Honduras: a small, beautiful country at the heart of Central America. Its location and terroir are ideal for growing coffee – in fact, it’s the world’s fifth biggest producer by volume (ICO, 2017).
And despite high poverty rates and coffee leaf rust, the country’s specialty coffee production grows stronger and stronger. Many of its single origins have demonstrated high potential, such as this year’s Cup Of Excellence (COE) winner, a Parainema grown by Oscar Daniel Ramirez Valerio of Finca el Laurel, El Paraiso. It scored 91.81 points and sold for US $124.50/lb, a record price for Honduras.
But what’s so special about Honduran coffee? What are the different regions? And what profiles can we find? Read on to find out.
Spanish Version: Una Presentación de las 6 Regiones Cafeteras de Honduras
An educational cupping held in Corquín, Copán by IHCAFE. Credit: Carlos René Guerra
What Sets Honduran Coffee Apart?
In order to get more insight into this question, I decided to speak with Sasa Sestic, creator of Project Origin’s Best of Honduras: Late Harvest Auction, which was held in the last week of July. I also spoke with Jorge Lanza, a producer from Santa Barbara, and winner of the 2013 Cup of Excellence in Honduras.
Not only do these two share an immense passion for the country’s specialty coffee production, but they also agree on what makes it so great: diversity. Honduras may be small, but it’s rich in different varieties, processes, altitudes, micro-climates, cup profiles, and more.
As a general guide, the annual rainfall ranges between 1,300–2,3000 mm (IHCAFE) – but some areas are far more humid than others. Varieties include Catuai, Pacas, Lempira, IHCAFE90, and Parainema. Washed coffees are the most common, but you’ll also find producers experimenting with honeys or naturals (locally called guacucos).
Honduran coffee origins all shine for different reasons. So let’s look at the six different regions that you can buy or taste coffee from.
Sasa Sestic at the 2016 Best of Honduras: Late Harvest Auction. Credit: Project Origin
Copán lies in the west of Honduras, bordering Guatemala, and includes the states of Copán, Ocotepeque, and part of Santa Barbara. It has an altitude of 1,000–1,500 m.a.s.l., and some of the widest ranges of humidity and temperature – although, with a low of 11.5 °C, it can also be the coolest producing region in the country.
Here, you can find a sweet-scented coffee with strong notes of chocolate, caramel and citrus. The body tends to be bold and creamy, while the aftertaste is lingering and balanced, with a delicate acidity. Common varieties include Bourbon, Caturra, and Catuai.
Coffee from Copán is particularly famous in Honduras. What’s more, it’s part of the Honduran Western Coffees (HWC) Geographical Indication, which marks it as a notable origin (much like Mexican tequila or Roquefort cheese).
As for Sasa, he tells me that he finds coffees from this region are often well-suited to blends.
Yellow Catuai grows on Finca Santa Elena, Copán. Credit: Finca de Café Santa Elena
The Opalaca region runs to the east of Copán and is also part of the HWC origin. It includes much of Santa Barbara, Intibucá, and Lempira. Common varieties here include Bourbon, Catuai, and Typica.
With a slightly higher altitude of 1,100–1,500 m.a.s.l., you’ll find a great complexity of flavors: tropical fruits, grapes and berries; a fine delicate acidity; and a balanced aftertaste.
“I’ve found diverse profiles in this region,” Sasa tells me, “such as mango, grapes, a complex acidity, strong aromas and floral characters.”
Jose Benitez Alonso washes recently pulped coffee on his farm in El Zarzal, Intibucá. Credit: Maren Barbee
Montecillos is particularly special, Jorge tells me, because of its weather and high altitude. You’ll find coffee growing between 1,200 and 1,600 m.a.s.l. Nights tend to be cold, giving the cherries the opportunity to ripen more slowly and develop a sweeter flavor.
Situated along the Salvadoran border, in the southwest of Honduras, producers here have cultivated coffees that have gained worldwide recognition. This has made Montecillos home to Honduras’ first Origin Denomination: Café de Marcala.
You can indulge yourself with coffee that tastes of citrus, peach, apricot, and caramel; that has a velvety body; and a sparkling tartaric acidity.
Sasa also has a research and development farm here. He explains that, thanks to this micro-climate, he has been able to experiment with techniques that will unlock the potential of different varieties. He believes that fermentation is key to maximizing the amount of sugars a cherry can develop, thereby producing a better cup.
The view from Nelson Ramirez’s Finca Cheli, Santa Barbara. Credit: Mark A. Froud’s Souvenir Coffee Co.
The region of Comayagua sits in the centre of Honduras and is made up of the states of Comayagua and Francisca Morazán. It has an altitude of 1,000–1,500 m.a.s.l. What’s more, according to IHCAFE, it had the country’s greatest yield in 2016, with an average 30.19 quintales of green coffee per manzana (approximately 100 pounds per 1.72 acres).
It is also the region of this year’s Project Origin Best of Honduras Washed Champion: Jose Abel Girón Dubón of Finca Las Botijas entered a Pacamara which scored 91.34 points and sold for US $29.10/lb. It impressed the judges with its complexity, juicy and velevety mouthfeel, and fruity flavours: they recorded notes of candy, peach, mango, floral, jasmine, apricot, lime, honey, black currant, orange, watermelon, guava, hibiscus, raspberry, white grape, red grape, and mint.
In a cup of Comayagua coffee, you can expect sweet, citrus fragrances combined with a bright level of acidity and a creamy, rich body. Common varieties include Typica, Bourbon, Parchi, and other hybrids.
A cupping at Galeano Coffee, a specialty coffee shop in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Credit: Galeano Coffee
You’ll find El Paraiso in the south of Honduras, bordering Nicaragua. It has an altitude of 1,000–1,400 m.a.s.l. and a relatively high temperature of 16–22.5°C.
The region’s reputation is growing – helped along by this year’s Cup of Excellence win. Oscar Daniel Ramirez Valerio’s Parainema was grown in El Paraiso. Farmed at 1,400 m.a.s.l., it had flavors and aromas of green apples, jasmine, peach, blueberries, orange, and white wine.
What’s more, Parainema is a rust-resistant Sarchimor hybrid – something that has historically left specialty buyers wary. Yet Sasa makes the case for them, telling me, “Hybrids can taste amazing.” He adds that it’s important to work with them correctly to maximize their potential.
Generally speaking, El Paraiso has sweet, citric, and smooth cup profiles. Sasa tells me that he has also found unique flavors, include champagne, grapes, mango, and tropical fruits, along with a floral acidity and creamy mouthfeel.
Preparing coffee for cupping at Cup of Excellence Honduras. Credit: RedMeowCoffee
Last, but certainly not least, we find Agalta. Located in the southeast of Honduras, it has a more tropical climate and altitudes that range from 1,100 to 1,400 m.a.s.l. Common varieties include Bourbon, Caturra, and Typica.
Coffee from this region offers diverse tropical fruit flavors, with a caramel and chocolate fragrance, a delicate but pronounced acidity, and a sweet aftertaste.
Coffee producers rake drying coffee on Finca Fuente Vida in Copan, Honduras. Photo Credit: Mark A. Froud’s Souvenir Coffee Co.
Honduras’ coffees have a lot to offer. So go ahead and try all the varieties, cup profiles, and regions that you can find from this Central American gem. Savor the champagne notes of an El Paraiso, the velvety body of a Cafe Marcala, and the complex acidity of an Opalaca. Experience the diversity that makes this country’s coffee so special.
And know that, as you drink a cup of Honduran coffee, you’ll also be tasting the great labor of many Honduran families.
Feature photo: Bernardino Benítez displays ripe-red cherries on his farm in Los Naranjos, Intibucá. Feature photo credit: Maren Barbee
In addition to interviews with Sasa Sestic and Jorge Lanza, information provided by the Instituto Hondureño del Café (IHCAFE) on their website was invaluable in producing this resource.
Please note: Project Origin is a sponsor of Perfect Daily Grind.
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