October 13, 2016

Interview: How Training Cuppers Supports Specialty in Honduras


When we talk about taking steps towards specialty, we often think of production methods and trade routes. It’s less often that we consider cupping. Yet Exequiel Colindrez, three-time national judge at Cup of Excellence Honduras, believes that we should.

We met him at Project Origin: Best of Honduras Late Harvest: a specialty coffee awards and auction dedicated to those sweet coffees that ripened later in the year. He represented the national coffee association IHCAFÉ and Carlos “Pineco” Pineda’s Cupping School by preparing samples.

And he also made time to sit down with us and share his thoughts on cupping Honduras’ coffee.

SEE ALSO: How Carlos Pineda Set Up the First Cupping School in Honduras

Exequiel Colindres making cupping notes

Exequiel Colindrez cups several coffees.

Hi Exequiel, thanks for chatting. How did your career as a cupper begin?

My father is a coffee grower in Agalta Tropical [a region in the east of Honduras], the same area that I now live in. When IHCAFÉ and the Cupping School first began offering cupping courses as a gateway to a professional career, I didn’t know anything about cupping. I didn’t know how to use it for quality control or as a tool for improving the coffee production processes. But I had the chance to meet Pineco and he told me all about the program.

Is a knowledge of agronomy necessary for the program?

No, in the School they’re flexible with regard to applicant’s backgrounds. Also, the program includes two intensive modules about agronomy for coffee-growing as part of the introduction to cupping. So anyone can participate.

How has it affected your career?

Thanks to this program, I started to understand what a bad and a good-quality coffee is. As a small grower, I previously didn’t know about the importance of this. But I discovered that cupping can help you decide how coffee production processes should be implemented. And over time, I had more opportunities to learn more about this industry.

Today I have a roaster and, thanks to my new abilities as a cupper, I am able to control the quality of the coffees produced in my region. Agalta Tropical isn’t an outstanding coffee region, and actually it’s one of the areas with the least coffee production. However, producers here are now motivated to grow more.

In my current role, I visit farms to guide the milling processes and give feedback for future improvements. We’ve realised that there is the potential to grow high-quality coffees. But we have also noticed that the ability to successfully commercialize the product is the limiting factor.

Exequiel Colindrez with IHCAFÉ representatives

Exequiel with fellow IHCAFÉ representatives.

Have you seen an increase in high-quality coffee sales?

Honduras produces millions of bags every year, and a big part of that is sold as commodity-grade coffee. However, sales have recently increased thanks to the recognition that we as cuppers have had and the support of the Cupping School. Specialty coffee sales have increased and there are more and more interested buyers.

We really want to position our coffee in the specialty industry, but the increase in demand can’t be completely satisfied because a large amount of our coffee is still sold as commodity coffee.

Have you noticed any other changes since the foundation of the Cupping School?

So far, Honduras has organized thirteen Cups of Excellence. The cupping training has been a crucial tool for us in the coffee industry, allowing us to take big steps forward. Because of it, we can speak the same language as cuppers. This has helped us discuss our coffees with buyers from other countries.

These kind of programs have also helped us to achieve a standardized knowledge of the sensory features of coffees. Also, we’re educating producers so that they can keep producing high-quality coffee and, in this way, have higher incomes. For us, this is a big thing. Growers are receptive to any improvement they can make, because this is how quality will be improved. As a result, there will be an increase in the exports of high-quality coffees.

Exequiel Colindres cupping coffee

Speaking the same language of quality is important. And that language is cupping.

As a cupper, you’ve been a judge for the Cup of Excellence. What does this require?

Judges must have minimum two years’ experience as cuppers. With Cup of Excellence, 20 people typically apply. They have to take some tests so that the organizers can select those cuppers who evaluate coffee with the greatest degree of conformity. From this group, ten people will be selected.

What brought you to participate in Project Origin: Best of Honduras?

Project Origin: Best of Honduras worked closely with IHCAFÉ and the Cupping School to share ideas. IHCAFÉ made sure that their experts participated, whether cuppers like myself and Pineco or agronomists and specialists in fermentation. And Sasa Sestic and Habib Maarbani, the organizers behind Project Origin, encouraged visiting roasters not only to see the farms but also to connect with IHCAFÉ.

What would be your advice to someone who wants to become a cupper?

Becoming a professional cupper is a matter of practice. There’s obviously a certain amount of knowledge that supports this learning process, and you also have to visit coffee laboratories and roast different kind of coffees to discover the differences between, for example, a dark roast and a light roast. You have to never stop trying.

Thanks for speaking to us, Exequiel!

Perfect Daily Grind

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