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By: James Fairweather 28 August 2020
We released our latest lip smackingly tasty and quite simply bonkers offering from Honduras last month and it’s safe to say that you are loving it. So, we thought you might want to learn a little more about the country this experimental micro lot comes from as well as what makes it taste so damn delicious.
Despite being Central America’s largest coffee producer, Honduras has been largely overshadowed by it’s neighbours when it comes to its reputation of high coffee quality due to the fact that it was pretty late turning up to the specialty party. Until relatively recently almost all of Honduras’ production was aimed at the commercial market, and the country was seen primarily as a low-price commodity exporter. Throughout the 90’s other Central American country’s heads were being turned by the benefits of specialty production and were slowly becoming known for producing high quality lots. However, Honduras’ stubbornness and their apparent dedication to mass production and a lower quality product saw them fall behind whilst nearby coffee producing country’s reputations for high coffee quality began to grow.
Honduras, without a doubt, had the potential to follow suit and focus on higher quality specialty production with growing conditions that rivalled the likes of Guatemala, Costa Rica and El Salvador. In fact the terroir of their 6 growing regions is perfect for specialty cultivation with fertile soil, high altitudes and agreeable microclimates. However, lack of processing and quality control infrastructure did nothing to their reputation with quality buyers.
Enter the Honduran Government and a well-timed tax on all coffee exports in the late 90’s. This was a much needed financial boost to the coffee industry helping to fund necessary improvements in Honduras’ coffee infrastructure as well as providing financial incentives for producers. This massive cash injection alongside improved markets during the first half of the noughties saw the first positive steps towards industry improvements that would benefit coffee quality.
This positive impact was further built upon in the mid 2000’s thanks to the input of IHCAFE (Instituto Hondureno del Café), which had been established in the 1970’s to help develop and promote the country’s coffee industry. The country’s Institute of Coffee stepped up its efforts in improving quality and began to set up various initiatives that targeted different levels of the coffee supply chain. This included support for farmers with both training and access to financial help, the establishment of nurseries, greenhouses and implementation of innovative pest management solutions. IHCAFE also helped set up a national cupping school which provides comprehensive training for cuppers and gives young people the opportunity to build a career in Quality Control.
The coffee industry in Honduras was aware of ageing farming communities in other Central American countries and identified the need to keep young people in the coffee industry to ensure long-term sustainability of coffee production. This is largely down to investment and promotion provided by IHCAFE and Honduras’ eventual success in accessing specialty markets. Something that was really solidified in 2005 thanks to further initiatives launched by IHCAFE and participation in the Cup of Excellence program which did wonders for the country’s reputation as a producer of exceptional quality coffee.
After making such positive strides towards an increase in quality, a changing world called for yet another change in direction. Fast-forward to present day and IHCAFE have changed their attention to arguably the coffee industry’s biggest threat to date – Climate Change. Recently, their work has been focused on the experimentation and development of hybrid varietals that offer more resilience to pests and disease in light of global warming and the changing conditions that accompany it. This is clearly valuable work but these hybrid varieties, many of which derive from Timor (which has genes from the Robusta species) – are much higher yielding but can occasionally have less complexity in the cup. The industry has also developed a huge focus on the production of certified FTO (Fairtrade/Organic) coffees, which offer a high premium in comparison to C market rates. There is therefore little incentive to put the investment into producing specialty grade coffee, which is significantly more expensive to produce and carries more risk too.
This isn’t to say that the specialty scene in Honduras has completely taken a back seat. Lasting relationships between buyer and producer have been allowed to flourish across the country and programs have been established to help farmer’s increase their resilience to current fluctuations in both the market and changing climatic conditions. The Aruco Project is one of these very programs – launched by Falcon Coffee at the end of 2016 and established with growers in Copan to try and bring about better quality micro lots, centralise processing and give smaller producers access to specialty markets and quality price premiums.
It is thanks to Falcon and the Aruco Project that we have ended up with an absolute banger of a coffee for the third year running. This year’s lot comes to us from Señora Blanca Rosa, owner of a 6 hectare farm in the Celaque region in the West of Honduras. Coincidentally, one of the lots we purchased last year came to us from Frances, one of Blanca’s sons, who supplied us with an incredible 72hr macerated lot which you may have enjoyed! San Francisco is the name of the farm and coffee grows here totally organically and has done so since the 1970s when Blanca and her husband Arturo purchased the land. Many varieties of bananas, lemons, oranges, limes, guava and other native fruit and vegetables grow here amongst the coffee. There are also numerous beehives from which the family harvest honey for their own consumption and to sell locally to diversify their income streams away from just coffee – a sensible move given the increasing number of obstacles that are cropping up through climate change and a volatile market price.
This year’s coffee harvest was very challenging due to excessive rains during the picking season and a lack of farmworkers available to help gather in the cherry. This meant that the yields nationally have been impacted, with many cherries left to mature excessively on the tree or being knocked to the floor through the excessive rainfall.
By participating in the micro lot program, Blanca has increased the income she is able to access through her coffee crop despite the decreases she has experienced in the amount of coffee produced. Given the relatively low altitude on her farm, it was decided that her coffee would be at its best as a naturally processed lot to best accentuate the natural sweetness and body of the coffee. Blanca oversaw the harvesting of her cherries at the perfect point of ripeness and delivered them to the Aruco milling station, which is situated at 800 metres above sea level and is less impacted by regular rainfall, which can make drying the cherries challenging. Upon delivery, the team at Aruco took the sugar content of the cherries using a Brix refractometer before deciding how long to macerate the cherries for before drying. In the case of this lot, the cherries were placed into sealed barrels to macerate anaerobically for 90 hours before being dried on raised beds for 25 days where they were turned once an hour to bring about even drying. This extra stage of maceration stimulates more fermentation activity within the coffee, which has ultimately caused the resulting cup profile. Upon tasting this coffee for the first time, we almost couldn’t believe how incredible it was! The profile reminded us of some of the Geisha coffee we have been privileged to taste from Panama with just as much complexity. It is a coffee that maintains its intensity from the dry fragrance right the way to the cool with distinctive aromas of strawberry, mango, pineapple and a touch of funky overripe banana!
This is an unbelievable coffee with so much flavour to offer, perfectly highlighting the innovation that is happening in the industry right now to bring about better pricing for the producers who are working so unbelievably hard to bring us these outstanding coffees. If you haven’t tried it already, get it down ya! We can’t highlight enough how special this coffee really is.