Journey to...Guatemala

Journey to...Guatemala

Guatemala is the largest country in Central America and a gorgeous place with a long and turbulent history. Here's some reasons why it's so special....


> It has been inhabited for 20,000 years! Long before the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Guatemala, the land was ruled by various Mayan kingdoms.

> It is home to the deepest lake in Central America, Lake Atitlan. This volcano-ringed lake is a jewel in the crown of Guatemala’s tourism industry, but it is also interesting below the surface at 340 meters deep.

> Guatemala is famous for its volcanos...there are more than 30, and three of them are active!

War & unrest, whew. The Guatemalan Civil War was the longest in Latin American history. Civil war raged in Guatemala from 1960 to 1996, and its effects are still felt throughout the country today. It is estimated that 200,000 people were killed during the 36-year conflict. And it all began when the CIA overthrew a socialist government in 1954. Yeah, what?! (More on that below in the history section.)

> Guatemala’s national bird is the quetzal, a beautiful long-tailed bird that lives largely in humid forests. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to see them in the wild, but you can see them every day on Guatemalan bank notes, as the currency is also named after the bird.

> LEARN MORE about the beautiful country of Guatemala and see maps at World Atlas

> For a delicious recipe of the traditional Pepian, keep scrolling! 

(All Guatemala photos by Michael Rice)



THE BEGINNING. In the 1700s, Jesuits brought the first coffee plants to Guatemala as a decoration for their monasteries in the city of Antigua, but it wasn't cultivated til later. In the early 1800s, Guatemala’s indigo plantations were devastated by locusts and then fifty years later, the invention of chemical dyes in Europe made indigo production in Guatemala unprofitable. So the government began to provide economic incentives to encourage the production of coffee commercially.

In 1860, coffee exports nearly tripled, and in 1868 the government instated a program that distributed more than one million seedlings to rural farmers. In the 1870s, president Justo Rufino Barrios enacted a number of policies aimed at making coffee the primary good of the Guatemalan economy, and in 1880, coffee sales made up ninety percent of Guatemala’s exports. Unfortunately, not all Guatemalans benefited from this economic shift, as many indigenous peoples saw their land expropriated to become part of large plantations. 

And then the story of coffee joins the story of civil war, genocide and refugee crisis in Guatemala over three decades, which the US funded. An estimated 200,000 people died, and another 200,000 narrowly escaped death. 


CIVIL WAR & UNREST. It all started in 1951, when Jacobo Arbenz Guzman came to power in Guatemala, and was the nation’s first democratically elected leader, who enacted a land reform and more. But during these years, the US was occupied with the Soviet Union in the looming Cold War, and Communism was the great terror to avoid – at all cost. For fear that Guatemala was becoming inviting to Communism, the US intervened, arming hundreds of men in Guatemala and surrounding regions to oppose Guzman. 


The Arbenz government was overthrown by a CIA-organized coup in 1954. The land reform was reversed, the unions and popular organizations disbanded, and thousands of people were murdered, including organizers and members of agricultural cooperatives. The terror unleashed by the US overthrow of Arbenz continued through a succession of governments, leading to the outbreak of civil war in 1962, which lasted through 1996 when Peace Accords were finally negotiated.


According to Guatemala’s La Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico (i.e. Commission for Historical Clarification), over 400 massacres of the Mayan people took place in the 1980’s alone, resulting in over 100,000 reported local deaths – women, children and men alike. 95% of these murders, the CEH attributes to the Guatemalan army – the same army created by the US government twenty years earlier.

In 1983, the Reagan Administration denied evidence that genocide was indeed occurring, calling the films “dramatized” and “unlikely related to the Guatemalan military” (i.e. the guerilla army that they funded and put into power). Yet, Bill Clinton overturned these words in 1999 confessing the US’s sad, causal place in this tragedy. Summing it up, reporter Jonathan Holmes strikes an insightful balance: “[the USA] created a monster, which later, they were powerless to control.


THE COFFEE INDUSTRY TODAY. "But the years since the civil war, things haven't been easy, either. The accomplishment of the peace agreements was that they brought an end to the longest war in the Americas. However, the causes of the conflict -- poverty, hunger, unequal land distribution, and racism faced by the indigenous population -- continue today and continue to define Guatemala’s coffee economy." Check out this insightful article on coffee history in Guatemala. 

Current challenges to the coffee industry in recent years in Guatemala include the low global coffee price and the warmer temperatures that encourage coffee rust, which has decimated 20% of the region's coffee production. Read more here. We are proud to partner with Caravela coffee who is doing incredible work in Guatemala (and other Latin American countries) to rebuild, stabilize, and grow the coffee industry despite all these challenges. 

Wait what, Michael has been to coffee farms in Guatemala?!

January 2020. Right before the world shut down with Covid. Michael and our former roaster got to go with one of our coffee importers, Caravela Coffee, to visit farms in Guatemala! (Michael and Ben, our roaster, got to go visit Mexico with Caravela in 2022. Read more about their trip here!) He was really impacted by seeing coffee farms & meeting farmers firsthand, and his passion for the craft & industry was rekindled. All the photos in this email are from Michael's trip!

We love working with Caravela Coffee....Read all about their current work in Guatemala here.


PEPIAN (Guatemalan spicy meat stew)

Pepian is Guatemala’s cultural cornerstone, and the country’s passion for the dish is so intense that the government declared Pepian a national heritage in 2007! The Maya-Kaqchikel ethnic group originally made Pepian, and it is one of the oldest dishes still cooked in Guatemala.


  • 4lbs (1.8kgs) of beef or five big chicken breasts

  • Two onions or quartered onion

  • Cinnamon stick

  • 3 cloves of garlic

  • 6 black peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds

  • 1 tablespoon of allspice berries

  • 1 tablespoon of chili flakes

  • 1 tablespoon of Pepitoria (pumpkin seeds)

  • Dried oregano

  • 1 tablespoon of oil

  • 8 tomatoes or 500g of plum tomatoes

  • 1 tablespoon of coriander seeds

  • 2 peeled large potatoes cut into small pieces

  • 1 tablespoon of cornflour

  • Coriander leaves

  • Chicken stock

For the full recipe click here

(Recipe & photo from Antigueña Spanish Academy)

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