A beautiful land rich and deep in resources and natural diversity, Honduras, which translates as “depths”, has sadly suffered from consistent social strife and political instability as one of the poorest nations in the Western Hemisphere. The depths of these struggles in Honduras led to the coining of the term “Banana Republic” in 1904. It is the largest producer of coffee in all of Central America but for all its productivity we know surprisingly little about the early history of coffee in Honduras. Perhaps this is in part due to historical poverty and a sobering lack of infrastructure. Unfortunately historical reputations for poor and inconsistent quality have resulted in little incentive for Hondurans to produce specialty coffee where it seems the inevitable destination for these coffees would be as supplies for a bottom dollar commodity market not unlike the banana trade that begat the “Banana Republic” moniker. In fact it wasn't long ago that some farmers would send their coffees through Guatemala just to get a better price. Only until recently, and still only among an "in-the-know" group of coffee people would you likely see someone ask for a coffee from Honduras.
Thankfully the depths of that natural beauty and diversity couldn’t remain uncovered as some of the world’s most exciting and unique coffees are now emerging from Honduras, one of our favorite sources of coffee and in many ways first in our heart at Saint Frank.
If you spend anytime with us you'll soon discover our passion for Honduras producers and coffees. There are few places in the world we can think of more beautiful and special than the Santa Barbara mountain in Honduras towering above tropical Lake Yojoa where more Cup of Excellence winners are born than any other place in the world. Is it the soil and weather? Is the right matching of Arabica varieties in those places? Is it the skill and work of the producers? In word, yes, but still there is more. It's the community and collaborative spirit that has grown and cultivated such excellent coffee and that spirit has been led by the Paz family in Peña Blanca below the mountain who operate the exporting business Beneficio San Vicente founded by Fidel Paz. We met Fidel with his son Benjamin and nephew Arturo in 2011 and there was a spark of brilliance and true humanity that was unmistakable.
We've come to know the Paz family well over the years but Benjamin in particular has truly become family to the Bohlins and Saint Frank. While he has performed every job at his family’s Mill over the years, we've found his most significant role is facilitating the relationships between growers and buyers. He works tirelessly to drive the sustainable interests and needs of the producers along with the quality interests of buyers all founded on the principle of relationship and commitment. If you speak with any coffee professional who has tasted these coffees and worked with this community you will see their eyes light up and hear them speak with a sense of pride, enthusiasm and ownership. This truly is a special place with truly special people. If you ask Benjamin what is the secret of their success he will talk of the land and the non-competitive and collaborative spirit of the people, if you ask us we'll certainly add the Paz family this long list.
El Cedral, Santa Barbara
Las Nieves, the very first Saint Frank relationship coffee, has become an iconic coffee for both its unique flavor characteristicsas well as for the quality of our relationship with Milton Castellon . Las Nieves, which means "snow" in Spanish, debuted as a specialty coffee in 2013 for the first time as brothers Milton Castellon and Alexi Moreno made the transition into specialty with the help of Benjamin Paz where all the fruit from those trees were destined for Saint Frank. The coffee was a showstopper on the blind cupping table and not unlike the time we met Benjamin Paz, we knew the relationship and coffees coming from these brothers would be special and long lived.
Since then Alexi Moreno has separated his own coffee as Las Nubes, which means "clouds" in Spanish, and their father Uvaldo has recently joined these two star producers with his own coffee. All three of these small farms share the same terroir and climate with a focus on the Pacas variety perched on an exposed peaking mountain shoulder creating incredibly expressive coffees of extraordinary depth, clarity, and particularity evoking a distinct sense of place and personality.
Demonstrating the variability of terroir and variety even in the same village is the coffee from Anael Enamorado and his sister Reina situated slightly lower and in a recessed and sheltered valley with less wind and moisture and slightly warmer. We first encountered this coffee as a another sibling blend on offer from Atlas Importers as another first year specialty preparation in 2013. We fell in love with the softer profile of sweet stonefruits we felt it would be great in our Little Brother Espresso as well as a great everyday type filter offering. Anael's soft-spoken and humble demeanor seemed to be expressed in the coffee he prepared for his sister and brother, along with his own we called it Los Hermanos, which means "siblings". Today the coffee comes from his own farm of 10 year old Caturra and Bourbon at 1450 meters while his sister contributes Catuai from 1600 meters. Every visit to El Cedral includes a special transition from the ambitious and youthful enthusiasm of Las Nieves and Las Nubes downhill to the humble and tranquil consistency of Los Hermanos. These relationships and experiences of unique and particular coffees and people are certainly at the heart of what drives us at Saint Frank.
El Soccoro de la Penita, Comayagua
Connecting to new communities and making an impact through relationships in coffee was always a part of my vision for Saint Frank, even before I started the process of building the business, I was dreaming and connecting. In the Spring of 2012 I connected with a non-profit working with small farmers in Honduras and Mexico. It turned out that they were working with a cooperative not far from our friends at Beneficio San Vicente in Siguatepeque, a larger city of Honduras surrounded by mountainous coffee growing areas across from Lake Yojoa. While meeting several producers from the Cultivadores del Reino cooperative, one man in particular stood out from a small village called El Socorro de la Penita, the highest point for the cooperative.
David Lopez was eager to connect his coffee to the market and had built his own wet mill and drying patio and was processing all the coffee for the local cooperative farmers around his village. After connecting David to Benjamin Paz we were both inspired and confident that David could be a great specialty producer. San Vicente and Saint Frank began working together with David Lopez and his farm Finca Los Amigos with one small plot of Catuaí we called Mariposa after the butterflies that fill the small valley plot each spring. David's small plot has blossomed with increasing quality and yields year over year. With such success at Finca Los Amigos we hope to see similar new growth and opportunity for neighboring farms.
We believe the future is bright for David and this community. There is no doubt there is some very hard work to come in developing these coffees but it is certainly worth it and has the potential to bring lasting economic and social impact for the lives of farmers here and increasing new communities and areas.