New Coffee Releases from Honduras
Maria Reyes Alex Ponce Jesus Sabillon
Honduras – The etymology of the word Honduras translates to “depths.” The country has an endless depth of history, culture, diversity, and potential. Home to direct Mayan descendants some of the most well-preserved Mayan ruins in the world, Honduras is a proud and persistent country. Honduras is also one of the most diverse places in the Western Hemisphere, boasting over 700 species of birds, over 100 species of mammals, over 6,000 species of plants, and more species being discovered regularly. The diversity, tenacity, climate, and rich volcanic soil all build the stage for coffee farmers to prosper. However, sometimes there are obstacles that aren’t so easily overcome.
Honduras has quietly become the largest coffee-producing country in Central America. While it may not have the prestige as some of its neighbors like Guatemala, Costa Rica, or El Salvador, Honduras has been exporting more coffee than any other nation in the region, coming in as the seventh largest in the world for coffee export.
Due to a heavier focus on volume, Honduras has not been known for high quality. Transport and processing infrastructure in Honduras pose some problems. Poor processing leads to inferior quality coffee, even if the coffee was grown in perfect conditions. Honduran farmers would often smuggle their crop into neighboring Guatemala, El Salvador, or Nicaragua to fetch higher prices. This led to some of the best coffee in Honduras getting sold as coffee from those other places.
Honduran producers also battle against coffee leaf rust, a fungal infection that leads to loss of leaves and prevents cherry development. It spreads quickly, and for smallholder farmers, which comprise 95% of coffee farmers in Honduras, it could mean total crop devastation. Little support to the farmers was given for a long time, leading them to take matters into their own hands.
Many farmers have banded together into small, supportive networks. Some groups have formed cooperatives that have been certified by organizations like Fair Trade. Others have simply pooled their resources together to purchase centralized mills that they own collectively and have improved their processing methods. Through the hard work and diligence of specialty-focused producers, the perception and quality of Honduran coffee have changed.
We are honored to highlight these coffee growers, furthering quality growth across different regions in Honduras.
Maria Reyes from the northern region of Santa Barbara brings us a beautiful, washed blend of two well-known Central American varieties of Arabica - Pacas and Catuai.
Region - Santa Barbara
Altitude – 1740 meters
Varietal – Pacas, Catuai
Process – Washed
A perfect pairing for a pastry, this coffee has notes of snickerdoodle cookies and caramel, balanced by sweetness akin to brown sugar and Ube. Citrus-like notes of starfruit and pineapple truly make this coffee shine.
Maria Reyes is married to a well-known specialty coffee grower around the Cup of Excellence world, Sr. Mario Moreno, who took 5th place at the 2019 Honduras Cup of Excellence. She owns a small 2.47-acre farm where she and her husband work together in full.
Maria's husband takes care of her farm’s agronomic duties: determining where trees are planted, proper tree maintenance so that they stay fruitful year-to-year, and soil maintenance so that the trees receive proper nutrients and maintain their health. Maria manages the qualitative steps of harvesting, processing, and drying the coffee. She ensures that they are picking only fully ripe cherries for the best possible cup quality. She then oversees fermenting, which takes place in ceramic tanks for up to 24 hours. Finally, she oversees the coffee’s drying, another long process that can take up to 25 days. Maria and her husband have full control over these processes, as it is all done at their farm. While these methods might be strenuous, they result in higher quality and more complex coffees.
Another coffee we are proud to offer is from Alex Ponce, who sent us a washed Catuai from his farm in the Marcala region, located in the La Paz department in Southern Honduras. Alex is originally from Santa Barbara, but he found the opportunity to buy a farm in the department of La Paz.
Region - Marcala
Altitude – 1750 meters
Varietal – Catuai
Process – Washed
Blackberry and grapefruit-like citrus notes balance perfectly with a silky smooth texture and a sweet, floral finish of dark chocolate and lavender.
Despite being just 90 miles south of Santa Barbara, La Paz coffees highlight how diverse the coffees of Honduras can be. Due to higher elevations and cooler evenings in La Paz, coffee cherries are given more time to ripen and mature resulting in sweeter characteristics and often notes of stone fruits. Alex also processes his coffee on the farm, hand-picking cherries when they are bright red and drying the processed coffee on raised, sun-exposed beds.
The result is often 20-25 bags of exportable green coffee, which is just shy of 2,000 kilograms. Compared to the nearly 440 million kilograms of coffee that is produced in Honduras per year, this is amount is just a small drop in the bucket. Yet, his focus remains on quality over quantity and is highlighted in every cup his coffee produces.
Jesus Sabillon is a 3rd generation farmer in Santa Barbara. His farm is in the middle of a typical rain forest which he takes pride in taking care of. Fully ripe, bright red cherries are handpicked during harvest which starts in January, and then pulped and fermented for over 18 hrs. After full fermentation and washing, the coffee is placed on high raised screens for drying, which lasts around 20 days.
Region - Santa Barbara
Altitude – 1300 meters
Varietal – Parainema
Process – Washed
On first sip, this coffee presents stone fruit-like notes of apricot, giving way to pastry notes of pie crust and baking spices, and finishing with a lingering taste of orange peel and lemon custard.
This coffee from Jesus is 100% Paraniema variety. This is an exceedingly rare variety. The seeds are big and shaped like a canoe. In Ethiopia, this kind of coffee would be referred to as a “long berry.” If you bring this coffee home to brew it, take a moment to look at the beans before you grind them. We love celebrating the biological diversity in coffee and hope you see this as a point of interest as well.
This variety was developed specifically by the Instituto Hondureño del Café in a successful effort to avoid coffee leaf rust and crop destruction. They tapped into the rich genetic diversity of Ethiopia and created this variety that would thrive in the wet climate of Honduras through good old-fashioned cross-pollination. The results are not only hardier plants, but a beverage that is incredible.
We stood on the patio of a farmhouse overlooking twice-picked coffee trees as the harvest season waned. The sunset slipped beyond the mountains to the west as we sipped coffee prepared on a tabletop made of a repurposed flatscreen TV. We discussed the history of coffee here, in Honduras. These were the first immersive moments of my trip to a coffee-growing region that opened my eyes to the rigors and beauty of producing coffee.
Earlier this year, members of our team and I made a trek to Honduras to meet producers, explore their farms, and select coffees that we will have the pleasure to serve you. Honduras is quietly one of the largest coffee-producing countries in the world. Recent data has Honduras as the seventh-largest coffee producer globally, exporting more coffee than neighboring countries like Guatemala and El Salvador. Honduran coffee producers in a few critical regions around the country produce immense volumes, thanks to a host of microclimates that differentiate each region from the other. The largest and most famous of these regions is Marcala, where our journey began.
Marcala, a coffee-growing region in the La Paz district, is situated high in the mountains and was warm and dry during our visit. The region receives torrents of rain in the wet season, soon to break for a long and fraught dry season. The combination of these elements makes Marcala a powerhouse of coffee production and famous around the world. Our drive up the mountain featured the first moments of awe that we may have not anticipated: coffee trees line the gravel roads, pulped seeds spread across cement patios to dry just feet from the highway, and the views of the mountains around us are ever more boundless as we climb above 5500 feet above sea level.
We arrived at the small mountain town of Cabañas, where we met Alex Ponce, whose Natural Catuai variety blew us away last year. He led us to his first of two farms where many of us were able to see coffee on the tree for the first time. Glossy leaves with ripe red cherries peaking from behind them are a remarkable sight. The smell of the pine trees - surrounding them, giving shade, and protecting them from strong monsoons - added to the sensory experience. As we walked, Sr. Ponce described his journey to working in factories in the Santa Barbara region to the north, wanting to pursue his passion for coffee production. Once he found the opportunity to purchase a farm in Marcala, he jumped at the chance. He took us to the rows of drying beds away from the coffee trees to show how he is helping his neighbors by assisting in processing at the farm level and educating them on best practices so the whole community can thrive ever better.
Alex has been a proponent of building up fellow farmers within Marcala, helping educate and connect them to resources so that they can produce incredible coffees of their own. One such example is Jocsan Mendoza.
Jocsan is a young farmer, still in his early 20s, who has been producing coffee for nearly a decade already. After his father passed away, Jocsan inherited the family farm in Marcala where he began to explore ways to improve upon what his father had already built. Alex connected him to Beneficio San Vicente, a dry mill and exporter based in the Santa Barbara region and run by cousins Arturo Angel and Benjamin Paz. The Paz Family is globally recognized for supporting the production of some of the finest specialty coffees in Honduras. They encouraged Jocsan to take cupping classes through IHCAFE (a nonprofit coffee institute for Honduran growers) so that he could more professionally taste his coffee for quality and improve his yearly crops
While we visited, Jocsan wanted to show us what he had learned. He donned an apron and pulled out his brewing equipment, pride sweeping over his face as he described his coffee, his growth as a farmer, and what he was excited about in the future. His brother passed around a sweet cornbread made by his grandmother that morning as we drank our cups, introducing us to the tradition of café con pan.
In the parts of Honduras we visited, coffee is more than just a vocation. Whole communities and local economies were built around coffee farming, buoyed by the caffeinated cherries that have stood the test of time. Businesses selling fertilizer in small mountain towns, small co-ops offering to buy cherry that promises a quick turn-around regardless of quality, and small dirt-bike shops selling the most popular form of transportation in the area highlight how coffee touches every community, meeting the needs of the community.
The features of everyday life within these communities stood out to me the most. Children walked with their families to small schools tucked between banana trees. Soccer fields were cut into space where people would be playing in front of small crowds nearly a mile above sea level. One evening, while exploring the town of Copán Ruinas, we stumbled into a conversation with the former vice-mayor of the town. We talked about his country and coffee as expected, but we also bonded over soccer, food, and movies which (to me) are the quintessential topics when making new connections.
I began to realize that our trip was to explore and deepen those connections we had made since releasing our first Honduran coffees last year. Nowhere was this more evident than in the Santa Barbara region, where we spent our final few days.
Santa Barbara’s microclimate stands in stark contrast to that of Marcala. Due to its proximity to Lake Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras, its temperatures are cooler, and the environment is more dense and wet. Farmers in the area typically have five to six pickings each harvest since coffee matures at different rates. In comparison, farmers across other parts of Honduras typically two, perhaps three pickings in their harvest season due to the stark rainy and dry period variation. The result is a different cup profile than the rest of their compatriots, making Santa Barbara a truly special place for coffee production.
During this trip, we met with two farmers from Santa Barbara whose coffee we served last year. The first, Maria Reyes was a joy to spend time with. Maria and her family are rockstars in Honduras's specialty coffee world. Along with her husband and his brothers, they as a team have been producing exceptional coffees for years, often being highlighted by other roasters across the world, and well represented in Honduras’ annual Cup of Excellence competition. Maria, though she is quiet and mild-mannered, was eager to show us her focus: post-harvest processing. We walked with her to the family’s parabolic dryers, built specifically so that coffee cherries could receive the best airflow on raised drying beds, so they do not mold or over-ferment. She takes exceptional care in every step after the cherry comes off the tree, ensuring that her coffee, her extended family’s coffee, and her neighbor’s coffee achieves the highest quality possible.
One of the most special moments of my trip came later that same day. After coming down from the mountain from a day of visiting farms, we stopped by the home of Jesus Sabillon, the farmer who produced Messenger’s first Honduran release last year. We had visited his farm earlier that day, where we walked through rows of beautiful Parainema trees - slipping on the loose earth as we climbed up the steep hills. While he had not said much earlier in the day, being a man of few words, he told us he had a surprise back at his home that he wanted to show us.
When we arrived, he greeted us and introduced us to his wife and son. He then retreated inside and returned with a twelve-ounce bag of Messenger’s roast of his coffee, with the label that proclaimed his name. He had kept this as a trophy, as proof that his coffee is special. We thanked one another for each other’s work, and it gave me a new perspective on connections in coffee.
We as coffee lovers are more connected to producers than we know. All the time, work, and years of planning that they put in can sometimes be simplified to a name on a bag. However, every coffee, every farmer has a story. From roasters to production to baristas, we get to play a part in telling their story, the messengers of a journey from a farm thousands of miles away to your cup. For that, we could not be more thankful.