Why is it important for a coffee roaster to live the plantation experience?
We’d like to share with you our travel diary covering a recent wonderful experience accompanying a group of Italian coffee roasters to a coffee-producing country.
November 10: arrival in San Pedro Sula, a city located in the north-western part of Honduras - the world's fifth largest coffee producer - near the border with Guatemala and El Salvador.
Thanks to the welcomed invitation of the Las Capucas Cooperative, 10 coffee roasters from different cities around Italy arrived in the Copan area to experience first-hand the cultivation of coffee.
The trip was organized in collaboration with Umami Area. The participants were able to witness an operational coffee plantation, discovering the many botanical varieties present and the different processing methods, as well as dealing with the difficulties related to coffee production.
At the Finca Rio Colorado, owned by Umami Area Honduras, there was the opportunity to learn about the different botanical varieties developed to counter one of the most destructive threats that has hit Central America in recent years: the Roya or the “coffee rust”.
Here a number of varieties are grown such as the Lempira and the IHCAFE90 varieties (both derived from the Catimor variety, itself a cross between the Caturra and Ibrido de Timor varieties) and the Parainema variety (derived from the Sarchimor variety, itself a cross between the Villa Sarchi and Ibrido de Timor varieties). These derived varieties demonstrate excellent resistance to diseases that attack the leaves and roots of the plants even at low altitude and have allowed Honduras to double its production in a few short years, maintaining an excellent quality in the cup.
Climate change was also one of the main topics discussed during the training week and its direct effect in this part of Honduras was seen first-hand since most of the plantations experienced a delayed harvest of about 30 days due to the lack of water in recent months. This manifested itself with clearly immature and unripened coffee cherries.
Francisco Villeda, known as Panchito, a local producer and the foreman of Finca Rio Colorado guided the group throughout the week illustrating the differences between a well, and not so well, selected crop, the defects in the coffee bean’s parchment, the different processing methods and finally the drying of the coffee.
Afternoons were dedicated to theory lessons as well as practical sessions as part of the intermediate level SCA Coffee Skills Program dedicated to green coffee, tasting with the cupping method as well as the roasting process; all in the recently renovated Capucas Coffee Academy.
There were also moments of fun with a visit to the Celaque Natural Park and the adrenaline-filled experience of “the canopy”; a zipline that passes over the coffee plants at a truly scary height!
It was a memorable experience for everyone involved and for many it was their first visit to a coffee plantation. Among the most memorable moments for the coffee roasters present was the first harvest, the processing of coffee and, most of all, the immense human warmth of the locals.
This trip is definitely an enhancing experience for anyone working in the world of coffee as it allows a better appreciation of the final product in the cup. It offers the roaster complete training across the entire production chain and is useful not only from an educational standpoint, but also helps to understand how much hard work is needed for the production of just one cup of coffee. It also highlights the imbalances that exist in terms of profit redistribution throughout the entire production chain.
The real starting point is the price guaranteed to those who produce the beans at the plantation - without the coffee producers the whole system collapses since from here not only does the production of quality coffee begins but also the renaissance of coffee in Italy.