The decision to visit a producing country for the first time is always exciting. Allowing a more tailored buying approach to each origin's quirks, we cast off any pre-conceived assumptions we may have, but most importantly, we're able to meet producers dedicated to quality and sustainability. Honduras has surprised us with the quality of coffees we have tasted from the country recently. A trip was a must, and it didn't disappoint.
After touring in Honduras' Intibucá department, visiting small producers in Pozo Negro whose coffee we bought for our filter range, we headed south to the town of Marcala in the department of La Paz. A short drive away is Chinacla, home to a couple as passionate, positive and enthusiastic about coffee as we have met on any of our travels; Marysabel Caballero and Moises Herrera. Together they're a force of nature, and we're delighted to have secured some of their coffee to roast for espresso this season.
Marysabel and Moises have around 200 hectares of farmland, an impeccable wet mill, an organised and technically advanced dry mill and an enormous warehouse to store their product. They recently upgraded from a Honduran-made Aguapulpa, which had a propensity to damage beans, to a Penagos Eco-Pulper. Whilst they do some small-scale preparations of rare varieties, the majority of their coffee is depulped and dry fermented overnight for 12-14 hours, before being washed, graded in channels and then soaked in clean water for a further 12 hours.
A step we've never witnessed before, the wet coffee is spun in a centrifuge to remove excess water before being laid out on patios for around 8-10 hours. Once complete, the 'drained' coffee is loaded into very cool guardiolas, fuelled by burning coffee wood and spent coffee parchment from the dry mill. We are always wary of purchasing mechanically dried coffee, but they showed us their vast amount of data on optimal temperatures, timings, moisture content and water activity, that ensure well-preserved coffees with stability and longevity.
Near-perfect weather in the region caused mass flowering of coffee trees, creating a very condensed harvest this year. Typically the season runs from December to May, but cherries ripened en masse from January to March, resulting in the need to install more equipment to keep pace with the glut of coffee being delivered to the mill. Employing 150-200 pickers during the peak of the harvest, they aim to hire the same people as much as possible each year, however many workers are actually employed year-round, fulfilling tasks such as pruning, planting, removing old or sick trees and weeding so as not to have to use herbicides. This year-round support creates a stronger social bond between the Caballeros Estate and the community of Chinacla, with Marysabel explaining how being so interwoven with the local community means they don't require extra security to combat coffee theft, as seen on many other large farms and estates in Central America.
We're really excited to share their coffee with you for the first time and intend to welcome it back into our range for years to come. As Marysabel said to us "You can never get bored in coffee as there are always so many exciting projects to pursue and ways to improve". We have to agree.