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

Last updated on August 23, 2023

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

How to Choose a Coffee Tour Company

De La Gente is the best choice of a coffee tour near Antigua if you want to support sustainable and responsible tourism in Guatemala.

In the years since my first trip to Antigua, Guatemala, the coffee tour business has grown immeasurably larger. There are not many great options—I recommend booking your coffee tour with De La Gente.

This fantastic social enterprise operates as a nonprofit and is deeply embedded with local communities. It’s the only coffee tour in Antigua confronting issues and injustices within the coffee supply chain by incorporating more cooperatives on a large scale, and accompanying and assisting them in becoming sustainable and thriving coffee producers.

That said, I did my coffee journey at the Finca Filadelfia Coffee Plantation located outskirts of Antigua, Guatemala—De La Gente didn’t yet exist. But this is what you can expect from a tour of a working coffee farm. Let’s review the entire process of making this aromatic drink beloved by cultures all over the world.

A Brief History of Coffee in Antigua, Guatemala

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.

Coffee has a long and important history in the Antigua region of Guatemala. Coffee production in Antigua dates back to the late 18th century, when the first coffee plants were introduced to the region by the Spanish.

At the time, coffee was a highly sought-after commodity, and it quickly became a major source of wealth and economic development for Antigua and the surrounding region.

Over the years, coffee production in Antigua has undergone many changes. In the early 19th century, coffee was primarily grown on small, family-owned farms. However, as the demand for coffee grew, larger plantations began to emerge, and many of these were owned by wealthy landowners.

Coffee production in Antigua reached its peak in the mid-19th century, when the region was producing some of the highest-quality coffee in the world.

Today, coffee is still an important crop in the Antigua region, and it is known for its high-quality beans and unique flavor profiles. Many local coffee farmers follow traditional methods of production, using organic fertilizers and natural pest control methods to produce coffee that is both sustainable and delicious.

The coffee industry in Antigua is also an important source of employment and economic development for the region, with many small coffee farmers relying on coffee production (and coffee tours for travelers) as their primary source of income.

Overall, the history of coffee in Antigua reflects the region’s long and rich cultural heritage, and it continues to play a central role in the region’s economy and society.

Don’t forget to book travel insurance for your trip—a great policy provides coverage in case of medical emergencies, lost or stolen gear, adventure sports riders, and more. I’ve used IMG Global for more than a decade highly recommend it!

Discoveries on a Coffee Farm Tour Near Antigua

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.

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.

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.

2. Wait, Is that Coffee or a Cherry?

beautiful red coffee cherries at Finca Filadelfia near Antigua
These beautiful red coffee cherries are 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.

3. Separate the Coffee Beans, Sort, Dry, and Sort Again

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.

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.

breathing deep of the coffee beans in Antigua Guatemala
Warm, partially dried beans smell a bit like sweet white chocolate.

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.

4. But Wait: A Final Hand-Sort of the Coffee Beans

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

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.

5. Sampling a Slice of Heaven: Fresh Roasted and Brewed Coffee

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.

How to Plan an Antigua, Guatemala Coffee Tour

Booking a Coffee 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.

Here’s how to book a De La Gente Coffee Tour.

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 want a treat, book the Finca Filadelfia Resort & Spa for so much more than coffee tour—the grounds are gorgeous.

Getting to Your Finca Filadelfia Coffee Tour

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 Near Antigua

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 or a hike through the jungles of Tikal. 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.

Essential Travel Planning Resources

Yes, you need travel insurance.
IMG Global is the travel insurance I’ve used for well over a decade of traveling solo, and with kids. Here’s why.

🧳 Smart packing can save your trip.
Shop my favorite travel gear, including all of the packing essentials for world travel, gear to keep you safe on the road, my favorite travel books, and more.

🛏️ Find great accommodation.
Booking.com is essentially the only hotel booking site that I use. It has a wide and affordable selection of traditional hotels, but also hostels and vacation rentals, too. Use these pro tips to find the best travel accommodation.

📍Navigate more effectively.
Rome2Rio is super handy to assess the full range of transport options between two cities—shows everything from flights to trains, buses, minibuses, and more. If you’re booking a rental car, I’ve always found the best deals on RentalCars.com.

✈️ Book affordable flights.
Expedia is one of the first places I look for low-cost flights.

Peruse all of my tips for round the world travel, or learn how to move and live abroad.

Guatemala Travel Guide

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

3 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.


Leave a Comment