2024 Honduras Sourcing Trip Recap

As I sit down to write this recap of our most recent coffee sourcing visit to Honduras, my heart is full.  I am truly blessed to be able to spend six days connecting with coffee producers who have become friends, visit their farms and mills—and even one of their homes—and call it “work.”  I love the opportunity the specialty coffee industry provides to form relationships across the supply chain.  They enrich my life, and the lives of every one of my employees that goes on these trips. 

This time we took a couple of our baristas (Cheyne and Zane) as well as one of our wholesale partners, Stacey.  We also connected up with our friends Jeff, Emily, and Olivia from Giv Coffee in Connecticut to form a group of seven.  Here are just a handful of the highlights. 

Christian and Bon Cafe

Christian LeSage, owner of Bon Cafe in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, is a special man.  While his exporting company is very large and focused primarily on conventional coffees (those scoring below the 80 points required to be classified as specialty), he actually moves quite a bit of specialty grade coffees to roasters like us around the world.  Many roasting companies are built on a handful of repeatable blends that make up the base of their offering sheets.  These are the coffees that are brewed in the majority of their wholesale accounts or consumed by the majority of their customers for several reasons.  

One, as blends, they are likely available all year round.  Two, they likely offer the most approachable flavor profile.  And three, they are likely their lowest priced coffees. 

As much as roasters in our industry emphasize micro lots, and coffees that push our palates, the majority of coffee drinkers in the US and Europe want approachable, repeatable blends to enjoy on a daily basis.  And businesses want solid and tasty coffees delivered at an affordable price so that they can, in turn, make money.  Hence, with exception, these blends and the coffees that go into them tend to comprise the largest volume of coffees roasted by most specialty roasters.  It is certainly true of us, which is where Christian comes in.  

Christian is focused on producing several volume coffees (we’re talking tens to hundreds of thousands of pounds) that specialty roasters can incorporate into their blend programs.  Doing this is not easy as most producers in Honduras are growing small amounts of coffee, most of which is not at a high enough quality to achieve specialty classification.  So, achieving uniformity of flavor profile at volume is a challenge.  But here is the beauty of what Christian is doing.  

Christian is going into coffee communities in the Marcala, Lempira, and Intibuca regions of Honduras and offering to purchase 100% of producers’ crops.  Once harvested, he then receives the coffees at his wet mills to de-pulp and dry.  After drying, he moves the coffee to his dry mill where the magic happens: quality separation.  He uses several pieces of equipment to separate the coffee into 7 different quality levels, from micro lot quality at the top to the lowest grade that will be sold in country and never exported.  From there, the workers in his lab roast and taste samples of the coffees coming in and begin to build volume lots based on flavor profiles and taste characteristics that are consistently repeatable year after year.  Samples of these larger lots are then offered to folks like us in the hopes that we will find something useful in our blend programs.  

Here is the beauty of what he is doing for producers: Christian pays the producer for 100% of his crop, but instead of buying it all at one base price, he pays the farmers based on the quality separation he does at his mill.  So, if a producer produces more high quality coffees, he or she gets paid more.  This not only helps to create incentive for the small producer, but it also guarantees what is often the most important thing to a farmer: that they will get paid for everything they harvested.  

On top of that, Christian has developed grant programs and sustainability initiatives via working with USAID (the U.S. Agency for International Development) that are helping to improve farming practices and coffee quality in remote areas.  He has several demonstration farms that teach farming best practices and are populated with a variety of plants. This allows farmers a chance to see how different varieties of coffee plants respond to the specific climates in which they live. This means better decisions and less risk as farmers choose which varieties to plant.  He also distributes a handful of low water wet mills to producers every year, which improves their processing times and quality, and he annually plants tens of thousands of new shade trees to help improve the sustainability of the ecosystems within which he buys coffee.

While it is not such a “sexy” part of our industry, I personally believe what folks like Christian are doing is essential to the future of coffee.  And every year in which I get to spend several days with him, I walk away understanding my industry—as well as the challenges producers face—at a deeper level.  

Moises Herrera & Marysabel Caballero and Finca El Puente

Last year, Christian surprised me by inviting us to join him for dinner with his friends Moises and Marysabel in the town of Marcala.  Upon arriving at their home I had no idea who these people were, but I quickly learned that I was in the home of a revered family of top producers. Our hearts were bonded during that meal and they offered us some of their coffees, which we gladly purchased.  

It was Marysabel’s father who exported specialty grade coffee after placing second in the Cup of Excellence competition back in the early 2000s.  From then until now, the list of roasters who import this family's coffee is impressive the world over.  Do a quick google search of their names and the name of their farm and you will see what I mean.  

This year we once again found ourselves seated around their table, enjoying hours of good food and even better company.  Marysabel and Moises have the gift of hospitality and are dynamic people.  There were stories; there was a lot of laughter and smiles; there were even a few tears.  We learned about their love of opera, and were then surprised by an impromptu aria sung by Olivia from Giv Coffee (a trained opera singer at the Hart School of Music in CT).  Wow!  What a moment!  

We also visited Finca El Puente this year and got to walk some of its storied trails.  This year, the harvest was coming on quickly in March and Moises’ pickers were working in earnest to bring in all of the ripe cherries.  Moises gave us the history of the farm and cast a vision for the future.  We also toured his mill and learned a lot about how they are deploying slow mechanical drying to help dry the coffee better than they can with patio drying.   

Moises and Marysabel are at the pinnacle of coffee in Honduras, but where we headed next was by no means a drop off!  

Benjamin Paz, Gabriel Leiva and Beneficio San Vicente

I first met Benjamin Paz in 2018 on a sourcing trip with Todd Mackey and Covoya Coffee.  At that point in time, he had yet to plant his own farms and winning the Cup of Excellence was still just a dream.  He had developed a program where he connected specialty roasters from all over the world with small producers.  The idea was that the roasters would commit to purchasing 100% of a producer’s coffee annually at above market prices and that repeated buying at good prices would lead to better quality and even better prices in the future.  It was a win-win for everyone all around, and touring the farms of the Santa Barbara area with Benjamin was like scrolling through a Rolodex of top shelf roasters from around the world. 

We joined the program at that time and have been purchasing through Benjamin Paz ever since.  

For the past few years, we have been connected with a wonderful man named Gabriel Leiva, who grows the beautiful and tasty pacas variety on his farm El Naciente.  Our team loved walking his farm this year.  We especially loved seeing all of the fruit trees and vegetables his family is growing, and we walked away with armfuls of things to eat back at the hotel.  

Gabriel is an unassuming man with a big smile.  His soft-spoken manner is endearing.  You can see he takes pride in what he produces from his small, humble farm.  I believe this was our second visit to his farm, but we have had his coffee for three years now—with more to come!  

We also visited Benjamin’s farm La Orquidea, which offers one stunning view of Lake Yojoa.  This past year was the first time we were able to get our hands on coffee from this farm as it is still only a handful of years old.  Last year Benjamin won 1st Place in the Cup of Excellence competition with a geisha variety from his sister farm La Salsa.  Because of his prominence in our industry and this win, his coffees have become difficult to get, so we are really blessed to be working with him.  

A Vision for the Future: A Better Honduras

As we spend more time with Benjamin and his team, the most significant thing I am struck by is their desire and commitment to build a better Honduras for the future.  Their nation is suffering due to many people emigrating to the States to seek a better life or simply better employment so they can send money home to their families.  This has hit the coffee sector and the small communities in these mountains especially hard.  

In the past few years, Benjamin has opened three new businesses in the quiet town of Peña Blanca—a cafe, a roasting company, and now a pizzeria.  Each of these alone would be solid in the States, but they really stand out here for their quality and vibe.  More importantly, the vision behind this is to create jobs that keep young people here.  Ben understands that it is essential for young people to see a hope of a future here and he is choosing to make an investment.  

We talked a lot about this topic on this trip because we visited a coffee producing family where one of the sons recently left for the States.  We stood on the porch of their small mountain home and heard their stories.  Their son is all alone in our country, finding what work he can and sending money home.  I don’t advocate for it, but I understand why he would think this choice is the better choice for him to make as he considers how to provide for his family.  Ben wants his people to stay and to invest their energies into building a better Honduras, but to do so he knows they need to see opportunities that resonate with them and that make financial sense.  

More than anything, this is why we choose to continue to support what Benjamin is doing.  

Yes, the coffee is amazing. But more significantly, it is vital for the town of Peña Blanca that someone like Benjamin and his team of Ariel (agronomist), Gustavo, Raul & Lise (coffee lab professionals) succeed.  They need encouragement and I spend a good bit of time on these trips investing in building relationships with them.  

The farm visits are great, but I’ve come to understand that spending 20 minutes here, 30 minutes there, encouraging young people to continue in their pursuit of their career, to not give up, and to invest in their future in Honduras, is significant to them, as well as to me.  It blesses me to have the opportunity to affirm them, believe in them, encourage them to keep going, listen to their concerns, and understand their challenges.

This is why I go.  This is why I buy their coffee.  And this is why I take my people.