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Honduras Arenal Estate – Direct Trade buying trip

February 13, 2009

Last June I was lucky to be chosen to be a judge at the Honduras Cup of Excellence competition.  This was a great event that really opened my eyes to the possibilities that Honduras has to offer with its coffee profiles.  Honduras borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and often Honduran coffee will cross borders and will be sold as those varietals instead.   Guatemala is currently the largest Central American exporter of coffee, however if Honduran coffee wasn’t smuggled into other countries – they would probably be the largest exporter.

 

Honduras has a long history with coffee and many of the estates/farms have been controlled by the same family for many generations.  An interesting fact is that 91% of the farms in Honduras contribute to 50% of the coffee sold in Honduras.  What this shows is how many small estates there are to work with in this country, the challenge is finding them.   Of the 38,000,000 lbs of coffee sold in Honduras, 45% is sold as an Organic/Fair-trade/Organic Fair-trade and only about 10% is even offered as a single estate.  Most of this is from huge farms and sold for commercial use.

 

Our goal when planning this trip was to establish a Direct Trade partnership with a family and farm who’s products stood out as exceptional on our cupping table when sampling late last year.  

 

In the west of Honduras is a region called La Paz, and in this region is an area called Marcala. Marcala is known for the quality of coffee produced, and has a history & tradition that reaches back to the late 1800’s.  Families have owned and worked there farms for 4 generations and practice harvesting techniques that produce clean, sweet and rich tasting coffee.  One hour south of Marcala is the town Opatoro, and just out side Opatoro is a very small village called La Florida, and just a few miles out side La Florida is a small coffee estate called Arenal (Arenal Estate is situated 70 km from El Salvador).

The Martinez family has owned and operated Arenal Estate for 4 generations, since 1889 and was one of the original 6 families to begin planting coffee in the La Paz region.  Meeting with cousins Gustzo & Ricardo Martinez was exciting as Fratello Coffee was the FIRST Roaster to ever visit them in the past 120 years!  Arenal Estate is a relatively small farm which only produces 1000 bags of coffee per year.  Until now, their entire production was sold into a co-operative and blended with other coffee from the La Paz region. 

They employee 12 full time staff, and require 50 during the harvest season, all of whom live in the small town La Florida   The Martinez family have recently started a vegetable farm to ensure year long employment all through the year for their permanent staff.

 

The elevation of Arenal Estate is situated between 4125 – 5280 feet.  This is a very high altitude coffee so the harvest happens much later (slow growing, very hard bean) than most of Honduran coffees.  The Martinez’s are excited to be working with us and are committing to continue their progress to produce better tasting coffee.  Within 3 years time they will have 20% of their crop available as a Certified Organic, and are already doing organic practices such as turning all fruit from processing into organic fertilizer.

 

Currently the Martinez chooses to fully wash and 100% sun dry all of their coffees; however, as we work with them we hope to experiment with different processing techniques which will develop new taste profiles.

 

The sample that originally caught our attention in Calgary was their original OPATORO blend of 60% Typica, 20% Bourbon and 20% Caturra.  However, what brought us all this way was the idea of tweaking this blend with them to offer a product even more unique. 

We left with a few options.

  • 100% Bourbon – Rich, creamy body, chocolate/caramel’s and very balanced. Pear and melon flavor notes.
  • 100% Caturra – Bright lemon/citrus acidity, clean and fresh flavor notes, lighter body.
  • Bodega Blend – 50% Bourbon / 50% Typica – Complex characteristics that balance the creamy body of the Bourbon and the bright orange acidity and sweetness found in the Typica.

What will we choose?  Well you will need to wait and see as this coffee will not be available for another 3-4 months.   We are excited for its arrival and look forward to hearing the response from our clients on our newest Direct Trade Coffee.

Russ Prefontaine