of varieties, processing, and cup profiles specific to each. Single-origin coffees are the primary driver of sales in the specialty market, and this month, we look at the coffees of Guatemala, something we haven’t done in report format since 2013.

When Coffee Review editor Kenneth Davids surveyed the landscape of Guatemala coffees more than 20 years ago, the themes that emerged were growing region, roast level, and the efforts of Anacafe, the Guatemalan Coffee Association founded in 1960, to frame the country as … Read more

Darker-Roasted Espresso Blends: Variations On A Classic Theme

A closeup view of a barista pulling an espresso shot.

Each year, the Coffee Review team publishes an espresso report, for which we invite roasters to submit coffees on a specific theme. In typical years, we partner with an independent lab or roaster here in the San Francisco Bay Area and taste the espressos with at least one outside cupper and a barista or two dialing in and pulling shot after shot. But this year is certainly not typical. The COVID-19 pandemic forced us to skip last year’s espresso report altogether, and while we’re slowly getting back to in-person tasting in our own lab (after more than a year of remote work), we aren’t quite ready to collaborate more broadly. So, my colleague Jason Sarley and I pulled up our bootstraps and methodically evaluated in our own lab the 58 submissions we received — 29 from U.S. roasters and 29 … Read more

Cold Black Coffee: Simplicity Rules the Post-Pandemic RTD Landscape

SImple, unadorned, black cold-brewed coffee is a summer ready-to-drink favorite.

While so much in the world of coffee gets “curiouser and curiouser” each year, to echo the protagonist of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland — from increasingly complex, mysteriously named green coffee processing methods to new hybrid varieties of Arabica born of necessity to respond to climate change — specialty coffee is a living entity, its success defined by an ability to adapt, both to consumer desires and geo-political realities. So, it’s refreshing, literally and metaphorically, to find that the ready-to-drink (RTD) market of cold black coffee, unadulterated by sugar or other additives, is — well, simple — or at least aspires to simplicity. Because simplicity is clearly not the coffee norm, these days. And yet, it suits the primary aim of each and every roaster we spoke with who submitted an RTD coffee for our July report: to achieve … Read more

African Great Lakes Coffees: Quality in the Face of Adversity

Coffee drying on raised beds in Nyaruguru District, Rwanda. Courtesy of Kakalove Cafe.

By now, most readers of Coffee Review are familiar with the win-win-hypothesis of specialty coffee: If consumers pay more for better coffee from dedicated producers, and if some of the high prices paid by consumers make it back to those producers, they will be encouraged to generate even better coffees, which will please even more consumers, who will gratefully continue to pay higher prices, and everyone, from farmer to consumer, will benefit. This is roughly the hypothesis upon which Coffee Review was founded in 1997, and it remains central to our mission.

This report is not the place to evaluate this hypothesis or its overall success, but in regard to the impact on producers, it is important to note that accumulating statistical evidence suggests that North American specialty coffee roasters do pay significantly higher prices for the … Read more

Fun With Ferment: Anaerobically Processed Coffees

Anaerobically processed coffee cherries drying in the whole fruit at Elida Estate in Panama. Courtesy of Willoughby’s Coffee & Tea.

In early April, some rather odd-smelling packages began arriving at the Coffee Review lab. Describing the collective aromas that wafted from them is difficult. And describing those aromas continued to be difficult once we started actually tasting the coffees inside the packages. Certainly, there was lots of fruit and chocolate. And fragrant cut cedar, and sweet flowers. But along with these more familiar coffee aromas came some that we do not usually associate with coffee. Maybe soft cheeses, like the mild goat cheese one eats in salads. Or, occasionally, more pungent cheeses like feta or blue cheese. Sometimes kefir, that gentle, tangy-creamy liquid version of yogurt. Sometimes fresh earth, tobacco or mushrooms. And occasionally, notes that we may not associate with food at all. Musk, for example, the deep, pungent, … Read more