Why did I choose Guatemala Atitlán SHB EP San Pedro La Laguna as my first featured single origin coffee?

First, let’s decipher the name a bit.

“Guatemala”, as you might assume, is the country of origin. “Atitlán” is the region, most notably home to the beautiful Lake Atitlán, Central America’s deepest lake. “SHB EP” indicates a standard of quality. “SHB” stands for Strictly Hard Bean and indicates the coffee was grown above 1350 meters above sea level. “EP” stands for European Preparation and indicates the beans were given additional hand sorting to remove any potential defects. “San Pedro La Laguna” gets even more specific with the origin, indicating a town on the southwest coast of the lake.

When I set out to choose the first coffee I would offer, I did so with an open mind. I ordered 12 samples, spanning origins across the Bean Belt, from South and Central America to Africa to Indonesia. I considered both natural and wet processed coffees (I’ll cover that in a future blog post). I hadn’t mentally set any criteria for what should be offering number one. Intuition was my guide.

I roasted and cupped the 12 samples in three groups. Each coffee’s attributes came through, and there wasn’t an obvious reject in the bunch.

But one coffee did stand out, ironically, for its lack of flare. It was simply a solid, well-balanced coffee. Heavy (but smooth) with chocolate, juxtaposed nicely with a subtle tangerine citrus.

Since my goal with One Up One Down is to introduce more people to better coffee, it became obvious that this modest coffee would be an ideal introduction to tastebuds accustomed to the mainstream; typically over-roasted and essentially lacking in overall quality from seed to cup.

This coffee should offer some coffee familiarity while providing some of the wonderful aspects of specialty coffee (clean flavors distinct to the environment in which it was grown, freshness, no bitterness or smoky flavors and a connection to all involved in bringing it to you).

Fully disclosing my thought process will reveal one secondary factor that tipped the scale toward this coffee from San Pedro La Laguna on Lake Atitlán in Guatemala: My use of “beautiful” when describing the lake in the second paragraph is first hand reporting. I’ve stood on the volcanic slopes surrounding Lake Atitlán, cruised across the water’s surface by boat taxi and wandered the streets of San Pedro.* It is truly a spectacular place and reminded me, in many ways, of Lake Tahoe, where Natalie and I had the privilege of living for three years.

I love the idea of offering a coffee from a location to which I have a personal, non-coffee, connection. It’s also cool to be able to use one of my images to represent the coffee! (Pick some up, here!)

I hope you enjoy traveling to Lake Atitlán with me, through great coffee, and a few of my images:

*My wife, Natalie, her sister Amy, our friend Amanda and I were traveling through Guatemala, guided by our great friend Christine, who was living in Guatemala serving in Peace Corps.