In many places in the world, coffee grows in volcanic soil. Here in the Huehuetenango region in the western highlands of Guatemala, that is not the case. Located near Cuchumatanes, the highest non-volcanic mountain range in Central America, currents of hot air sweep up from Mexico’s Tehuantepec plain, intercepting the colder air flowing down the mountain and protecting the region from frost. This phenomenon, along with natural shade from the highland jungles, provides the perfect growing environment, allowing coffee cultivation as high as 2,000 meters.
The Guatemalan coffee grading system “defines the Strictly Hard Bean (SHB) grade to include coffee beans grown at elevations higher than 4,500 feet [1350 meters] above sea level, while the Hard Bean (HB) grade includes coffee beans grown between 4,000 feet and 5,000 feet [1300-1500 meters] above sea level.”
The higher the elevation, the slower the growth and ripening, thus the denser the bean, rendering it of higher quality.