Last Updated on October 6, 2021 by John Moretti
Honduras is one of the largest exporters of high-quality coffee worldwide. The Honduran coffee gourmet story illustrates the resilience demonstrated by the Honduran people, whose steady success involves overcoming natural disasters, political instability, and a failing economy.
Honduras is one of the five major international producers of coffee, about 475,000 metric tons a year. Globally, Honduras is the 6th best coffee-producing country. Honduras is renowned is maintaining premium Arabica beans (Bourbon and Typica) that have won awards.
The 21st-century coffee experience is enriching for farmers, retailers, roasters, barristers, and consumers. The technology in crafting the individual beans is a constant reworking narrative; sophisticated flavors are extracted from different strains of beans. Hybrids, cultivars, and varietals are an aspect of the science in creating delicate, intricate, compound beans of outstanding quality.
Clued-in consumers appreciate the story behind the complex flavors and cup profiles of high-quality Honduran coffee. The steady rise of the Honduran nation in the international coffee market is a worthy story, even to those who are not coffee enthusiasts.
The History of Honduran Coffee
It is essential to trace the trajectory of the rise of Honduras in the coffee market to firstly allow a deeper appreciation for the brand and secondly to treat the success as a valuable model that other aspiring nations can learn.
Some records indicate that Honduran’s were growing coffee before its independence from Spain in 1821. There is a 1799 document that itemizes 3 barrels of coffee imported from Havana, Cuba. These small coffee barrels helped to launch the nascent Honduran coffee industry.
Initially, Honduras did not grow substantial crops of coffee, nor did it export it. Honduras’ primary cash crop was bananas. The proximate time between planting and harvesting bananas is significantly shorter than coffee, thereby gaining a quicker return for investment. Added the U.S. corporations monopolized many of the banana plantations, thereby prioritizing their production and growth.
During the 19th and 20th century small, independent coffee farms were being realized throughout the different regions of Honduras. They did not possess the resources to export their product or adequately invest in their plantations.
In 1970 the Instituto Hondureño del Café (IHCAFE) was established. The IHCAFE offers coffee growers training in quality control and skills development, low-interest loans, promotional opportunities, and building nurseries and greenhouses.
In the past, the government and smugglers would transport its coffee beans to its neighbor, Guatemala, to secure a higher price. However, the government started with investments focused on local growth policies and expanded infrastructure and education.
Honduras’ infrastructure was hindering its export potential, particularly transportation. In the 1990s, the government implemented a tax on coffee exports and has utilized the funds to build roads.
Honduras coffee was rated a low-priced commodity because of the absence of product quality control. This rating changed in the 2000s with the privatization of IHCAFE.
The Honduran Cup of Excellence Competitions
The IHCAFE is responsible for organizing the Cup of Excellence (COE) competitions. Over these recent years, the COE competitions have showcased the excellent quality of Honduran coffee.
The inspections that structure the COE are unsurpassed. Hundreds of coffee types are sampled and scrutinized. They are scored according to standards of international excellence.
The eminence surrounding these auctions has contributed to investing in pioneering techniques. This technology develops cultivars and hybrids from parent strains and their mutations: Arabica, Typica, and Bourbon. It also grants farmers sustainable, economic guidance to grow the industry.
Networking strategies are enhanced as relationships develop between all involved. It allows consumers to be more educated and enlightened with the coffee process. The coffee experience is promoted and celebrated in the COE.
Honduras Coffee is a Promising Investment
Initially, Honduras coffee was unremarkable and primarily used as a base coffee. Unfortunately, there are remnants of its base blender reputation (low quality); however, this is fast being replaced. Honduras is now known as a specialty coffee that harvests superior beans.
During the 2000s, Honduras coffee was not widely known. At the time, Brazilian and Columbian coffee was internationally renowned. Then, in 2011 Honduras was recognized as the highest coffee producer in Central America. At the time, Honduras was the second leading exporter of coffee, Brazil being the first.
In 2009 there was a political coup; the country was verging on bankruptcy and was suffering a constitutional crisis. The steadily increasing potential of the coffee trade industry was vital in assisting the country’s recovery. Coffee ensured that the government didn’t go bankrupt.
The farms in Honduras are not on a grand scale. However, since the government began instituting fiscal incentives to these small establishments, growth has been incremental.
There are more than 100 000 families who participate in a Fair Trade market-based development program. This program aims to reimburse families for services that contribute to sales in Fair Trade coffee. Fair Trade products have a steady, reliable market in Europe, United Kingdom, Belgium, the Netherlands, and the United States.
The success of Honduras coffee is in part due to its social awareness and collective effort. This emerging industry has strategically incorporated tourism and open coffee tasting venues to assist in its market evaluation. The goal is to yield superior beans that are quintessentially Honduran.
Challenges to Growing Honduran Coffee
Hurricanes are a factor that prevents Honduras coffee from contending on the international market. In 1998 about 4/5ths of the coffee plantation was demolished by Hurricane Mitch. This and climate change are a deep concern to the coffee industry.
A coffee leaf rust outbreak swept through Honduras in 2012. Coffee rust is a disease that drastically reduces coffee plantations. It is a fungus that plagues the leaves and eventually kills the tree. The symptoms of this fungi manifest in little yellow spots that move through the leaf forming powdery, bumps that eventually turn black on the underside.
Lesions are found on the lowest branches as the infection advances upwards, stripping stems and twigs bare. This disease can be managed through the appropriate, well-timed application of fungicides during the wet season. Plants growing in higher altitudes have the advantage of being moderately protected from coffee rust as it struggles to reproduce in colder climates
The Coffee Berry Borer beetle is an insect that is the most insidious pest to coffee plantations; it can decimate 50%-100% of coffee cherries. This beetle feeds primarily on coffee cherries. A specific type of beetle uses the cherry skin as a home.
The lifespan of the female beetle is 35-190 days, and the male lives for just 40 days. This pest can be controlled by introducing the beetle’s natural predator through preventive picking, insecticides, traps, or ecological measures.
Honduras Coffee -Taste, Texture, Terrain
Honduran coffee is currently a single-origin coffee; this is a universal, promotional term used in many coffee houses globally. The single-origin brew comes from a specific geographical region where the coffee cherries are grown in the same conditions and can be identified by a consistent flavor profile.
Single farm and single estate coffee are traced to one mill, farm, or the same jointly owned enterprise. In comparison, single-origin describes the unique topographical location where the coffee grows. Single-origin is determined by all the natural elements that allow the coffee cherries to come to full fruition.
Honduran coffee flavor depends on where in the country the beans are produced. The beans are distinguished according to different taste notes, from dark, rich, musky, velvety toffee or caramel to buoyant berry and tropical fruity flavors.
Honduran coffee grows across a vast geographical expanse that incorporates different temperatures, from tropical to temperate, and at varying altitudes in distinct regions throughout the Central American landscape. It is moderate or mild in the mountains, warmer and humid in the river valleys and coastal plains.
The characteristics of the beans differ according to geographical features that impact individual plantations. The main plantations grow in the west of Honduras, which borders Guatemala and El Salvador. As with Ghana, Honduras has six regions dedicated to producing coffee.
Each region yields crops at separate times of the year; the harvest grows at a range of altitudes. These factors contribute to the essence of the bean and promote distinct bodies of flavor.
The Six Regions in Honduras Where Coffee is Grown
Honduras’ landscape is vast and includes mountain ranges, coastline, lowlands, and various altitudes and climates. These regions are responsible for the unique quality of coffee cherries that are recognizable as single-origin. Two areas stand above the others, Copán and Opalaca. Jointly they are referred to as Honduran Western Coffee (HWC) Geographical Indication.
The Honduran harvest season falls between October and February, also the tourist season, especially in the Copán region. The coffee cherries are delicately treated with care, patience, and focus. The coffee enters the North American market in April.
Agalta is in the south-eastern areas of Honduras; it is elevated at 3,609- 4,539 feet above sea level. The warmer, humid climate of this region cultivates fruity taste notes. These beans have an elevated acidity that hallmarks their fruity, sweet flavor. This specific coffee this sought for its honeyed black cup.
Copán is Honduras’ leading coffee-growing district; it is the most in-demand of all six regions and is considered an exceptional bean. This district is in the west of the country, bordering on Guatemala.
This area is elevated at 1,000-1,500 feet above sea level; its climate is cool, mild, and temperate. This area enables coffee production throughout all seasons of the year. The Copán bean’s flavor profile has rich toffee, chocolate, and some fruity features.
Comayagua is in central Honduras, and its elevation is 1,841 feet above sea level. This region’s coffee sales are consistent and sizeable. A wide variety of elements assist in crop growth, therefore making the taste spectrum all-encompassing. The flavor profile of this region’s coffee is aromatic, with notes of flora and fruits essence.
El Paraiso is situated in the south of Honduras. The elevation is at 2,637– 3772 feet above sea level. El Paraiso is translated to paradise; this region is a fresh enterprising contender in the coffee market. In 2017 this budding star won the COE award.
The flavor profile is slightly bitter, fruity with a smooth body; there are elements of berries, peaches, delicate features of jasmine, and even an essence of white wine has been detected.
Montecillos is an award-winning, fair-trade product; the crop is a strictly high-grown quality bean. This district has an altitude of 3,937 and 5,249 feet above sea level. An icy wind arrives from El Salvador, and the chill nights delay the cherry ripening. Therefore, the ripening time allows more flavor to grow in the fruit.
The cold nights occur several times during the year. Caramel notes with a peach zest essence characterize the flavor profile. Montecillos is also the birthplace of the well-known Honduran Marcala coffee.
This area is located east of Copán and slightly higher in altitude at 1,100 – 1,500 feet above sea level. Opalaca is warmer compared to Copán. Opalaca includes the Santa Barbara Mountain range. Its coffee possesses complex flavors. Honduras’ Saint Barbara Coffee is grown in Opalaca and is a Strictly High Grown (SHG) coffee.
The Different Types of Honduran Coffee Beans and the Best
Honduran coffee is a rich premium arabica coffee bean that is wet-processed. The arabica beans and their varietals (or strains), Bourbon and Typica, are the Old Arabicas. The relevance of coffee varieties is for flavor profiles, strategic plant mutations that yield the best crops, and attracting tourists.
Coffee farmers invest in bean strains as a management strategy that determines success and immediately impacts the farmer’s income. Selecting the right bean according to topography and the environment could guarantee a profitable harvest.
When roasting a coffee bean, it’s imperative to understand that the heat moves through the bean, transforming those essential qualities from a solid into a liquid. The type of bean roasted at different temperatures creates distinct brews. The integrity of the bean, its structure, and elemental components that breed the bean is valued knowledge to a mindful roaster.
Arabica originates from Ethiopia and is the most widely drunk coffee worldwide.; it’s considered to be the first coffee ever cultivated. The title Arabica is believed to derive from journeying to Arabia through Ethiopia. Arabica is a parent strain from which many mutations naturally transform.
It is a dominant cultivar that embodies approximately 60% of global coffee production. The plant grows between 30 and 39 feet; it has broad, dark leaves. The Arabica bean is superior.
Arabica doesn’t have a diverse genetic range; consequently, they are predisposed to diseases, pests, and drastic climate changes. The inherent weakness of Arabica is of concern as this high-quality strain of coffee beans could become extinct. Investing in creating cultivars and more hybrid varieties could save the bean.
This genus is a division of the Arabica family; this immediately associates Bourbon with a high-quality bearing. It is a naturally developed alteration of Typica. Although the strain shares essential characteristics, the flavor is shaped by the nutrients and fertilizers in the soil, height of altitude climatic conditions, and degrees of farming practices.
Bourbon isn’t resistant to leaf rust, coffee berry borer, and other afflictions. It is also low crop producing and unable to adapt readily. However, the cup potential of Bourbon is remarkable.
Bourbon is a specialty coffee; brews are velvety, smooth, medium-bodied, and have low-level acidity. Bourbon roasted to medium level contains much of its inherent tastes, tints, and tinctures of hazelnut and chocolate.
The Bourbon tree has unique expansive, wavy leaves and more tributary branches than other coffee trees. The different shades of Bourbon: yellow, red, pink, and orange is a natural mutation of one recessive gene.
Pink Bourbon originated in Columbia; it usually has a good cup score, offers high yield potential, and is adaptable. The plant thrives in shady areas, allowing the cherry time to mature. Pink/Orange Bourbon contains significant concentrations of glucose; this suggests hints of silkiness to the brew.
Yellow Bourbon is an ecological mutation of Pink/Orange Bourbon. The difference between colors is the most salient in the taste. Yellow Bourbons contain an extensive amount of fructose, lending the sweetened coffee notes of zesty flavor.
Catuai is a hybrid plant, a cross between Mundo Novo and Caturra. It was created in the Instituto Argonomico (IAC) of Sao Paulo in Campinas, Brazil, in 1949. It possesses considerable fruit-bearing potential. Catuai is a characteristically small plant that grows more beans in less space; therefore, more plants are grown, producing further cherries.
The plant’s accessibility means that the application of pest controls and disease treatments is no hassle and no extra time spent. It is a vibrant little plant that, unfortunately, is prone to coffee rust.
It was first introduced to Honduras in 1979 and went through trails by IHCAFE. Then in 1983, it was introduced to the open farming market. Presently, Catuai accounts for close to 50% of the Arabica in cultivation in Honduras.
Caturra is a spontaneous mutation of the Bourbon variety; it’s made up of a single gene mutation that instructs the plant to maintain a small stature. This gene is called dwarfism. It also grows a berry that matures quickly, enabling high productivity. The flavor profile of Caturra is arranged in intricate levels of sweet and crisp.
Due to its trim physique and regular berry production, it’s the exact candidate for crossbreeding to grow hybrids, varietals, and cultivars. Unfortunately, this strain isn’t resilient to fungi. It’s a regular bean with which other cultivars are tested.
Elefante (The Maragogype)
The Elefante bean is so named for its size as the bean is comparatively large; it is also porous. It is a natural variant of the Typica family and is inherently weak to coffee rust and other pathogens; it has a low product yield. This bean is relatively rare and coveted. The Maragogype trees are tall and lofty, and their leaves are expansive.
This strain presents challenges when it’s time to harvest. It grows for five years before the bean grows to its full maturity. The wait is worthwhile as the cup profile is rich, full-bodied, and expensive.
This bean’s flavor is creamy, rich with a thick body. It has radical taste potential. The flavor notes are determined by the level of nutrients in the soil and include cocoa, earthiness, and citrus. It is an indulgent experience.
Lempira is also the name for Honduras’ currency. Lempira is a hybrid plant created by the IHCAFE. It’s designed to be rust resilient; however, recent research has revealed that it is still susceptible to disease, fungi, pests, and pathogens.
It is a high-producing crop. This hybrid does well in acidic soil and warm temperatures. It’s a little plant that demands a lot of nutrients like aluminum.
Pacamara is a cultivar that was spawned from mixing strains of Pacas and Maragogype. Pacas are a natural mutation from Bourbon. This single gene modification has a significant role in the Pacamara, as Pacas are grown for their inherent predisposition towards dwarfism and substantial yield potential.
The Maragogype strain has its origins in the Typica family. Maragogype has large beans but low productivity; the bean generates high-quality flavor. The Pacas strain isn’t as sweet as Bourbon, but it resonates a fuller body. Therefore, the Pacamara inherent the benefits of small and large beans bean.
The Pacamara tree is thick with copious secondary branches strengthening its wind resistance. The tree’s compact nature allows the plant to be grown on a steep slope and close to each other. Pacamara thrives in the shady, rainforest-like conditions at high altitudes. Pacamara has black currant, orange peel acidity, peach, plum, and a black tea flavor profile.
This genus is a natural mutation to Bourbon; it is characteristically smaller as it possesses the dwarfism gene. This single gene mutation benefits farmers as small trees allow for accessibility and multiple plants in smaller areas. It was introduced into Honduras in 1974 by the IHCAFE.
The Pacas is a resilient plant that can thrive in different environments; it has a regular yield potential. It requires an average level of nutrients in the soil to flourish. Unfortunately, it is prone to coffee leave rust.
Typica is an icon coffee bean genus. The genetics of Typica is the primary base for most Arabica across the globe; that is, it’s a sub-variety of Arabica strains. Typica is a quality bean that adds a fresh sweetness to the cup profile; it has the potential for exceptional cup level standards if the bean is well managed.
The Typica plant is relatively tall (16,5 feet); tapering branches slant at approximately 60% from its main (thin) trunk. The stems are spread out far from each other because of their height. An identifying feature of the Typica tree is the large leaves with their dark, bronze edge and the elongated appearance of the cherries.
Typica produces low yield and is naturally susceptible to parasites, pests, and infirmities. Its genetic weakness does limit the desire to select this crop for plantation, especially if farmers live in a high-risk area (hurricanes); however, its specialty profile automatically raises its asking price.
This plant has produced a few of the world’s best coffees including, (Jamaican registered) Blue Mountain, Java, Kent, and Kona. Typica is the parent to high-quality variety strains like Pacamaro and Mundo Novo.
The Final Word
Hondurans’ coffee production was not on the map for many years. Brazilian and Columbian coffee used to dominate the international market. Today, Honduras is one of six top-selling coffee brands. Their coffee beans are specialty coffees and are recognized for their distinct single-origin flavor. Six regions across Honduras grow and market their product. Each is subjected to its topography, soil, weather, and height above sea level. Of these, Copán and Opalaca are the prominent distributors. El Paraiso, in the south, is the enterprising brand and winner of the COE.
Honduras has faced many obstacles in its journey to becoming an international success. Hurricanes are a problem. Coffee rust is a constant worry, and vigilance must be maintained. The government established IHCAFE in 1970, which was privatized in the 2000s. After that, projects in education and training, setting up nurseries and greenhouses, and assisting with low-interest loans aided small farmers. Honduras produced low-grade coffee that served as a base blender; it is now renowned for its excellent bean. Honduras grows the Old Arabica beans, of these are Bourbon, , Catuai, Catuai, Elefante, Pacas, Pacamara, Typica and Lempira.