Late December 2012
Honduras faces some pretty daunting issues: it has the number one murder rate in the world and is also one of the most impoverished countries in Latin America. This, combined with drug trafficking from Colombia up through Central America, has made it a hot spot for illicit trade and gang violence. The situation became so serious that the government had to ask its police to step down so the military could properly police the country.
Corruption and impoverishment have plagued this wonderful country for too long, yet there is hope that the coffee sector might be one industry that could help to change the image and future of Honduras. With market prices soaring about two years ago, Honduras leapt to the number one spot for coffee production in Central America. Recently, C Market prices fell. Hopefully, it will give producers the impetus to strive for the highest quality they can produce to band-aid the recent lows.
Luckily, our work in Honduras has led us to relationships like that of the Caballeros family. I flew down to meet with them and to see how the beginning of the harvest was shaping up.
From the minute Moises and Marysabel picked me up at the airport in San Pedro Sula, I knew it would be another memorable trip to Honduras. It was the day after Christmas, which is an extremely busy time of year for farms in Marcala. Picking just started to happen in the lower elevations. The Caballeros family have been working with Stumptown since Duane’s earliest Cup of Excellence purchase in 2004 of Don Fabio’s 3rd place winning lot.
In fact, 2003 was the year that I first met Duane while on a massive five day cupping trip from the north all the way down to the Nicaraguan border, along with six other coffee buyers from Intelligentsia and Solberg and Hansen among others. I was reminded of this as soon as we arrived at Boncafe to meet with Christian LaSage, the General Manager at Boncafe, who helps export El Puente. Christian quickly showed all of us some early photos of the Cup of Excellence in Copan with shots of Duane and I drinking Imperial beers and watching some musical performance. A blast from the past…
We cupped coffees in the afternoon and got a sneak peek into the beginning of the harvest. From what I can tell, it looks like it will be an excellent year. Out of the 12 coffees we cupped, three showed real promise. We toured the facility and decided the evening would be best finished with a tapas dinner out in San Pedro before our morning three hour drive down to Marcala.
The drive through the western part of Honduras has a lot of terrain changes, but as we got into the higher elevations we began to see a lot of pine forest and fairly dry, rocky terrain. After a couple of hours, we arrived in La Paz, home to one of the former Presidents of Honduras. From there, we headed into the western heart of coffee country and arrived in the communities of Marcala and Chanacla, both of which are small, charming coffee towns. Later in the day, Don Fabio toured us through town in his truck where nearly everyone in the small community waved as everyone knows each other.
Don Fabio’s family history dates back to the late 1880’s. He showed me where he grew up as a child and where other nearby homes passed down into the latest generations of family. He is passionate about coffee, as well as his cattle and organic matter which is rendered from their manure. He has perfected various solutions using pulp and other organic matter that is reapplied back onto the family’s farms. Some of it is turned into a solution that is sprayed directly onto the leaf of the coffee plants to increase their nutrient intake.
Over a two day period, we visited most of the farms that belong to the family. We also went to Chinacla to see the wet mill a couple of times, once at night and once early the next morning when we saw coffees as they were taken out of the tanks and placed onto the drying patios. I was especially excited to see their raised drying beds that were newly installed over the past couple of years.
We also visited Matilde, a farm which belongs to Moises which has experimental varieties such as Gesha and Javanica. We are stoked to once again purchase their Puente Gesha! We also plan to receive various experiments done with differing fermentation and drying techniques. We’ll be cupping them when we return in February. Stay tuned to see what we find based on our work with the Cabelleros.
On my last night, we went out to eat pupusas at their local outdoor — really, backyard — restaurant. The local haunt was packed and served amazing pupusas (a traditional Salvadoran dish made with thick corn tortillas typically filled with cheese, beans and ground pork) and an amazing hot pineapple, tea-like beverage that was sweetened and lightly seasoned with black peppercorn.
The Caballeros family belongs to a rarified group of original relationships that Duane carved out in the early days of Stumptown. For years to come, we will continue to see even more amazing coffees from Puente. It is our hope that Honduras endures its internal issues and continues to excel like the Caballeros have with their solid farming practices.