March 2015

On arrival in Honduras we were transported to our accommodation in San Pedro Sula. What a diverse group we had, 13 people from eight different countries, all coming from different sides of the coffee business.  We learnt more on this trip that we have learnt in 10 years in business.

Our first destination was Lake Yojoa, set in the wonderful mountains of Western Honduras, the largest lake in Honduras, and the home of IHCAFE’s training school. IHCAFE, the coffee authorities, hosted much of our visit and arranged for Michelle Anariba to oversee any problems. Their technology agronomy department deals with disease prevention through genetic study & tissue culture.  It has developed and supports programs implemented to successfully control the coffee rust and the coffee borer.

Our guide for the next number of days was Arnold Paz whose great knowledge, as a coffee farmer and cup taster proved invaluable to us. Honduras is the largest Central American exporter, achieving 5 million sacks per year from 120,000 producing families. Coffee directly and indirectly provides jobs to about one million people of the total population of 8.5 million.

There are 6 growing regions – Copan, Montecillos, Agalta, Comayagua, El Paraiso and Opalaca. Our trip took us to the Honduras Western Coffee (HWC) area Montecillos & Copan regions. The promotion of quality through education will be the driving force for the Honduras coffee industry. As so many young people leave the industry, they must be encouraged learn how to prosper through better management.

In the cupping room we learned from Arnold the importance of drying the parchment to a level which will produce the best oil content without water pockets which hinder flavour development in the roasted bean. Here we had our first of many cupping sessions to appreciate the variety of flavours from the different regions.

Our first farm visit brought us to El Cedral farm at 1550m. A family farm run by Pedro Moreno, growing the Pacas variety of tree. The parchment is dried on screens for 18 days to reach a level of 12% moisture. The facts about production are quite interesting, 100lb cherry produces 21lb parchment which equals 18lb of green bean. These figures help us to understand the quantities needed to maintain our coffee demand. With approximately 20% loss in roasting and some moisture loss in transport it needs 100 lb cherry to produce approximately 15lb (6.5kg) of roasted coffee. El Cedral has produced several winners of the Cup of Excellence Competition.

Our next farm visit was to be Finca EL Sauce run by the Madrid family in the Montecillos mountains on the edge of the Santa Barbara National park. They grow various tree varieties, Paca, Catuaii and Pacamara at 1570m.

The following day we embarked on the long journey to Santa Rosa de Copan. The almost 6-hour drive through wonderful mountainous countryside took us to the dry mill of Inaginsa.  Here we learned from Walter Dunaway about moisture controls, bean quality and how a large mill operates. They export 400 containers (average 275 bags) per year.

Meeting Peter Rodriguez the President of The Speciality Coffee Association of Honduras, at the Santa Rosa dry mills, reinforces the focus on education to raising the standards for Honduran coffee. Their policies insist on providing a healthy, sustainable way of life for the coffee community, education being a key factor. Their logo is used on all their products to identify them with the philosophy.

Café Capucas (Cocafcal) is an institution in the Copan region, for research and development in the coffee industry. Here they were looking into all aspects of farming to help and expand the economy for the farmers. For example, growing Lemongrass will stop erosion and makes a good fertilizer, encourage your own bee hives with a non-stinging variety (meliponas) to aid fertilization, sell dried fruits, tomato, banana and many others that grow well here. Omar Rodriguez was our guide, and over the two days here we were enlightened to many schemes, picked coffee, pulping on a small machine, saw the development of fertilizers and pest controls at Cocafcal and visited a clinic provided by Fairtrade subsidy.  For all of us this was a big two-day learning curve.

A popular way of enhancing the economy of a coffee farm is to attract tourists, educating the public in the growing and processing of the coffee. Raul Welchez at Finca Santa Isabel has done just this. Taken to the top of the mountain we walked down the forest trail seeing coffee growing and a great variety of natural flora and fauna.

On returning to San Pedro Sula we visited IHCAFE’s Quality Control Centre. Here samples are kept of all exported coffees. They test the beans and have accredited Q Graders to taste them. Orietta Pinto gave us a guided tour, and enhanced our knowledge of Honduran coffee still further.

The result of this very well organised trip showed to us how much care is being taken to upgrade the quality of the coffee. At all stages the focus is on improvement of the process with careful testing and analysis of the bean. The opinion of the group was that Honduras coffee is proving itself to be one of the top coffees in Central America.