A Little Aroma… Learning the Art of Coffee in Antigua, Guatemala

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coffee beans on the Finca Filadelfia tour dry in the sun at a farm outside Antigua, Guatemala.

A fantasy series that I read and loved use a phrase that drove the heroine throughout the novels: all knowledge is worth having. The idea resonated deeply since closely echoes my own approach to life. I love to learn. Learning was a driving force for taking my round the world trip, and I love sharing cool little facts and tidbits that I’ve learned over the years (it’s a key characteristics most people either love or hate about me!).

That’s what brought me on a coffee tour outside of Antigua, Guatemala at the Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation.

It’s funny how I found out about the tour: I overhead another traveler complaining about an overly-detailed coffee tour they had just returned from—a tour that journeyed from the field to the tasting room, and explained everything in between about how coffee is grown, harvested, and roasted.

Sign me up for that!

So, join me on a coffee journey to the Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation—a working coffee farm, resort, and adventure destination located on the outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala. We’ll review the entire process of making this aromatic drink beloved by cultures all over the world.

Finca Filadelfia tour review: coffee at every stage of the process
Coffee beans at various stages of the process from seed to liquid joy.

1. It’s All About Bean Selection

splicing arabica and robusta plants for a heartier coffee tree
A spliced plant with a Robusta base and Arabica leaves.

Our tour started in lush surroundings—right among the fragrant coffee trees. Finca Filadelfia has over 130 years of tradition, having grown coffee from 1870. The grounds are vast and well maintained, and it’s a shady, beautiful walk as our guide details that any good cup of coffee starts with seed selection.

There are two main types of coffee. Arabica is the tastiest, but Robusta is hardier. Both beans also have different flavor characteristics. Although Robusta has a notably more bitter flavor, that’s spot on for taste preferences and a fair few countries actually only grow Robusta—likewise, some countries tend to produce Arabica varieties due to climate and soil.

Finca Filadelfia produces Arabica beans—but with a twist. Because Robusta trees are heartier and more resistant to diseases and bugs, the coffee plantation splices together baby plants, using the root system from Robusta seedlings and the actual Arabica plant. At this plantation, women do most of the splicing work because their fingers are smaller and better suited to the delicate task with such fragile seedlings.

Rows of coffee trees ready to be planted across the farm in the Guatemalan soil
Rows of coffee trees ready to be planted across the farm in the Guatemalan soil.

2. Cherry-Red & Ready to Pick

Coffee trees need three years to mature enough to produce coffee beans. You know a coffee bean is ready to pick with the bright red coffee cherries look plump and pretty among the leaves (note that red cherries actually come down to varieties—my Thailand coffee journey into the mountains north of Chiang Rai yielded both beautifully red and yellow fruits).

During the harvest season, more than 150 families move onto the plantation—kids and all. All beans are handpicked at the estate, and parents pick the beans while children attend makeshift schools and run through the rows of trees.

The cherry actually tastes like a sweet red pepper, which tastes completely bizarre if you anticipate anything like the end-product: a dark brown roasted coffee bean.

beautiful red coffee cherries at Finca Filadelfia near Antigua
These beautiful red coffee cherries are ready to pick!

3. Separate, Sort, Dry, and Sort Again

Huge trucks drive through the farm and to transport ripe and freshly picked coffee cherries to the processing center. It’s important this happens regularly to prevent fermentation. During this process, the cherry-like skin is removed, along a thin sticky layer covering the seed itself.

Once the coffee beans are free from gooey-outer layers, they are sorted by color—color at this stage is the first indicator of quality. Light and perfectly ripe beans are sorted for export or for sale to tourists, while dark and irregular colored beans are sold within Guatemala as a cheaper coffee brand.

Once the uniform, creamy white beans have been sorted, they are laid out and turned in mass for two weeks to dry in the fierce Guatemalan sun.

Semi-dry white beans smell a bit like white chocolate, a fact that had my stomach rumbling as I inhaled deeply into a sun-warmed handful of coffee beans.

Once dry, it’s time to sort beans by size—another key indicator of bean quality, and uniform beans are an essential part of ensuring an even roasting experience.

Machine to Take the Skin off of Coffee Beans
A giant machine process the beans and removes the skin before they’re laid out to dry in the Guatemalan sun.
coffee beans drying in the sun at Finca Filadelfia
Beans need a few weeks in the sun to fully dry, then they’re ready to continue to a final sorting before being either shipped off to stores unroasted, or to the roasting machines for local consumption.
breathing deep of the coffee beans in Antigua Guatemala
Warm, partially dried beans smell a bit like sweet white chocolate.

4. But Wait: A Final Hand-Sort

The coffee making process at Finca Filadelfia is a hands-on event and there is no leaving to chance the process of selecting the beans that will make it into the plantation’s premium roasts.

A conveyor belt apparatus slowly drives the beans through another visual sort, where a pro coffee picker digs through the beans and plucks out any beans showing slight defects that will impact the final result.

By now, the beans have been spliced together for heartiness, fertilized, plucked, and sorted with intense scrutiny. Now it’s time for the final stages of the process that will eventually end with an aromatic, steaming cup o’ joe.

A conveyor belt is the last chance for quality control before the beans are ready for roasting!

5. Sampling a Slice of Heaven

Walking into the roasting room, the rich aroma of coffee beans flooded my senses. It smelled like lazy Sunday mornings.

Various machines process beans according to desired roast—light, medium, and dark. Darker roasts have more flavor, because it’s through the roasting process that the caffeine and flavor is released into the beans through the tiny coffee seed at the center of the bean.

Once we’ve walked through the roasting process our guide delivers the good stuff: a sample cup of the estate’s premium roast.

It’s good. In fact, it’s amazing.

Maybe knowing all the work that went into my cup is why it tasted exactly like a little slice of heaven. One thing is for sure, Finca Filadelfia knows how to make a fine cup coffee.


Quick Tips: Finca Filadelfia & Antigua Coffee Tours

Booking a Tour: The full two-hour tour is bookable directly through the Finca Filadelfia Plantation—it costs $20 for non-Guatemalans. There are also add-ons like an included breakfast, or an advanced coffee tasting sessions for true coffee aficionados. You could also make a full day of it on the plantation by booking a horseback ride, paintball, birdwatching, or—and this looks so cool—a camping experience that includes a nighttime hike in the cloud forest.

Where to Stay: For budget travelers, I just loved the Yellow House Hostel, it’s by far the best hostel if you like a social atmosphere but a decent night’s sleep, too. Mid-range travelers should look no further than Hotel Casa Cristina. And if you’re feelin like a treat, book the Finca Filadelfia Resort & Spa for so much more than coffee tour—the grounds are gorgeous.

Getting There: It’s a long but doable walk from the city center if you’re on a very tight budget, or the Finca usually offers a free shuttle several times a day. Or it’s about 24 quetzales for an Uber, which will likely cost about a third of hailing a taxi there (note that every traveler should have Uber on their phone, it comes in handy when you need it!).

Other Things to Do: If you loved the coffee tour and want another supremely cool experience outside of Antigua, look no further than the  Valhalla Macadamia Farm, which serves the creamiest, most delicious pancakes around. If you’re heading out of town, don’t miss a ride down Guatemala’s Rio Dulce River. Then pick up the Guatemala Lonely Planet for transport suggestions, and use my free Guatemala Travel Guide for a full list of the country’s highlights.

Guatemala Travel Guide

My free guide lists out everything I did and loved during a three month backpacking trip all over the country.

2 thoughts on “A Little Aroma… Learning the Art of Coffee in Antigua, Guatemala”

  1. There is nothing like really fresh coffee. I hope one day to be fortunate enough to visit a coffee plantation. Nice pictures.

    • Thanks so much! I highly recommend that you visit one at the first chance you get…it's infinitely interesting for a coffee fan :-)

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