Coffee Origins: Honduras

Vietnamese Coffee Exporter
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Honduras is now the top coffee grower in Central America, it’s astonishing how little is known about the country’s coffee origins. The quality of the coffee produced there is discussed in what is likely the earliest document, which dates from 1804. Because the plants require a few years to produce a crop, this places the advent of coffee before 1799.

Honduras’ coffee production has expanded considerably just since 2001. While the coffee business fueled the expansion and development of infrastructure in much of Central America during the 1800s, Honduras’ infrastructure simply did not exist due to the country’s late blooming. As a result, much of the coffee produced under this new expansion was destined for the commodity market, posing a quality difficulty. Honduras has only lately been known for producing outstanding coffee.

The national coffee institute, the Instituto Hondureño del Café (IHCAFE), was established in 1970 and is working to improve quality: in each of the six regions it has defined, there is a coffee-tasting laboratory to assist local producers.

Honduras was producing just under six million bags of coffee a year by 2011, more than Costa Rica and Guatemala combined. Around 110,000 families are involved in the production of coffee across the country. As for its future, there are concerns about the impact of leaf rust. A state of national emergency was declared after harvests were badly damaged in 2012/2013 and the effects of leaf rust usually last a few years.

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THE PROBLEM OF CLIMATE

While the land is well suited to growing great coffee, the weather poses a challenge. The high rainfall often makes it difficult to dry the beans after processing, so some producers use a combination of sun drying and mechanical drying. This has landed Honduras with a reputation for producing great coffees that can fade quite quickly, but much work is being done to address this problem. Much of the coffee is warehoused before shipping in extremely hot conditions near Puerto Cortez, which can further degrade it. There are obviously always exceptions to the rule, however, and the very best coffees from Honduras generally hold up better over time.

TRACEABILITY

It is possible to get high levels of traceability in Honduras, down to the estate level or down to a specific cooperative or producer group.

CLASSIFICATION OF COFFEE (Honduras)

Honduras uses a similar system to El Salvador and Guatemala, which describes and categorizes coffees by the altitude at which they were grown. Above 1,200m (3,900ft) coffee can be described as Strictly High Grown (SHG), and above 1,000m (3,300ft) as High Grown (HG). While there is some correlation between altitude and quality, it is most common to see less traceable lots marketed this way, though more traceable coffees often carry the initials, too.

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Many Honduran farmers grow beans of Bourbon, Caturra, Typica, and Catuai varieties but leaf rust across all regions has recently devastated crops

TASTE PROFILE (country)

A range of different flavors are found in Honduran coffees, but the best often have a complex fruity quality, and lively, juicy acidity.

GROWING REGIONS (central)

Population: 8,250,000
Number of 60kg (132lb) bags in 2013: 5,934,000

Although it is not described by IHCAFE as a coffee-growing region, many roasters label coffee as being from the Santa Barbara region of Honduras. Several coffee regions cross into the Santa Barbara department (a governmental division of the country). Some would argue that it requires its own description, but it seemed more appropriate to stay within the official guidelines and use the growing regions listed below. There are some excellent Pacas variety lots coming from the Santa Barbara area. They have a distinctive and quite intense fruity quality when well-produced, and are definitely worth seeking out.

COPÁN (families)

Copán is a Honduran department named for the city of Copán, which is known for its Mayan ruins. The region borders Guatemala, and places like this remind me how important it is to focus on the actual location of coffee rather than just the country of origin. Geographical borders can be arbitrary, and customer expectations for a coffee from Honduras and coffee from Guatemala are (sadly) rather different. The northern part of the Santa Barbara coffee region is contained inside Copán.

Altitude: 1,000–1,500m (3,300–4,900ft)

Harvest: November–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai

MONTECILLO (travel)

This region contains within it several sub-regions of note. The most notable are Marcala, now a protected name, and La Paz. Marcala is a municipality inside the department of La Paz. Roasters are more likely to use these names in order to be more accurate, instead of marking their coffee with the wider region name of Montecillos.

Altitude: 1,200–1,600m (3,900–5,200ft)

Harvest: December–April

Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Catuai, Pacas

AGALTA

This region stretches right across the north of Honduras. Much of it is protected forest, so eco-tourism plays a significant role in the local economy.

Altitude: 1,000–1,400m (3,300–4,600ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica

OPALACA

Opalaca encompasses the southern half of Santa Barbara’s coffee-growing region, as well as Intibucá and Lempira. The Opalaca mountain range, which runs through the area, is named for it.

Altitude: 1,100–1,500m (3,600–4,900ft)

Harvest: November–February

Varieties: Bourbon, Catuai, Typica

COMAYAGUA

Tropical rainforest abounds in this area of western central Honduras. The city of Comayagua in the region was previously Honduras’ capital.

Altitude: 1,100–1,500m (3,600–4,900ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Bourbon, Caturra, Typica

EL PARAISO

This is one of the oldest and also the largest growing region in Honduras, in the east of the country near the border with Nicaragua. Recently the region has suffered badly from coffee leaf rust.

Altitude: 1,000–1,400m (3,300–4,600ft)

Harvest: December–March

Varieties: Catuai, Caturra

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