Honduras coffee quality spans a huge range, from a lower-cost Central American blender coffee, to high-grown lots that rival good Guatemala coffees in acidity and flavor. The areas of Marcala, Copan and Santa Barbara, Ocotopeque and others can produce high quality coffees. And Honduras is one of the few countries with a capacity to grow their production, where as nations like Costa Rica and Panama are experiencing land pressure from other demands, and producing less and less coffee each harvest. Honduran coffees can range from bright, acidic flavor profiles, lightly fruited and with strong cane sugar sweetness, to more caramel-like, lower acidity coffees that are nice in espresso.
For many years there was little talk of Honduran coffee in the specialty coffee market. I participated in some early cupping events, before Cup of Excellence came to this nation, and saw great potentialin cup quality but technical problems in the wet-processing of lots and in drying the coffee. While farmer education has increased greatly in Honduras, the new challenges are plant diseases like Roya, that greatly affect the small farmer who lacks resources to combat this and other fungi.
Honduras has all the environmental factors on its side: soil, altitude, climate, and farmers who are increasingly better trained in agricultural practices. All its neighbors have sophisticated coffee production: Guatemala, El Salvador and, to some degree, Nicaragua. But what has been lacking is quality coffee processing, capital to modernize the dry mills, and a distinct "name" in the consumer market. Honduras has been known mostly as a source for commercial coffee, not specialty grade. It is still a major source for lower-priced arabica coffees headed to large roasting companies. This means that even a high quality Honduran does not always fetch a good price, and in fact many from Copan and Santa Barbara districts are smuggled into Guatemala and sold as such. Without a premium price for quality, the farmer, the mill and the exporter have no incentive to incur the added expense that would help realize the coffee's quality potential. So Honduran coffee ends up as a mild blender and not as a single-origin or farm-specific coffee. It is a vicious cycle.
We have offered lots from the Santa Barbara and Copan areas that rival great Guatemalan coffees, as well as finding great quality in Ocotopeque and the areas in the south, near Nicaragua. A problem in Honduras is proper drying of the coffee after it is wet-processed. Some areas are wet and humid, and the coffees can be ruined when drenched by rain showers. Marcala area in the South has an advantage of a drier climate, although the coffees do not have the soaring brightness of the Northern zones.
Finding Quality and Variety
We started going to Honduras to look for coffee in 2003 and I was able to judge at the first Honduras Specialty Coffee Competition held in San Pedro Sula. That event was the precursor of the Cup of Excellence competitions, which have been held each year since then, and has helped to uncover high quality coffees in Honduras. My ulterior motive on this trip was to find some truly special Honduran coffees for Sweet Maria's. And I met Chris Schooley there. For our part, we are buying really good coffees and paying way over standard prices.
Honduras, like other countries, is varied, so I can't speak about it as a single entity: coffees from Copan or Santa Barbara or El Paraiso or Ocotepeque are all different. The largest growing region is Santa Barbara, coffees are also grown in Copan, Ocotepeque, Lempira, La Paz and El Paraiso in the South. Coffee grown between 1500 and 2000 meters is given the highest designation of SHG; Strictly High Grown. The overall cup character is less acidic than other Central Americans, with distinct sweet caramel flavors in the cup.