The Geeky Stuff: Our Honduras Coffee Beans

Honduras –Beneficio Los Andes, Smallholders

Broker: Mercanta
Farm: Various
Varietal(s): Primarily Red Catuaí; also Lempira, Ecafe 90, Bourbon, Pacas, Pache & Typica
Processing: Fully washed& dried on patios & African beds
Altitude: 1,500 to 1,600 metres above sea level
Owner: 37 smallholder farmers from Marcala
Town: Various
Region: Marcala
Country: Honduras
Farm Size: 5.8 hectares on average

In brief:

This exceptional coffee, whose name comes from the Mill where the coffee was processed, was grown by 37 producers from the Marcala region of Honduras. The producers have been specially selected to participate in a quality improvement program run by Mercanta’s exporting partner for the lot. The project has grown from 10 producers in 2015 to 37 in 2016, and there is every indication that the program will continue to expand to benefit more producers in the future. By working together, focusing on stringent processing and cultivation methods, and constantly striving for better coffee (and better prices), the program is transforming livelihoods in rural areas.

Additional information:

Honduras is on the verge of becoming a major coffee powerhouse –some might argue that the country is already there! Over the last 25 years the country has risen(as of 2016)to being the 3rd largest producer in Latin America; and they are poised to accomplish even more, with coffee being hailed as a tool for economic development that ‘really works.’ The vast majority of the country’s producers are small holders (70% farm on fewer than 2 hectares) and, as such, the potential of coffee to transform lives in Honduras’s most rural and remote areas is certainly there and has been frequently touted. The one challenge, however, has been quality. Most of the coffee grown in the country fails to command prices significantly over the ‘C’-price and small holders still struggle to meet their cost of production.

Until relatively recently almost of all of Honduras’ production was aimed at the commercial market, and the country wasseen primarily as a low-price commodity exporter. Throughout the 1990’s, while its Central American neighbours became known for producing high quality lots, Honduras was left behind when it came to specialty production. The country, without a doubt, hasthe growing conditions, with fertile soils, altitude and agreeable microclimates; however, lack of processing and quality control infrastructure has given the country a bad name with quality buyers.

This reputation is changing, in part due to quality driven projects such as this lot from Beneficio Los Andes Smallholders.

Mercanta’s exporting partner for this coffee, Sogimex, has recently begun working with smallholder producers from the municipality of Marcala to help ensure that Honduras lives up to its potential as a producer of specialty coffee. The region has been in the 5 first winning coffees at Cup of Excellence for the last 3 years, and won in 2016, with the record price of 120 USD / lb. The opportunity is there –all that is needed is a bit of support.

The project began in 2015/16 with only 10 producers but has quickly grown to 37 producers from across the municipality. Participation requirements are strict: producers must have the ‘right varietals’ already under cultivation, their farms must be situated at the ‘right altitude’ of 1,500+ metres above sea level, they must all be certified Utz or Rainforest Alliance(though the mill is not, they view this as representing basic administrative capacity),and they must demonstrate a ‘can do’ attitude towards improving their production. In return for adhering to stringent production and harvesting guidelines, they receive significantly better prices for their ripe cherries and, also, agronomical support-which helps them increase productivity for the future!

All producers participating in the group grow varieties that are notable for their cup quality. Producers farm primarily Catuaí (it composes 40-70% of production on average) and various other coffee varieties suited to the area. Sogimex do not sellseedlings to farmers, but they do advise on varieties that demonstrate good resistance and durability without sacrificing cup quality.

Participants, on the most part, are not legacy farmers but rather new, young farmers who are open to change and flexible in their approach. All farmers –young or old –demonstrate adaptability and a responsiveness that lends itself to forward planning with regards to quality.As such, producers participating in the improvement program are treated as entrepreneur partners by the Sogimex quality control team.

The Harvest & Processing

Sogimex currently processes and dries all the coffee coming through the project at their ‘Los Andes’ Mill in order to better control quality; however, they are working on farmer-owned infrastructure and practices for the future. The mill boasts two separate pulping stations, and all producers participating in the quality-driven project deliver to their cherry to the Ecomill, which has a capacity of 1,000 quintals a day and is reserved for the most of the season entirely for the highest quality lots. Coffee is always transported to the wet mill on the same day as being picked.

Once it arrives, coffee is immediately sorted, removing all underripe and damaged beans.It is then fermented for between 8 to 12hours until the mucilage is completely depleted. After this, the coffee is washed in clean water.

The coffee is rested for an hour or two to remove excess water and is then delivered to the drying patios or small African beds, where it will dry for between 15 to 20 days. African beds are a relatively new tool at the mill, but there are plans to expand these as they are they are flexible and ensure a more controlled drying environment.

The coffee is then rested and is then stored at the wet-mill’s warehouse until it is ready for export.

The biggest challenges in the region remain limited investment in quality wet mills, water conservation and environmental preservation, and the need to increase value to the supply chain by segregating and valuing physical traceability. The Sogimex quality improvement project is doing its utmost to tick all these boxes for the future of Honduran coffee, and Mercanta is proud to support their efforts!