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Coffee & Honduras

Types of Coffee

types-of-coffee

Two species of coffee are utilized commercially Coffea arabica ( “Arabica”) and Coffea canephora, ( “Robusta”) from which a number of varieties have been developed around the world. These are the result of favorable mutations or of hybridization and have been selected for higher yield or increased resistance to disease in particular regions or climates. The great majority of Central America coffees are “Arabicas” considered the richest and smoothest in the cup. Varieties such as “Bourbon”, “Catuai”, “Caturra”, and “ Catimor” are common in Honduras. The grower selects a variety suitable to the soil, altitude, and climatic conditions of his farm, keeping the market preferences for flavor in mind.

Shade Grown

Most coffee in Central America is “Shade Grown” meaning that it is produced beneath a protective canopy of larger trees. Shade grown coffees remain in production longer than those exposed to full sun and since their fruits develop

shade-grown

Catuai Coffee

slowly are more likely to produce a “gourmet” bean. Shaded farms are more “ Eco-Friendly” as they provide a natural refuge for both local and migratory birds and are more protective of local watersheds and wildlife. The shade is adjusted several times a year to assure sufficient sunlight for productive plants while protecting them from damaging overexposure. The percentage of shade required varies with the hours of sun on the farm’s slopes, its altitude, and the average climatic conditions there such as temperature, cloud cover, and rainfall. In general more shade is required on warmer, lower altitudes ( 600-900 mts) than on cooler higher slopes ( 1000-1500 mts)

Three year old coffee on a shaded slop

Hand Labor

hand-labor

The successful cultivation of Arabica coffee involves an enormous amount of hand labor, often under difficult climatic conditions. Since it is grown beneath the forest canopy and frequently on steep mountain slopes the use of farm machinery is impossible. From planting the seeds, to maintaining the developing plants, to harvesting the mature red beans, everything is done by hand. Machinery only becomes a factor in processing, drying, and grading the beans post – harvest. The work is hard by any standard and done by men and women who have grown up in the culture of coffee production. A serious threat to shade grown coffee in Central America is the migration of many experienced workers to the north. Others who have grown up in softer or urban conditions will not be capable of filling their shoes or replacing their many years of hands-on experience.

Coffee's Yearly Cycle

Coffee is harvested once a year and the “cafetaleros” live through an annual cycle regulated by the development of the crop. In many aspects it is similar to a wine grower’s yearly experience. Although the monthly timing of various phases of production varies with the individual region, altitude, and local climate the sequence of events is as follows:

full-flowering

Transferring sprouted beans to
nursery bags

Coffee flower high on the farm

The end of one yearly harvest marks the beginning of the next as the coffee plants after a brief period of dormant recuperation, begin to flower. This will occur 3-4 times separated by an interval of 2-3 weeks. The white flowers flood the farm with a sweet perfume for several days before drying up and falling. The small green base that held the flower will develop over the next 7-8 months into a mature , red fruit normally containing two coffee beans. Since the flowering spans several months the eventual harvest will also as the “cherries” ripen sequentially.

( on Finca Miramundo flowering occurs: March – May)

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The flowering is followed by extended period of plant growth and development on the farm ( 5-7 months) and important work during this time includes:

  • Two fertilizations
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  • Adjustment of the shade above the coffee
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  • Removal of weeds around the plants
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  •  Development of a nursery to replace damaged coffee or plant new areas.
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  • (on Finca Miramundo : June to November)

Unloading nursery bags for planting.

The harvest occurs over 3-4 month period and may vary a month or so with that year’s climate. The timing is very dependent on altitude as picking begins in late September around the Copan Valley ( 600 – 800 mts altitude) but normally doesn’t occur until December on Finca Miramundo ( 1100 – 1300 mts). The beans mature sequentially ( even within a single cluster) and are individually handpicked when bright red. To achieve a high quality smooth coffee the inclusion of partially red (or worse green) “ cherries” must be minimized. The harvest begins and ends slowly with the central 3-4 passes by the pickers through the farm providing 60-70% of the production and the highest quality beans. While Finca Miramundo employs 12-15 workers throughout the year the number reaches 80-130 during peak harvest.

( on Finca Miramundo: December to early April)

Coffee's Importance in Honduras

coffees-imporftance

Is the coffee important to the economy and culture of Honduras? Absolutely! Here are some of the reasons:

  • Coffee is the country’s number one export crop and is expected to return $. 1.35 Billion dollars in the 2010-2011 coffee year, (measured September to September). A total of 5,000.000 100 pounds sacks were produced.
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  • Honduras has 90-100,000 coffee producers employing over 1,000,000 workers during the 3-4 month harvest.
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  • Honduras was the # 7 coffee producer in the world in 2009-2010, a huge advance as country was # 14 the year before. Honduras is likely to reach the #5 position within a few years with exportations of 6,000,000 sacks. 70% of Honduran Coffee is sold to Europe with the U.S. being the second largest customer.
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  • Honduras is unique in Central America as 92% it’s coffee is grown by small producers (less than 5 hectares) . The financial rewards are thus shared more evenly throughout the coffee sector than neighboring countries where large operations predominate.
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  • The quality and reputation of Honduran Coffee has risen dramatically in recent years. Improved processing technology, greater emphasis on “gourmet” coffee and “eco-certified farms, and the proudly held Honduran belief that “ El Café es Bello” ( Coffee is beautiful) are all the factors in the turnaround.

Pickers weight out the day´s harvest

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