Honduras is a big producing country, with a lot of untapped potential for specialty lots. Coffee has historically been one of Honduras’ leading exports (alongside bananas) and since the mid-2000s total annual production has all but doubled - in the 10/11 crop year Honduras ranked as the world’s sixth largest Arabica producing country and Central America’s top grower, with a yield of 4,326,000 bags (all Arabica varietals).
Until relatively recently almost of all of Honduras’ production was aimed at the commercial market - and the country was seen as a lower-priced commodity exporter. While its Central American neighbours have become famous for high quality lots, specialty has arguably taken longer to discover - and be discovered by - Honduras. The growing conditions are certainly there - fertile soils, altitude (most farms lies at 1000m plus) and agreeable microclimates - but Honduras has struggled with a lack of processing and quality control infrastructure, and a bad name with quality buyers. However, things are changing - the government is investing substantially in coffee and pushing quality.
The country’s national coffee institute, IHCAFE, is offering technical assistance and training to farmers and is working on a project to provide producers access to low interest loans to buy processing equipment. At the same time, it is working hard to build Honduras’ reputation with specialty buyers. In 2004 it helped to set up a national cupping school, which provides comprehensive training for cuppers and is giving young people the opportunity to build a career in coffee quality control.
Honduras has been divided into six well-defined regions or ‘Denominaciónes de Origen’ (‘Designation of Origin’ - a term borrowed from the wine industry and used by several Central American producing countries): Copán (north-west, bordering Guatemala and El Salvador), Opalca (north-west), Marcala-Montecillos (south-west), Comayagua (centre-west), El Paraíso (south-east) and Agalta Tropical (north and east). Each region has its own IHCAFE-sponsored cupping lab, which offers farmers a free cupping service. These six main regions are in turn split into various micro regions, demarcated by geography and cup profiles.
Of course, there is still a lot of work to be done. The country’s production has increased dramatically, but its coffee infrastructure (processing facilities, transport etc) still lags behind that of its better known neighbours. Meanwhile many of the country’s small producers lack any access to finance, so they are forced to sell cherries or wet parchment (partially processed coffee) to mills or exporters at a low price - sacrificing quality and traceability in the process. At the time of writing (August 2012), only around 20% of Honduran producers deliver dry parchment - ie. wash and dry their coffees themselves, for which they can demand a price premium.
Honduras also struggles with high rainfall and drying is a real issue for many producers. The country’s rainy climate makes using drying patios very difficult in some areas - with coffees prone to fermentation. Instead producers are encouraged by IHCAFE to use polytunnels (known as ‘domos’) or solar dryers to dry their specialty lots.
Over 100,000 families are involved in coffee production across Honduras - 95% of whom are small-scale farmers. The country’s main varietal is Catuaí, with a minority of Bourbon, Pacas and Typica.
The main harvest in most areas of Honduras runs from the end of January to March/April. We ship our Honduran coffees as soon as they are rested and ready for export. This is typically during the period April to July.