From Here to Honduras

Honduras Coffee Bags Coffee Mill

Having flown out of Oaxaca, Mexico earlier in the day, and now on the second leg of my journey with Dave Day and Geron Gray of I landed in San Pedro Sula, Honduras ready to hit the ground running. We were meeting Cristian Rodriguez, a second generation coffee farmer, successful cafe owner, and Cup Of Excellence winner who was there to show us around and help make acquaintances. There was a lot of ground to cover from the airport in the north to Siguatepeque, Danli and finally Azabache. Unfortunately for me, I was still recovering from dysentery that I picked up in Oaxaca, and was not yet back at 100%. Let me tell you, this job’s not as glamorous as it seems. Thankfully I was traveling with some wonderful people and was feeling better before too long.

Honduras was not to be a repeat of our trip to Mexico. While the farmers in Honduras have also been affected by la roya, there was more infrastructure in place to mitigate the damage, and thus generally speaking things were looking a lot better at the farms. In Siguatepeque we met with the Kingdom Growers co-op to check out their milling operation, and touch base. We’ve been buying coffee from these guys for a while and it’s because they’re organized and focused on quality. We soon packed it in for the night, happy to get some rest after a long day that started way back in Mexico.

The next morning we continued onward to Danli to meet up with Tito from the Azabache regional co-op. Danli is itself a beautiful Spanish-era, colonial town, replete with cobblestone streets, and plenty of historical architecture. In recent years it’s become more of a hub for vacationers and industry types alike, who need a place to hang up their boots, get a good meal and maybe a hot shower. Along the way to Azabache we saw some strong signals of increased investment in the region’s producers. Tito gave us a tour of their newly built wet mill, nestled amongst the backdrop of several local mountain ranges; quite picturesque if you can imagine! To boot, they’ve even excavated a holding pond for the mill’s recycling. On the way to our last stop, we also noticed newly paved roads. Finally we arrived at a gorgeous, new dry mill, which allows the farmers to fully control operations from farm to export, and ultimately be in charge of their own coffee-growing destiny.

The wet mill, dry mill and roads are all part of an effort by IHCAFE and the Honduran government to develop and strengthen the country’s coffee regions in a manner similar to that set forth by neighboring Colombia. IHCAFE promotes better processing and drying methods, which in turn contributes overall to better quality. In recent years, upgrades to infrastructure and support for sustainable growing practices has assisted Honduras in achieving its goal of establishing itself as a leader in specialty coffee.

In the mountains, at 3700’ elevation (1100m) rests Azabache, and the homes of a good many reputable, family farms. At the community center, I met up with a group of women roasters to help educate and assist them in the roasting process. Having never received any formal training, the group was happy to share their insights, and keen to take direction. Prior to leaving the US, I roasted several samples of Honduran coffee to share at the cupping table with these women as a demonstration of proper technique and range. One problem throughout coffee-growing countries is the frequent inability of farmers to effectively sample their own crop. By helping to educate and improve things on the roasting end, we enable the community to elevate their quality and sell locally-roasted coffee, which in turn keeps commerce localized, while meeting the more refined demands of middle class coffee drinkers. I’ve got to say it was a lot of fun sharing in the experience, in particular, teaching the custom of slurping with a group newbies for the first time!

Before leaving, we assembled a number of water filtration systems, explaining their usage and maintenance. Thanks to donations made by Growers First and Vournas Coffee Trading, these filters will continue to provide clean drinking water to these families for years to come.

If I could sum up the purpose of our Honduras trip it would be: quality and consistency. Really, our goal was to empower the right people to get involved and stay involved in the production of specialty coffee. We have been importing Honduran coffee for a number of years, and have only seen their quality improve. Going back nearly 15 years to the creation of IHCAFE, it’s undeniable that their investment in the future of the Honduran coffee farmer has yielded considerable results. This was my first ever visit to Azabache, and based on everything I’ve experienced, I’m predicting that in the coming years this could become one of the country’s premier growing regions. Will this be the case? Time will tell.

All the best,

Andrew Vournas