Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Part Two: Honduras Cupping Competition & Coffee Trip 2003 - Return to Part One
In May-June 2003 I was invited to be a judge in the first ever Honduras Specialty Coffee Competition, which next year will probably become an auction too, possibly a Cup of Excellence branded competition. After the cupping competition I went on a trip down to the old capital city of Tegucigalpa with coffee broker/cupper Scott Reed.

Puppies and I ... we flew on the same plane together to Tegus (as the locals abbreviate it ... the whole name is pronounced Te-goo-se-gall-pah). Actually, the airport at Tegus is notoriously frightening - just a very hairy turn going into the uneven runway, and at the end of the runway is a street with a stoplight. A few years back a plane overshot the runway and creamed the intersection.

To the right: Lottery tickets being sold in the town square in front of the main Cathedral.

The older Cathedral in Tegus is beautiful - they all are. This is a colonial city and the architecture alone makes it worth the trip!

The tile in the older Cathedral almost seems Moorish in design. Incredible!

One of my favorite storefronts in Tegus, featuring Cat's Claw (the herb or the real thing?) and Shark Cartilage! And its called the Oasis of God.

On our way out to the organic cooperative La Tigra passing through Valle de Angeles, this was a neat homemade bumper sticker that says "Organic Agriculture is Life."

There were some strong thunderstorms is the area and we had fun moving this tree out of the road on the way to the coffee farms.

To the right: the hillsides are lush and subtropical around La Tigra. After all, it is a national park too!

Doña Erma, a La Tigra co-op member. Like many in the co-op she owns her own farm and is certified organic and fair trade by the co-op. She also has a very complete vegetable and herb garden for her family (her husband ran off many years ago and she has raised all the children alone). Her farm is at about 1550 meters.

Like other co-op farms, they use locally produced, natural pesticides to control Broca (berry-boring insect) and other pests. While higher altitude farms like this are immune from some diseases and pests that plague lower coffee grounds, they can have more problems with fungus.

At la Tigra, there was a lot of new growth on the trees which brings up an interesting factoid; One way you can identify the Cultivars of coffee trees by leaf color. Caturra has a green new leaf, as does Pacas. Typica is green too, and Bourbon is a slightly bronze-green.

Catimor, the cross between Caturra and Timor Robusta that has some cup quality problems, has a very bronze new leaf.

The town of San Jacinto is inside the La Tigra National Park boundary, and is an old, old mining town (gold and silver). This wasn't free-for-all prospecting, but an organized company operation, and this was definitely a company town. The mining operation pulled out many years ago and San Jacinto was a literal ghost town, until coffee production came to the area.

The La Tigra Co-op was actually formed as a buyers co-op to get better prices on goods for households and farms in the area. Then they used their group leverage to improve the local school, and only after that did the co-op try to unite the small local coffee farms to try to get better prices in the local market. Now the co-op has 50+ individual members as well as some communally co-op owned coffee plots, runs the school, a small store, offers low-cost loans and savings accounts, etc. It is a bit like a company town, except the "company" in this case is owned by the co-op members and has general life improvement as its goal rather than profits.

San Jacinto is incredibly picturesque. It looks like a town right out of a Clint Eastwood film, or Butch Cassidy. But the town was heavily damaged by the floods from Hurricane Mitch, losing some 55 of the 150 houses and other buildings! You can see how this street could easily be a riverbed too.

A personal favorite of mine, since I am basically a VW guy without a VW at the moment. My family traveled on vacations in the US and Baja California in this exact model and color, a '64-'65 with barn doors and curved rear windows. In fact, maybe that's our bus! After that we had a '70, which I finally had to part with last year.

La Tigra co-op is part of a larger association of co-ops called La Central. They help co-ops with marketing and sales, provide shared milling facilities, and loans. Much of the coffee from La Central goes to Holland and Northern Europe because of strong historical ties between the two. Above is a favorite panel of mine from a larger painting depicting the coffee process. Catacion means tasting or cupping

To the right: La Central also provides cupping facilities and has this nice 3 Barrel Pinhalense sample roaster.

The next day we had a very different coffee origin experience, traveling to the southern district of El Paraiso and near the town of Danlí, very near the Nicaragua border. Pedro and Anais Nufio manage the Nufio family farm, Hacienda Elisa.

The farm is one of the oldest in Honduras and their beautiful adobe Hacienda is extremely old too! It was established in 1675 to supply cattle and other food to the workers of the silver and gold mines in Tegucigalpa. Coffee is now the main product of the farm, but it is a very diverse farm, with cattle, horses, banana, sorghum and other crops.

Because of heavy rains and mud, we had to tour the higher elevations where the coffee is grown by horse. You wouldn't find me complaining about that!

My borrowed horse, and the coffee trees under a canopy of shade trees. The farm has 200 hectares of arabica coffee, Caturra, Pacas and a little Catimor, at 1100 to 1400+ meters, or 3,500 to 4,500 feet. The farm is truly blessed with an amazing environment, in the bottom of a dead-end valley with amazing rich soils, and includes all the surrounding hillsides (where the coffee is) in a small range called the Sierra Moreno. Pedro's father has legally set aside quite a bit of it as untouchable virgin rain forest, with trees dating to 500 years. The ecological practices of the farm are evidenced everywhere - no matter where you look there is some bird, some insect, some amazing indigenous plant or flower. The farm oozes with life!

Some of the coffee is quite old. Here is a seriously thick trunk that has recently been pruned heavily, as is the practice every 8-12 years depending on the varietal. I think this is Caturra, but eyeballing Cultivars is always a bit tricky.

The palm promenade on the way to the Hacienda.

To the right: Anais couldn't recall the name of this amazing tree, with watermelon-sized fruits emerging directly from the central branches! They are used to make water gourds, and it really looked like a balloon tree to me, the way some were actually squeezed between branches and appeared like you could pop them with a pin!

The farm is unique in its social structure too. The long-term workers own their own houses on the farm, and the land around them. Many are decorated (flower paintings on this one) and also have beautiful gardens. Pride of ownership!

The farm has sugar cane and used to process it for Flor de Caña. Here are the immense mill gears used to crush the cane.


As a testament to the effervescence of life emerging from this farm, here are 3 macro pictures I took within 5 minutes of eachother as we toured the farm. The beetle above was about 3 inches in length, the spider from end to end was probably 5", and that big frog below was huge ... probably weighed about 5 Lbs. but I wasn't going to pick it up to find out!

Thanks for reading ... The End!

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