The Harvest in Honduras

| January 20, 2012

Last week, Caffe Vita travelled through Honduras in the midst of what is set to be their largest harvest on record. Our time was focused in the western departments of Copan, Ocotepeque, and Lempira, and as we met with producers, cupped coffees, visited co-ops, and spoke with farmers, we gained a greater understanding and appreciation of how excellent Honduran coffee can be.
Historically, Honduran coffees have been sold as a cheap alternative to the more established coffees of its neighbors, Guatemala and El Salvador. In fact, coffees from Honduras were sometimes smuggled into Guatemala to be sold as such, or poorly handled and stored, leading to inferior cup quality and shelf life.  The truth is that Honduras possesses all of the ingredients necessary to produce some of the finest coffees in the world — lushly forested, ecologically diverse, high-altitude terrain with rich soils and tropical climate.  Some of the more progressive exporters are now taking the necessary actions to identify the best producers and handle their coffee with care every step of the way from branch to port.
Most of the coffee in Honduras is grown on small farms, typically ranging in size from 2-15 acres, making the formation of cooperatives a necessary means to centralizing processing and providing the structure necessary to sell their coffee.  Some of these cooperatives purchase cherry from their members, while others accept both wet and dry parchment. 
We met with farmers such as Pancho Villeda of the Capucas cooperative, who is a shining example of the kind of progressive farmer that we aim to work with. In his backyard, he has built his own mini wet-mill, and he dries his coffee in a solar drier that he constructed as well.
In Mercedes, Ocotepeque, cooperative director Rosalio Ventura accepts only ripe cherry and processes the coffee entirely on the premises, which we believe will result in a very consistent and clean coffee. The harvest was just beginning during our visit, as the elevation was quite high (1400+ meters).
This trip also presented a fantastic opportunity to learn about how coffee lands can be suitable for migratory birds, as we were accompanied by Robert Rice, geographer from the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.  We found the criteria necessary for their certification to be both excellent for habitat, and for quality as well.  In addition to organic practices, the farm must have diverse and varied native species for shade.  This kind of environment ensures a wealth of soil nutrition and the presence of helpful critters such as insects and birds.
Many of the coffees we cupped were impressive in their sweetness and tropical fruit flavors: mango, caramel, and lemongrass.  We are very excited to be working towards a shipment of beautiful coffees for late spring.  In the meantime you can check out some more photos from our trip here. 
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