Merlo’s August Bean of the Month hails from the Lempira region of Honduras. In 1502, Honduras was named by Christopher Columbus using the Spanish word for “depths” – a reference to the deep waters along the coastline.
It was not until two centuries after Columbus’ voyage that coffee was introduced to the region. An 1804 census of Honduras shows coffee cultivation in its nascent stages in the department of Comayagua. Coffee was far from successful to begin with. Up to midway through the 20th century bananas were the cash crop of the country, with the industry dominated by American owned companies.
The 1970 founding of IHCAFE – Instituto Hondureno del Café or Honduras Institute of Coffee – has played a huge part in shaping a coffee growing industry and creating sustainability under sometimes difficult circumstances. Not least of which was the advent of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, which destroyed an estimated 80% of Honduras’ agriculture. There is the constant threat of coffee rust, a fungal plague cursed by locals as ‘La Roya’, which decimated the 2012-2013 harvest as it swept through Central and South America. Coffee rust not only withers the leaves of plants, but prevents the trees from producing cherries which contain the seeds we roast as coffee beans. IHCAFE spends a large part of its time and resources on working to control the spread of La Roya, limiting its impact through the use of agricultural practices and development and support of new, rust-resistant varietals of coffee trees.
Slowly but surely, Honduras is developing a name and reputation for high quality coffee. The first Honduras Specialty Coffee Competition was held in 2003 and in 2004 Honduras joined the Cup of Excellence competition, with the winning farm of El Pezote in Lempira scoring 95.69 out of a possible 100 points. This year, the lots from the Honduras Cup of Excellence broke the records for price yet again, going for $124.50 US per pound or just shy of $350 Australian a kg.
In 2017 coffee production is blooming in Honduras, with somewhere between 110, 000 and 125, 000 coffee producers working independent farms. 92% of these farms are classified as small scale, coming in at less than five hectares each. During the November – April harvest period, the coffee industry creates around one million jobs, no small matter in a country with a population of just over nine million. Despite the country being only 112,492 km² in total size, Honduras is the 7th largest coffee producer in the world, with just under 345, 000 metric tonnes of green bean sold last year. This makes it the largest producer in Central America.
This has come about through the efforts of IHCAFE and the Honduran government, but also the individual farmers like Juan Urrutia, the producer of our August Bean of the Month. As a second generation coffee farmer, Senor Urrutia has invested not only in his farm but also in himself, attaining a degree in Agronomy in 2008. His expertise and experience is evident in the cup which is beautifully clean and silky, with sweet notes of honeycomb, caramel, chocolate and red fruit. We’re very proud to present it to you and hope you are enjoying it.