So ingrained is the relationship between Honduras and coffee, it’s become almost impossible to talk about one without mentioning the other.
Despite being relatively slow to catch up with other coffee-growing countries due to a lack of infrastructure, Honduras is now the largest coffee producer in Central America and the seventh largest in the world. Between 2017 and 2019, it produced more than 450,000 tonnes annually.
For specialty roasters, Honduras is an exciting origin that produces coffees with characteristics ranging from lively acidity to complex fruity flavours. However, like all origins, it’s important to understand all aspects of the beans in order to unlock their full potential during a roast.
To find out about roasting Honduran coffee, I spoke with 2019 Roast Masters Champion and Head Roaster at Cafes Belleville, Mihaela Iordache.
Production & characteristics
In Honduras, arabica coffee is grown across a number of regions, with six main coffee-growing departments: Agalta, Comayagua, Copán, Montecillos, Opalaca, and El Paraíso. Varieties grown in these regions range from bourbon and caturra to catuai and, in recent years, new hybrids belonging to the catimor genetic group.
Today, Honduras is one of the largest coffee producers in Latin America, competing with the likes of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Colombia. However, the journey to this point hasn’t been without its stumbling blocks.
Although the land is perfect for growing high-quality, arabica coffee, a combination of bad weather conditions, poor infrastructure, and coffee leaf rust outbreaks have caused continuous problems for Honduran coffee growers.
In particular, the high levels of rainfall often makes it difficult to dry the beans after processing. This has led some producers to adopt both sun drying and mechanical drying, giving Honduran coffees a reputation for being high-quality yet fading quickly.
To tackle this, IHCAFE (Instituto Hondureño del Café) has focused its efforts on encouraging producers to explore new ways of drying their coffees. Among these is the use of polytunnels (known as “domos”) or solar dryers.
IHCAFE has also sought to improve infrastructure to aid the development of higher quality beans, as well as provide more resilient varieties to fend off diseases.
Over the last few years, the organisation has been heavily involved in establishing and marketing the country’s Cup of Excellence (COE) competitions, which have brought greater attention to Honduran coffees around the world. In 2017, a lot in the COE garnered the highest price ever paid for a COE coffee in any country: $124.50 per pound (approximately $56.50 per kg).
Mihaela Iordache is the Head Roaster and Quality Control Manager at Cafes Belleville in Paris. She’s worked extensively with Honduran coffees and tells me that what sets them apart from other origins is their diversity.
“Honduras is a very special coffee origin because of the incredible diversity in flavour profiles from each of its regions,” she says. “It’s a country that produces very distinct flavour profiles, ranging from traditional clean, sweet caramel coffees to incredibly floral and fruity coffee bombs, which are easily confused with African coffees.
“In the past, I’ve actually sent lots from the Santa Barbara region of Honduras to fellow coffee professionals without labels, only to have them believe that what I had sent came from Kenya. Isn’t that spectacular? The variance in Honduran coffees is nothing short of extraordinary, I’ve never encountered anything quite like it in neighbouring countries.”
Roasting coffee beans from Honduras
When approaching a roast, it’s crucial for specialty roasters to know as much about the coffee beans and their origin as possible. This means understanding the influence of variables such as altitude, bean size, and processing methods.
It also requires some idea of how the coffee will be consumed, namely whether it will be used to make filter or espresso.
Mihaela explains that due to the diversity of Honduras as an origin, it’s difficult to put forward a single approach to roasting Hondruan coffees. Instead, she says roasters should perform a number of cuppings to reveal the best roast profile for each particular coffee.
“There’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to an origin as complex as Honduras,” she tells me. “Flexibility is truly the key. Some lots will need a typical Central American approach in terms of roasting, while other lots will need more heat applied in a shorter time in order to shine through in the cup.
“When it comes to Honduran coffees, the quality control cuppings and brewing sessions are my guiding lights. It has never felt like a very easy origin to roast, but that only adds to it’s fascinating character.”
One characteristic typical of Honduran coffee is its sweetness, which makes it ideal for espresso-based drinks. For example, IKAWA suggests applying a high charge temperature with a steady heat to bring out the natural brown sugar and caramel notes of their honey-washed lempira/parainema varietal from the Marcala region of western Honduras.
Packaging for Honduran coffee
Once you’ve found the perfect roast profile for your Honduran coffee beans, it’s important you do everything you can to entice consumers to try it.
One of the most effective ways of doing this is through packaging. Known as the “secret salesman”, packaging will not only attract attention on the shelf, but also let potential customers know important information about the coffee and its story.
Mihaela tells me that in her experience, Honduran coffee always comes with an interesting backstory that can help pique consumers’ interest in the product.
“I’m a strong believer in using emotion to highlight and market coffees to consumers. Understand why you love Honduran coffees as much as you do and find a way to charm your customers or at least intrigue them.
“For an origin as complex as Honduras, one can often present different lots with different flavour profiles and build on customer curiosity as a sales approach. In my experience, all the Honduran producers I have ever worked with have turned out to be extraordinary people with extraordinary stories. Therefore, as a roaster, it’s your job to communicate this.”
Level Ground Trading is one company that has adopted this approach to great effect. Each one of their single origin coffees is packaged in a kraft paper pouch featuring an image “in situ” of the coffee’s producer.
Not only does this celebrate the people behind the product, it also offers an eye-catching design when displayed next to other coffees on the shelf. According to Mihaela, Honduran coffees offer roasters the perfect opportunity to do just this.
“You can’t just sell five lots from the same origin to a customer and expect them to be able to tell the difference,” she says. “You have to offer a story with each. And with an origin as intriguing as Honduras, telling these stories is made a lot easier with packaging.”
To ensure your coffee reaches the consumer as fresh as possible, you’ll need to choose packaging that not only showcases Honduran coffee in all its glory, but also protects it from exposure to external factors.
At MTPak Coffee, we offer a range of sustainable multilayer packaging options and additional components that allow you to create a high-quality product that will protect your coffee from roastery to consumer.
For more information on our sustainable coffee packaging, contact our team here
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