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August 2011 - Guatemala

August 2011 Newsletter - Guatemala
J. Martinez & Company - Coffee Merchants
August Newsletter

Company Newsletter
1 August, 2011

Guatemala - Tikal

Before we discuss our featured coffee from Guatemala, please allow us a short diversion related to Guatemala, but not coffee. It is about one of the most amazing places we have been, anywhere.

In the northern part of Guatemala, in the Peten basin, there is one of the most fascinating archeological sites on earth – Tikal (there are others in this area, but Tikal is the most accessible). Construction on this ancient city appears to have started as early as 400BC and continued until 800AD. The city comprised over 6.2 square miles and may have had up to 90,000 inhabitants at its peak, though this is in dispute among archeologists. The metropolis fell into ruin during the Late Classical Mayan crisis, in the ninth century, which spelled the end of Mayan dominion over the Yucatan and a good part of Central America.

The ruins were mostly covered with jungle when Europeans were guided to them in the 19th century, though rumors among Europeans of a lost city date back to the 17th century. Careful restoration work has uncovered some spectacular buildings and provides the visitor with a sense of the city’s former grandeur. It also can provide a sense of the brutality of the culture when you look down the steep temple steps down which they threw human sacrifices, the nature of whose death we will refrain from describing in this newsletter.

One of the most astounding vistas is from the top of Temple IV, which can be climbed using rickety wooden stairs installed to assist tourists in their ascent to the top. The temple rises above the tree tops, over 200 feet into the sky, and provides a view across the vast jungle that covers the tropical Guatemalan low-lands. You can see several other temples whose crowns break through the green canopy. The sight of those tall limestone pyramids, in such a seemingly inhospitable place, makes it hard to believe that a sophisticated and thriving civilization existed there while Europe was struggling through the Dark Ages. Others love the view because it is from Temple IV that some Star Wars scenes were shot.

View from Temple IV, Tikal, GuatemalaA long walk around the city provides an idea of how large it was. The howler monkeys in the kapok trees that still cover many of the ruins provide an unforgettable soundtrack, and remind you that the city is in the middle of a tropical forest that harbors jaguars, tapirs, peccaries, and many other exotic animals. You can see macaws and toucans in the huge kapok trees which, in Mayan mythology, connect the underworld, the terrestrial world and the sky. Tikal is well worth a trip, despite its distance from the highland coffee regions further south.

Guatemala Antigua

Modern day Guatemala is home to some great coffee. It was introduced to Guatemala probably around the same time that Europeans began uncovering Tikal – in the 1850’s. Intensive coffee cultivation began a decade later in the high tablelands between Guatemala’s mountain ranges. In these areas coffee is shade grown at altitudes ranging from 2,500 feet to 5,000 feet. At lower altitudes bananas are used to shade the trees from the heat of the sun. At higher altitudes the trees are planted so the nearby mountains provide protection from the cold winter winds.

Antigua, Guatemala

Many Guatemalan coffees are quite nuanced and sophisticated. The Antigua coffee region, Guatemala’s most famous, surrounds the old colonial city of Antigua, south of Guatemala’s capital. The city was once capital of the Spanish colony of Guatemala, which incorporated part of Southern Mexico and most of Central America. It is surrounded by three striking, cone shaped, volcanos, one of which is continually smoking, which makes one think the city is surrounded by Juraissic Park. The Antigua coffees are grown at high altitudes, between 4,600 and 5,600 feet. The volcanic soils provide excellent nourishment. The best of the Antigua’s have a rich flavor and velvety mouth feel. Our coffee in particular drinks very smoothly and has a smoky, slightly sweet, aftertaste.

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