This week our coffee origins in focus series takes us to Honduras which is located right in the middle of the Central American coffee realm. It is renowned for its agricultural economy, which includes high quality coffee. Let’s learn more about it together!
The Republic of Honduras is a Spanish speaking country in Central America that is bordered on three sides by three other renowned coffee origins; Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. The bulk of its northern boundary comprises miles upon miles of beautiful coastline against the Caribbean Sea. You could call it a coffee lover’s idea of paradise.
It is, of course, the home to ancient civilisations (such as Maya) before it was colonised by the Spanish in the sixteenth century. The country was even subject to a successful coup against its president in 2009 who was sent into exile. The power-grab was deemed illegal and in the aftermath the impact on Honduras’ 9.5 million civilians remains present to this day.
As we previously mentioned, for coffee lovers Honduras could be considered paradise. The same could be said for coffee farmers too as we’re about to find out. It is also land made up of hills and highlands. In fact the mountainous interior makes up more than 80% of the entire landmass.
Honduras sits right in the middle of the Tropic of Cancer and the Equator which makes up one half of the area known as ‘The Coffee Belt’ where almost all the world’s coffee (certainly the best coffee) is grown. The climate is almost split into two with the lowlands enjoying a tropical climate where the temperatures averages between 28-32℃ with continuous rainfall throughout the seasons. The highlands above 1,000 masl where the majority of Honduran is grown are generally cooler with more segregated dry and wet seasons.
Coffee production in Honduras
At 112,492 square kilometers, Honduras is in the bottom half of the world’s countries when listed by size. When it comes to coffee production the country is the sixth largest! Over a million people help Honduras cultivate more than 348,000 metric tonnes of coffee every year, producing 4 million sacks that are sold for export.
Coffee’s origins in Honduras are fairly vague like a lot of growers, but records indicate that cultivation definitely took place in the early 19th century. The industry got serious in the 1970’s when the country introduced its own coffee authority, the Instituto Hondureño del Cafe (IHCAFE) for protecting and nurturing coffee interests in Honduras.
This immediately led to the development of not just infrastructure for production but also higher standards in the quality of Honduran coffee. The IHCAFE even launched appellation control in 2005 for Honduran coffee, these are similar to the sort of controls you would expect to see in wine or cheese in European countries.
With everything considered you could say that it is surprising not to see Honduras so easily recalled or even revered in the minds of consumers like the likes of Costa Rica, Guatemala or Panama. Thankfully, in speciality coffee especially, mindsets towards it are changing and have certainly been helped by the extensive promotion of Cup Of Excellence entries since 2002.
The country’s size means that most of the agricultural regions are suitable for coffee cultivation, especially those high up in Agalta, Mentecillos, and El Paraiso. Many of the farmers in Honduras work on small-holdings of just a few hectares, in fact 95% of them do. This means that almost all of the coffee grown in Honduras has to be focused on high-quality yields over high-quantity. With that said, a tiny proportion of the farms can be as expansive as 50 hectares, which would still be dwarfed in comparison to many of Brazil’s coffee growing estates.
Harvesting typically takes place between November and April. Processing the coffee beans has often proven difficult as the beans need to be laid out in the sun to reduce their moisture content. Honduras’ wet seasons are notoriously wet which has impacted on the quality of some harvests as farmers have had to resort to mechanical methods.
What does Honduran coffee taste like?
Central American coffees are generally great for offering medium bodied, sweet and acidic coffees that can be quite versatile. So, you can find a little Honduran mixed into a good espresso blend to which it would add sweetness and acidity.
They are usually washed so Honduran coffees are also great on their own as a filter option. If you love notes of honeycomb, mango and caramel, you’ll melt with pleasure when you drink a high-quality Honduran coffee that’s been expertly brewed in Chemex.