The coffees of El Cielito in the Santa Barbara region are prolific. In the Honduras Cup of Excellence, this tiny region has been one of the most successful since 2009.
Juan Fernández once owned a respectable amount of land in this gifted area, but as is customary to do, gave most of his land to his ten sons. Sadly, a few of the sons sold their land and moved away, while most of the others neglected to take good care of their farms and have shown very little interest in the coffee itself. Out of the ten sons, only Margarito Herrera has taken the effort to tend to his farm and process in a meticulous manner. Margarito began his road to producing quality coffee in 2013 when he submitted a tiny lot into the cup of excellence and placed 19th. I met Margarito in December of 2012, and we began buying all of his and his dad’s production in the 2013 harvest (except for the Cup of Excellence lot). Their coffee is exceptional, and Margarito’s attention to detail is evident whenever I visit his farm. The only downside of buying coffee from Margarito and Juan is that I always wish I could buy more, as they are very small producers. To think that if all of Juan’s sons were doing what Margarito is doing we could be buying nearly ten times what we currently purchase, and all of it has the potential to be just as amazing since that tiny pocket of Honduras is truly blessed.
When I first tasted Margarito and Juan’s coffee in 2013, I thought it was incredible. At that time, I learned that the coffee was a blend of 80% Pacas and 20% Catimor. My first reaction was mixed, as on one hand the coffee was amazing and on the other it contained Catimor, a variety I’ve never liked for its poor cup quality. My first instinct was to ask Margarito and Juan to process their Catimor separately so I could decide if I wanted to buy it or not, but it was simply too late in the harvest to introduce a complexity like that. So we purchased the coffee in 2013 as a blend of the two varieties.
For 2014, Margarito reluctantly agreed to separate his Catimor. He was reluctant because he knew I liked his coffee so he wondered why mess with it. He was also fearful that I would reject the Catimor and his sales to us (for which he is paid very well) would decrease. Nonetheless he indulged my request. When I cupped the coffees, I found that the Catimor was surprisingly very good on its own. I was shocked! Of course, not all strains of Catimor can and should be treated equally. He was thrilled when I told him that we would buy his Catimor at nearly the same price as his other varieties.
This past year, we also launched a drying project with Margarito so he could dry coffee on his own farm (in 2013 he had to borrow drying space). We financed a drying structure and drying beds for him and he was able to dry his own coffee with reasonable drying times. The results of the drying improvements were evident as the coffee in 2014 was more transparent and has held very well once in Calgary. I chatted at length with Margarito and Juan about how well the coffees performed over the course of the year, and the fact that they’re still as good as they were when they were harvested in April and May.
Over the course of my visit, Margarito and Juan took me around their farms and showed me a small bit of land at 1750m that Margarito recently planted with Pacas, a variety of coffee that thrives in that region. I can only imagine how incredible this coffee will be when it begins producing in 2015 and beyond. The hike through their farms (in rain and mud) was very revealing as their plantations are in relatively nice condition, despite the fact that coffee in Honduras has been devastated by a fungus called Coffee Leaf Rust (known as “roya” in Spanish speaking producing countries).
For 2015, we are introducing shade to the drying process to slow it down even further and have more even and gentle drying. We have already seen great results with this drying practice in Costa Rica and Colombia. Margarito, as always, was game. He is keen to do whatever is necessary to make his coffee better and that’s what I truly value about him. He knows his coffee is good but he’s not satisfied with status quo.
I was very happy to see that Margarito has built a humble new house about 100 metres from his hold one. His old house was sad, with no floors and held tiny quarters for his wife, three sons and daughter. The new house, although humble and simple, is a much more comfortable space for the family. The only thing missing is the kitchen, which he hasn’t been able to build yet because he didn’t have enough money. I had the idea to help him with that, so when we launch the Margarito Series (Catimor + Pacas) coffees in January, $2 from every pack we sell will go to the Margarito Kitchen Fund. I haven’t told Margarito about this since I don’t want to get his hopes up in the case that we don’t sell too many packs, but I think he will be very surprised and grateful when I present him with this contribution when I visit him during the 2015 harvest!
Although this post was mostly about Margarito and Juan, I want to mention Wilmer Dubon, who we also work with. His farm is in a region adjacent to El Cielito, called El Cedral. Not unlike Margarito, his coffee this year was also very, very good and my visit with him was really great. Wilmer is a very hard worker with a relentless desire to improve and please. Although I feel his hard work and effort are the reason for his success as a farmer, he was very grateful for our help and advice during my visit. We are working on a shade drying project with him for 2015 and he also has a new Pacas farm at 1770m, which will begin producing in 2015 – can’t wait to taste it!
In the meantime try our current lot from Wilmer, the Wilmer Dubon // Honduras with notes of orange, vanilla cola and tamarind.