Every coffee region has its unique attributes and devoted fans, so any claim that one might be even slightly ahead of the rest can cause a ruckus among professionals. But I have to get this off my chest: Huehuetenango produces many of the very best coffees in Central America.
Now, this doesn’t mean all coffee from Huehue is the best, and it certainly doesn’t mean that none of it is bad (some of it is). The quality of a coffee is always primarily in the hands of the farmer before any other detail. But, in general, Huehue coffee is quite good, and most has the potential to be great.
Why? Pick a reason: the best coffee varieties, awesome elevation, ample shade, superb soil, excellent climate, careful cherry selection, meticulous processing. Or actually, pick all of the above, because they all contribute to Huehuetenango producing what are the most refined, mature coffees on the planet.
Beans from Huehuetenango (pronounced “WAY-WAY-tay-NAN-go,” but the locals just call it “Huehue”) do not scream their trademark flavors out of the cup as loudly as many celebrated coffee growing regions. They don’t burst with citrus like a bright Nyeri, Kenya bean. They don’t splash fruit juice across your palate like a clean Cauca, Colombia coffee. Nor do they envelop you with the perfumy florals like a cup of Yirgachefe, Ethiopia. And yet, what they lack in explosive characteristics, they more than compensate with consummate balance and abundant, albeit subtle, hints of these complex flavors. A great coffee from Huehue is citrusy, fruited, and floral.
Coffee from El Regalito is a great example. It’s as if an artist took the palette of these other coffee regions’ flavors and painted a breathtaking picture of its cup profile. A brushstroke of fruit notes here, a whisper of floral there, a tone of citrus here. Add some spice, some brown sugar, some chocolate, and you’ve arrived at a coffee with a delicate balance that has become its own unique taste.
El Regalito is situated in a valley between two steep mountainsides, near the border with Mexico. Owned by the Villatoro family, the farm is between the towns of La Libertad and Cuilco. Growing the esteemed Bourbon and Caturra varieties that have resulted in award-winning cups from the region, the coffee plants are shaded by indigenous trees, like Inga. Huehue is known for the warm, dry winds blowing in from Mexico, allowing the coffee plants to grow at higher elevations.
Much of Huehue is isolated, forcing coffee producers to process their own cherries rather than sell them to a central washing station. While this can lead to imperfections in the worst of cases – the process that removes the sweet fruit from the coffee bean is complex and requires a lot of attention – in the best of cases, it means freshly picked cherries under the watch of invested farmers who know what their crop needs. In the case of El Regalito, the Villatoro family disc-pulps the ripe cherries, then ferments them for up to 48 hours before the coffee is washed in channels. The coffee is then laid on patios with frequent turning to ensure even drying.
Preparing for this release, I’ve been making myself a lot of cups of El Regalito. With every brew, I discover some hitherto unknown nuance and become quite excited about the neverending depth of the coffee. Perhaps more than anything, I’m anxious to share this bean with world to learn what layers of flavor I might still be missing. To date, I’ve tasted: apple, clove, brown sugar, lemon zest, dried apricot, vanilla, and brownie. Let me know what you taste.