Yesterday I reviewed a coffee that was identified as an "Acatenango." This is probably an unfamiliar designation to most people.
Acatenango is a volcano in southern Guatemala, near the town of Antigua. "Antigua" is already a well-known coffee designation in the specialty coffee world, along with Huehuetenango further to the north. The coffee from Acatenango might also be called an Antigua coffee, but it really depends on how you draw those boundaries.
All this is confusing because there is no centralized body that determines coffee origin names. For instance one of the best known Ethiopian designations is "Sidamo," and another is "Yirgacheffe." Well, strictly speaking Yirgacheffe is a town within the province of Sidamo. It's all very tough to follow. But that's another topic for another day.
The Acatenango coffee got me thinking, though. It's one of my favorite coffees this year. Huehuetenango (pronounced way-way-te-nan-go) produces great coffee too. And one of the most beautiful and unique coffee regions I have visited is in the north of El Salvador along the border with Honduras in the province of Chalatenango, home to incredibly unique herbal pacamara coffees grown in red clay soil. What's up with the tenangos, you might ask?
"Tenango" is just a suffix in the Nahuatl language that means "place of" or "home of". Huehuetenango, for example, means Place of the Elders. Quetzaltenango means home of the quetzal bird (isn't he handsome?). Many times speakers will actually drop the "tenango" and just call Huehuetenango, "Huehue" or Chalatenango, "Chalate." This is not just a gringo-ism, but done by local speakers all the time.
Nahuatl is an Aztec language, or more precisely a descendent thereof. It's mostly spoken in Mexico, but you can see there are pockets of Nahuatl dialects that were spoken in Guatemala and El Salvador. Hence all the tenangos. You might say that Central America is the Tenango-tenango, home of the tenango places.
This map shows lavender where Nahuatl was spoken in the past, and white spots where it still lives on today.
We also get our words coyote, avocado, chocolate, and shack from Nahuatl, among many others. And from the places that bear the names of the Nahuatl-speakers, we get some of the best coffee in the world.