Since 2005, the region, Santa Barbara, and the small producers living and working there, have shared the distinction as the place and the people producing exceptional coffee within Honduras. Our work and the beginning of the on-going relationships we’ve since established all began with the purchase of a microlot from Mr. Benitez when he won the 2005 Cup of Excellence. We came to realize, through working with him, that there are more exceptional producers like him from this small area. And since that inaugural year, we have purchased from over twenty different Santa Barbara producers.
This year we have chosen coffee from 16 smallholdings located along one hillside in Santa Barbara, where the villages Cielito, Cedral and Las Flores follow one after another. Grown on this hillside is mostly Pacas, a coffee species akin to Bourbon, as well as Yellow Catuaí and Pacamara. It is challenging to process coffee cherries in areas like these, which are close to the jungle and thus, to rain. The drying process, in particular, is especially demanding. But when these processes are precisely controlled, seemingly problematic factors (like drying under challenging conditions) are what make coffee from this area particularly interesting. The coffee produced here cups with flavour attributes not found anywhere else in Central America.
Santa Barbara is the name of a region in Honduras, but it is also the name of the mountain range that stretches through this part of the country. Located in the village of Pena Blanca is coffee exporter San Vicente – the company that coordinates the coffee we buy.
The one special hillside mentioned earlier has, over the past several years, become the largest supplier of CoE winners in Honduras. The most successful farms with the smartest and most innovative farmers are neighbours who help each other to refine the best of their lots.
On this hillside exists an eagerness – a willingness, motivation and ambition to produce the best coffee in the country. But there are also large differences amongst the farmers and our purpose is to be close to this special coffee community and get to know the most ambitious of the farmers here; the ones we can develop something with. In order to build relationships - that allow both parties to have a common understanding of quality coffee – there must be frequent and long-term presence.
To produce coffee that tastes fruity is not very complicated. But to produce coffee that is clean, clear, fresh and fruity – that’s an art. Assumption number one is always that coffee from high-altitude areas naturally exhibit these characteristics. But high elevation can lead to potential problems, even in tropical climates. In the highest areas of Santa Barbara, up to and over 1800 meters, producers can experience "freezing": the combination of temperatures between 4-5C and rainfall that combine to cause cherries to not ripen and leaves to die on the bush. These conditions create a cold and humid climate, which is hazardous for processing and requires steady and reliable drying conditions for coffee so quality will not deteriorate. These natural conditions, of course, cannot be evaded. But a clever and prescient coffee farmer can invest in drying systems that minimize the risks associated with weather.
Of the people we have been working with in Santa Barbara, our work with the Moreno brothers is one of the longest standing. It is amongst our coolest relationships anywhere. In previous years, the Morenos preferred selling their best lots through the Cup of Excellence auction because they always achieved good results and prices. But in the last few years, however, they have decided to trade differently because they are now confident that they can produce all their coffee to CoE quality standards, and thus prefer to sell directly, knowing they will receive good prices and a stable working relationship.
In our agreement with them, we have determined that after the best lots have been identified for the season, we will cup to verify that they meet our quality standards, and then pay a higher base price than their already higher-than-average price. For lots cupping even better, we will pay more. We only buy coffee we score at 86-points or higher. For coffee scoring between 86-88 points, we have decided to pay an additional 25% premium on top of the established base price. Coffee scoring between 88.5-90 points receives a 50% premium and, if coffee scores higher than 90-points, the Morenos receive a 100% premium! We believe the Moreno family, in the future, will produce more coffee of better quality (i.e. lots of 88-90-point coffee). The family is very motivated by the outlined agreement and we are very happy and excited about this partnership.
Stay tuned for soon to come posts on our other Santa Barbara partners!