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Exploring Coffees in Honduras

June 7, 2024

It was back in 2014 or 2015 when I first consciously tasted coffee from Santa Barbara, Honduras. Regrettably I don’t remember the producer behind that washed pacas, yet the experience was illuminating. The cup was full of deep, berry-like sweetness, elegant florals, a whole range of ripe citrus notes, tropical fruit and chocolate flavors. It has EVERYTHING. My shock was all the more pronounced cause it stood in such a contrast to what we were taught in those days about coffees: Africans – fruity, Centrals – nutty and chocolaty, and that’s pretty much it.

What today is an absurd oversimplification bordering on, well, a lie, should have already been noticed and demented then. During the following months and years I discovered more micro-regions from all over the world. Peculiar diamonds, more or less discovered by the coffee industry, proving that the approach to coffee at the time was comically simplistic, the consequences of which are still evident today. Till now so many consumers are prejudiced against certain regions, varieties or processes just because of some very general yet influential waves of archaic opinions.

What makes Santa Barbara coffees so special?

Mostly, the microclimate. Proximity to the biggest Honduran lake, Yojoa, makes the temperatures over there cooler and the environment generally wetter, compared to the majority of coffee growing regions. This results in longer maturation periods for cherries and is linked to higher perception of sweetness and complexity. The harvest peaks much later than in most places across the continent and farmers in the area typically have more than four-five picking periods (compared to “standard” two-three), due to cherry maturation happening at different rates.

Yup – when containers of Acatenango or even Huehuetenango coffees leave the port in Guatemala, some of the most vibrant cups from Santa Barbara that season are still hanging on to the trees.

 

 

There are hundreds of small producers spread around Santa Barbara mountain and the connecting link between them and international roasters or importers is Beneficio San Vicente. What today is an internationally respected institution, was built from scratch in the 80’s by Fidel Paz. His efforts along with rising prices for coffee back then encouraged locals to get involved in producing coffee. Fidel’s nephew, Arturo, joined the company in 2000 and a true revolution has started. His extraordinary knowledge and skills passed to the local producers and the Cup of Excellence competition introduced to Honduras about the same time caused an unprecedented rise of popularity of single-varietal microlots. It was the beginning of a world-wide appreciation for the immense value of Santa Barbara fabulous coffees.

And then, Fidel’s son, Benjamin joined the San Vicente team. Since 2009 he’s been responsible for further development or relationships between producers and their overseas clients. San Vicente, apart from linking us to smallholders, provides them services of farming support, know-how sharing, troubleshooting, milling and export. We’ve been buying from a dozen of them regularly since the first year of our collaboration, in 2020.

 

 

The most popular Santa Barbara’s cultivars that make us excited by the cupping table year by year are: pacas, bourbon and parainema. Apart from that we buy some catuai and IH90 (hybrid). The most common and developed to perfection is a washed process, nonetheless there are more and more naturals and anaerobic lots appearing with each passing crop season.

We love the whole model utilized by San Vicente that has been going on for years and seems to be a perfect benchmark of a well-organized system for supporting coffee producers and bringing out the best of their potential while maintaining fair prices, always taking into account current economic issues, like rising fertilizer prices and lack of labor, which are increasingly serious problems in many producing LatAm countries.

As every year, I’m crazy excited to cup all the samples from the fresh harvest and share these undoubtedly unique coffees with European roasters, awaiting my next visit to Santa Barbara in 2025.

 

The story has been brough to you by Piotr Jezewski (88 Graines Q Grader & Sourcing Director)

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