Roasters at Origin: Honduras, Day Two

Wow, what a perspective-expanding and interesting day and a half. So much happened that I’ll need to blow through this super quickly and won’t be doing any of it justice.

We arrived at San Pedro Sula airport at around 1:30 to mid-80s weather and a bit of a squall but Genuine Origin Honduras staffer, agricultural sciences graduate and coffee database Carlos Umanzor picked us up in a big Toyota SUV and we bundled off to the hotel. We dropped off our bags and headed to a local snack shop for baleadas, a local treat of fresh thick flour tortilla slathered in refried beans with eggs, queso fresco and avocado.

We didn’t see a lot of San Pedro Sula which seemed to be a bit of a commercial/industrial city with a worryingly high ratio of fast food establishments to population with pretty much every US fast food restaurant represented including the semi-obscure ones (think Arby’s etc.) Molinos de Honduras General Manager Frank Reese joined us for several hours and spoke about the role that modern exporters like MDH (Volcafe’s branch in Honduras) have played in disrupting the traditional supply chain model of small farmers receiving finance from and selling their coffee to “intermediarios” and the work MDH is doing with major USDA financed NGO Technoserve.

Had a remarkably drinkable local espresso at a snazzy and modern café called Nordic before dining on gourmet pizza and calling it quits for the night.

Left at 7:30 this morning for a rough and slightly nausea-inducing four-hour drive through winding mountain roads that grew more scenic the farther we got from the city and the higher up the mountain.

Donkeys, birds of prey, sugar cane, banana trees, at times rocky and at times lush vistas and finally coffee. I was super lucky to be in a car with GO coffee mavens Teresa von Fuchs and Elisabel Castillo, along with Carlos and we basically talked non-stop about the coffee supply chain at origin from the mountains to the point where coffee is loaded onto container ships.

Perhaps the most eye-opening thing I took away from the discussion was how much work is required to not only grow high quality coffee and process it and how many hands are involved in quality control at every step of the way, how many times each coffee is sampled, roasted, cupped and judged even before it gets to the US.

We arrived at the Cafico Mill in Copan, which works with about 50 small farms (3–4 hectares on average). The function of Cafico is technical, educational and financial. It works to educate, enforce growing and environmental standards, and to sustain the quality of the coffee. Members deliver their freshly picked coffee cherries, which are dumped into a sorting tank; the low-density (defective) floaters are skimmed out, along with any twigs. The cherries are then pulped (the fruit surrounding the seed is removed) and any unripe cherries are separated out. The pulped coffee is then washed and stripped down to its “parchment” — the hull that covers the seed we call the bean—and then laid out on a drying platform under the sun for a day.

The parchment coffee is raked and turned every 15 minutes or so throughout the day to ensure aeration and even drying. At this point the coffee is about at 45% moisture level, still far too wet to store or transport and it goes into a mechanical vertical dryer for 10 hours, followed by a drum dryer (both fed by a fire fed primarily by burning coffee parchment) for 24 hours.

Microlots, the highest quality coffee separated out by the farmers for special treatment, are dried for about 10 days in a ventilated green house of sorts called a solar dryer and defects are removed by hand. At this point the coffee is bagged and ready to be transported to a dry mill for storage for up to two months to “rest,” to even out the drying and then for milling of the parchment immediately prior to bagging and loading into containers for shipping.

Also very interesting was the concern shown for the environment at the co-op starting with the use of solar panels and recycling of waste water. Dirty water from the processing of coffee cherries is fed into a fermentation pool spiked with micro-organisms which break down the organic waste. It is then filtered into two additional pools and at the end of the bacterial and mechanical filtering, is fit to be used on crops. The skin and pulp solid waste is also treated with micro-organisms and broken down into fertilizer to be re-used in the fields.

After our tour of the facility, we lunched (roasted pork, marinated sliced pork, cheese, vegetables, rice salsa and tortillas) then cupped 12 co-op coffees ranging from “conventional” to micro-lots of both washed, pulp natural and dry processed coffees. Then back into the trucks for another half an hour drive up rocky roads/paths in the mountains to the coffee farms.

The fields were picture-perfect, bright dark green coffee bushes interspersed with shade trees, lovely in the golden hour sun. The density of the coffee plants was incredible, jammed in shoulder to shoulder, branches still heavy with fruit even towards the end of the picking season. Sergio, the owner, had so much to say regarding picking, soil maintenance and the like…but that is a topic for another blog post. — Aaron, Broadsheet Coffee