Boots on the Ground: Honduras

Recently I went to Honduras on a group trip lead by Chris Davidson of Atlas Coffee Importers. Atlas has been working very closely with two groups there for seven years. This was my first trip to this beautiful country and was struck by how different it is to other places I have visited in Central America. Many of the coffee producing areas are much more wet and everything is very lush and green. There is more of a jungle-like feel. Trails to farms are often very steep, so reaching the farms and transporting coffee down to the mill is extremely challenging. Honduras in many ways struck me as being a very wild place. 
The first half of the trip we were hosted by Benjamin Paz, the director of the micro-lot program at Beneficio San Vicente. San Vicente is an exceptionally well respected coffee mill in Santa Barbara working primarily with producers from the surrounding areas as well as small projects throughout the country. Each year a very substantial portion of Honduras' COE coffees are processed by San Vicente. Benjamin is responsible for finding producers with exceptional products to join the micro lot program and assisting them in continual growth as producers. He also operates a small cafe up the street serving coffees from his family's roasting program as well as coffees brought in by roasters visiting the mill.
While at San Vicente, one of the first producers we visited was Don Amado Fernandez. His farm is situated strait up the mountain from the magnificently beautiful lake in Santa Barbara, Pena Blanca, and is honestly one of the most beautiful coffee farms I have ever seen. He is one of five brothers who inherited their farms from their father and all process their coffee at the family's central wet mill. Don Amado has an excellent history as a coffee producer. In 2010 he won the Honduras Cup of Excellence and placed sixth last year. He is still improving his production with two new, very large solar driers being installed as we visited with him. 
Driving away from Don Amado's mill, Chris mentioned that he felt this farm could be a great fit for Spyhouse. Don Amado breaks his production into three lots. The first picking is divided up for the COE and a Norwegian buyer. The second picking goes to Atlas for sales in the States, but there has never been a long term buyer for this coffee in the US. The first table we cupped after returning to the mill had the first Don Amado picking and it started to peak my interest, but being exceptionally fresh, it lacked a little depth. I saw some great potential and decided to keep my eye on it. The next morning Benjamin served the group an amazing coffee at his cafe while we waited for breakfast. The coffee ended up being last year's Don Amado and I knew I had to consider this for our San Vicente selection. In the end we did choose to work with Don Amado Fernandez and hopefully we can build a great long term relationship with him and his family through Chris and Benjamin.
The second portion of our trip brought us to Copan to judge the annual micro-lot competition for the Las Capucas cooperative. Chris established this competition in 2007 and has lead it each year seeing continual growth in the cup quality each year. Las Capucas has also made massive improvements to their infrastructure and milling through a series of micro-finanace loans. Their operation produces many beautiful single producer, Fair Trade, Organic, and Rainforest Alliance certified coffees. The competitions is the highlight of the cooperatives year, culminating at a huge celebration and award ceremony.
One of the coffees that launched our roasting program program, Herminio Rivera, came from the Las Capucas cooperative. Throughout the two days of judging, slurping from 490 bowls, I was under the impression that Herminio chose to not enter the competition this year. While on stage passing out prize packages to the top ten producers I was shocked to hear Herminio's name called. When I received my final score sheets I found that he actually placed two lots in the top ten. The last day Herminio met me at the mill before we entered a final cupping to retaste the top ten for perspective buyers. It was a honor to see him utterly humbled to meet me. On the final table I was exceptional impressed by one bowl, full of complex white grape and brandy notes with touches of banana. That bowls ended up being Hermino's two lots blended, which created so much more depth and complexity. It is a honor to be bringing this coffee back in and have our first returning single producer lot.
My trip to Honduras was a very full ten days. It is a wild country in many ways. This trip very much felt like an adventure. I came home exhausted, but I look forward to returning. There are great people in this country, doing great work, to produce great coffee. It was an honor to be able to meet them and eat meals in their homes. Additionally, it is and honor to be able to bring their coffee in and serve it to you our customers. Look forward to Don Amado and Herminio Rivera being released in the near future.
- Tony Querio, Head Roaster & Green Buyer
Top: Coffee Blossoms, Herminio Rivera
Middle: Don Amado Fernandez, One of the mules used to carry coffee down the mountain 
Bottom: Coffee parchment drying on raised patios in Santa Barbara, Old heirloom Bourbon stumps re-sprouting