I spent the past week in Honduras with Uncommon Grounds visiting the farmers who grow some of our coffees! It was a super exciting opportunity; seeing the growing, processing and exporting systems has been a goal of mine for a while. In addition to it being educational and informative, it was also amazing from a traveler’s perspective. The beautiful mountains, wonderful people, and cultural differences all made it an epic experience. We did so much on this trip I could seriously ramble forever.
This is the park in La Union Lempira, the town we stayed in for the trip. I loved the pink and sea foam paint in the park.
Most of the kids in La Union go to school, there are public schools and then a few kids go to the bilingual school. We met a few of the teachers from the bilingual school (one of their teachers hosted us).
Chickens, roosters, dogs, and cats roam freely around La Union. Most of the chickens and dogs “belong” to someone, but they hang out wherever they please.
We met with a few different farmers whose coffees we have bought in past years (and we plan to again). The trip was organized by Union Micro Finanza, a micro finance organization that helps farmers improve their crops. Improved handling of crops = better quality coffee = more money for the farmers. Coffee processing has historically been handled in a pretty non-scientific way, so new discoveries are always being made on better ways to process and handle coffees. The picture above is the view from Rigoberto Pas’ farm.
Some nice looking red and yellow catuai that we picked.
After the coffee is ripe and picked (a tedious process in itself- good coffees are carefully picked by hand) it is taken to the beneficio. Some farmers have their own beneficio (processing center), depending on how large their farms are. At the processing center, coffee first gets a quick bath. While in the water any leaves or floating cherries are filtered out. Floating cherries usually indicate that the shell is hollow, but also the skin of overripe cherries tends to float. The coffee is sent through a de-pulping machine, which removes the beans from the cherries. Coffees then sit in fermentation tanks with water for a few days, which helps remove the sticky layer around the bean (mucilage). After they are done fermenting, they are rinsed a few times and set in solar dryers (or on patios) to dry. Above you can see a child sorting defects out of a fermentation tank.
The beneficio we spent our time at is operated by Union Micro Finanza. In addition to their micro loans, they run this beneficio to experiment with coffee processing. They are constantly improving their facility, and are always aiming to do so with minimal materials, so that farmers could then learn about processing from them and apply what they learn to their own production. Above you can see Patrick and Gilberto of UMF talking about how coffee in the solar dryers is regularly flipped for even drying. At this stage coffees also go through another close inspection, where defects (chipped beans, skins, etc.) are all picked out by hand. Keep in mind that different countries, regions and farmers may process coffees differently! This style of processing is usually referred to as fully washed, or wet-processed. In the other 2 “styles” of processing the order in which they dry and de-pulp the coffees is different. After all of this processing coffees are sent to the exporter, who then puts all coffees through more vigorous quality assurance standards (quality when it arrives/desired quality and price determine how many defects they allow and how throughly they sort). The exporter will have a huge warehouse with lots of different sorting equipment, which will sort beans by density and also remove any defects missed in the initial processing. THEN it finally is put into bags and shipped off to the roaster! (WHEW)
Above is a picture of one of our coffee farmers Bernardo Ponce. He has an infectious laugh and incredible charisma. Even the kids flock to him!
While we were there we did do a few non-coffee related things. One of the greatest highlights of the trip was our hike to the waterfall at El Naranjo. Here you can see Maggie is enjoying prancing through the mountains.
The waterfall! The last of the hike was straight down a huge hill. Nestled between the hills was this beautiful spot. We climbed around on the rocks and gawked at the waterfalls magnitude before a delicious lunch which we ate on the river. We had these amazing empanadas prepared by one of our gracious hosts, Alicia. A man and his toddler son were collecting fire wood near us on this patch of incredibly steep land, and he definitely got a kick out of all the gringos frolicking in the water. Charlie offered them a few empanadas which the man readily accepted, and we all ate on the river together. Sitting there was one of the most pleasant parts of the entire trip.
The wildflowers were also amazing! The soil there is incredibly rich so plants that we work hard to cultivate grow like weeds.
Somehow I feel like I’ve rambled here but only scratched the surface. I learned so much on this trip! If there is one final subject that I feel is really important to mention it’s Roya, or Coffee Leaf Rust. Seeing how the effects of this disease have decimated crops on so many prolific farms is heartbreaking. Farmers we spoke to said that this year was the worst outbreak of Roya that they have ever seen, due to climate change. A depressing note to end on, but let it serve as your daily reminder of the importance of pushing for sustainability.