All you need to know about Honduran coffee

Honduras is a small Central American country bordering Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala, all of which are also coffee producers. Over 100,000 Honduran families grow coffee, usually on very small farms. Thanks to phenomenal government investment, Honduras has gradually become one of the largest producers of coffee in the world, not only commodity coffee, but also specialty coffee. Follow the guide as we take you on a tour of this dynamic country that belies all the pessimistic forecasts of the coffee industry.

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The 6 coffee-producing regions of Honduras

Coffee has only become a major crop in Honduras since the 1990s. Before that, coffee was grown on the margins in favor of banana, which benefit from a much shorter period of time between its first planting and its harvest (for coffee, it takes at least 3 years).

Honduras has such a diversity of terroirs due to its geography and geology that it is commonly agreed to distinguish 6 main coffee producing regions: Copán (northwest, on the border with Guatemala and El Salvador), Montecillos (southwest), Opalaca (northwest), Agalta (north and east), Comayagua (center-west) and El Paraíso (southeast). Respect for the environment (cultivation under shade, preservation of wildlife) characterizes Honduran coffee cultivation, and many of the country's coffees are certified Bird Friendly (one of the most difficult certifications to obtain because of the complexity of the ecological rules to be respected).
 

Regions productrice - Honduras - mojoe

Copán

The Copan region is located in western Honduras, bordering Guatemala, and includes the states of Copán, Ocotepeque and part of Santa Barbara. Altitude varies from 1,000 to 1,500 meters and its humidity and temperature variations are among the highest in the country. The coffee harvest takes place between November and March.

The coffee from this region has a sweet aroma with strong notes of chocolate, caramel and citrus, a body (the beverage texture in the mouth) that tends to be round and creamy, while the aftertaste is persistent and balanced, with a delicate acidity. The varieties commonly used by farmers are Bourbon, Caturra and Catuai.

Copán coffee is particularly well known in Honduras. In fact, it is part of the Geographical Indication of Western Honduran Coffees (HWC or Cafés del Occidente Hondureño).

Montecillos

Montecillos enjoys relatively low temperatures and high altitudes (1,200-1,600 meters above sea level): the two ideal parameters for the cherries to ripen slowly in order to produce dense beans with soft and sweet notes. The main varieties are Bourbon, Catuai, Caturra and Pacas. The harvest takes place from December to April.

Located along the Salvadoran border in southwestern Honduras, Montecillos gave Honduran coffee its worldwide recognition with the country's first appellation of origin: Café de Marcala. The emblematic aromatic notes of this coffee are citrus, peach, apricot and caramel. The body is generally velvety with a sparkling tartaric acidity.

Opalaca

The Opalaca region extends east of Copan and is also part of the HWC origin. It includes much of the states of Santa Barbara, Intibucá and Lempira. Common varieties here are Bourbon, Catuai and Typica.

With an altitude of 1,100 to 1,500 meters above sea level, we find coffees with a great complexity of flavors: tropical fruits, grapes and berries, a fine delicate acidity and a balanced aftertaste.

Agalta

Located in southeastern Honduras, the Agalta region enjoys a more tropical climate and an altitude of between 1,100 and 1,400 meters above sea level. The common varieties are Bourbon, Caturra and Typica. The harvest takes place from December to March.

Coffee from this region offers a variety of tropical fruit flavors, with a caramel and chocolate aroma, a delicate but pronounced acidity, and a sweet aftertaste.

Comayagua

The Comayagua region is located in the center of Honduras at an altitude of between 1,000 and 1,500 meters above sea level and is made up of the states of Comayagua and Francisco Morazán. According to the IHCAFE (Honduran Coffee Institute), this region has the highest production yield in the country. The harvest takes place from December to March.

The winning lot of the Cup of Excellence 2021 (the best Honduran coffee of the year), comes from this region (finca Santa Lucia now owned by Eleane Mierisch and Mark Dundon). This lot sold at auction for 58.50 dollars per pound of green coffee, when the market price today (01/13/2022) is... 2.42 dollars!

In a cup of Comayagua coffee, you can expect sweet citrus flavors combined with a high level of acidity as well as a creamy, rich body. Common varieties include Typica, Bourbon, Parchi and other hybrids.

El Paraíso

El Paraiso is located in the south of Honduras, on the border with Nicaragua, at an altitude of 1,000 to 1,400 meters high and a relatively high temperature of 16-22.5°C. The reputation of the region continues to grow, especially due to the fact that every year coffees grown in El Paraiso are awarded at the Cup of Excellence, one of the yearly major coffee events for the countries participating. The main varieties are Catuai and Caturra and the harvest takes place from December to March.

In general, El Paraiso has a sweet, citric and smooth cup profile.

The typology of Honduran coffee growers: between (very) small producers and (very) big farmers

Today, more than 100,000 families throughout Honduras are involved in coffee production. 95% of these are small-scale farmers and 70% farm on fewer than 2 hectares (representing some 30% of the country’s total production). The vast majority of farmers rely on family labor for all aspects of farm work and harvesting, as is the case in many producing countries in this region of the world.

Perhaps most notable (and unusual for Central America, where the aging population of coffee growers poses a real challenge to the long-term sustainability of this cultivation) is that the average age of producers in Honduras is declining. With an average age of 46, the Honduran coffee farmer is 10 years younger than 10 years ago. There is nothing mysterious about this phenomenon, as several factors have contributed to keeping young people in the coffee sector, including public investment, the promotion of the country by IHCAFE and Honduras' success in accessing specialty markets.

Finca Santa Lucia - Honduras - mojoe

This international recognition of Honduras as a producer of specialty coffee is largely due to the efforts and boldness of some big farmers, wishing to bring their country's coffee into the pantheon of specialty coffees. The Cup of Excellence competition has been held there since 2004 (when it arrived in Mexico only in 2012 for comparison).

Honduras, a lightning-quick transition from commodity producer to "super-origin"

Coffee has historically been one of Honduras' main commercial crops (along with bananas), and since the mid-2000s, total annual production has grown by leaps and bounds. In the 2009-2010 harvest, Honduras produced approximately 3.6 million bags of Arabica coffee (already a big increase from 1999-2000). Today the country produces 7.3 million bags!

By 2014/2015, the country had become the top producer in Central America (and 7th in the world), with a production of over 5 million bags (all Arabica varieties).

With the highest per capita production in the world and various business drivers keeping the industry growing, experts agree that it would not be surprising if the country reached 8 million bags in the near future. Overall, the story is clear: Honduras is a large coffee producing country with great untapped potential for specialty lots.

Until relatively recently, almost all of Honduras' production was destined for the commercial market (commodity coffee), and the country was considered primarily an economic exporter with coffee of interest to the large commercial roasters' blends, not necessarily for the flavor attributes of its coffees.

Throughout the 1990s, while its Central American neighbors became known for producing high quality batches, Honduras was left behind in specialty production. The country already had all the conditions to produce excellent quality coffee with fertile soils, high altitude (most farms are above 1,000 meters) and pleasant microclimates; however, the lack of processing and quality control infrastructure gave the country a bad reputation among specialty coffee buyers.

This situation was exacerbated in 1998 by Hurricane Mitch, which simply decimated 80% of the country's agriculture. Although recovery efforts were made in the following years, farmers saw little value in marketing their coffee as Honduran - instead, they decided to smuggle their coffee into Guatemala to obtain higher prices. In most cases, only the lower grades were sold as Honduran.

This economic nightmare could have gone on for a long time, but it was without the vision of the political power at the time: a government tax on coffee exports was implemented in the late 1990s and early 2000s, which gradually channeled needed funds into Honduran coffee infrastructure (especially roads in remote coffee-growing areas) and tax incentives for coffee producers.

With the improvement in the price of coffee on the New York Stock Exchange in the first half of the 1990s, the country began to see a positive impact on production and quality. In 2000, the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE) was created. This structure's mission is to promote Honduran coffee in the domestic and foreign markets, especially through communication at international fairs. It is also co-organizer of the Cup of Excellence, among others.

In addition to internal and external promotion, IHCAFE provides technical assistance and training to farmers, helps establish nurseries and greenhouses, has developed innovative pest management and early warning systems, and is working on a project to provide producers with access to low-interest loans to purchase processing equipment. In 2004, it helped establish a national tasting school (Escuela Superior del Café - ESCAFE), which provides comprehensive training for cuppers and gives young people the opportunity to pursue a career in coffee quality control.

ESCAFE - Honduras - mojoe

Other initiatives launched by IHCAFE, including the country's first designation of origin in 2005 and participation in the Cup of Excellence program, have done much to solidify the country's reputation as a producer of exceptional quality coffee. Indeed, things have improved rapidly. Even the coffee leaf rust crisis that hit the country in 2011-2012 was largely contained, with many farmers being led to renovate and plant far more than they lost.

Honduras at home: discover Honduran coffees from our roasters!

Mojoe delivers specialty coffees every month. Would you like to discover Honduran coffee? Nothing easier, just choose the one you would like to try the most and receive it at home, ground or in beans.

Here are the coffees harvested in Honduras available on mojoe:

⏺ Honduras, Caballero - Kolonel Coffee Roastery - Aromatic notes: Plum, Nectarine, Rhubarb

Kolonel mojoe

 

⏺ Los Ceibos - Natural Caffè - Aromatic notes: Tropical fruits, Apricot, Orange, Honey, Rose

Natural Caffè mojoe

 

 

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