Trip to Honduras along the coffee supply chain
13 Feb 2023
Las Capucas Sustainable Coffee Village Community
In Las Capucas, a small rural community in the mountains of the municipality of San Pedro de Copán, most families are somehow linked to coffee production.
Francisco Villeda, known as Pancho, is among the member producers of the Cooperativa cafetalera Las Capucas and part of the Slow Food Las Capucas Sustainable Coffee Village Community, the latter being one of the oldest among those involved in the Coffee Coalition project.
The community’s goal is to promote agroecological practices along the coffee chain, in line with the Slow Food principles. Like many other coffee-producing countries, Honduras is intensely affected by increasingly frequent extreme weather events linked to climate change.
One possible response to counter them and continue producing coffee is to undertake cultivation practices that do not damage soils, are as circular as possible, and seek forms of adaptation to new climatic contexts. This and the desire to tell the rest of the world about the work of the producers in Las Capucas guided their membership in the Coffee Coalition and the creation of the Slow Food Community.
A life devoted to coffee
Pancho has always worked in coffee, a practice he learned from his grandparents. Not only does he manage the plantation, but he is one of the partners of Umami Area Honduras, the company that owns the finca, Rio Colorado. The Slow Food Las Capucas Sustainable Coffee Village community came about as an initiative of the Umami area program together with some members of the Las Capucas Cooperative. Pancho was asked to manage the finca because of his 20-year commitment to the production of “quality” coffee. In other words, coffee that, thanks to the special attention to cultivation and the processes it undergoes after harvest, manages to reach a very high-quality grade (generally measured by the methodology standardized by the Specialty Coffee Association at the global level).
In addition to the Finca Rio Colorado, Pancho also has two other small plots of his unique property. In his home, where he still processes and dries that coffee from those two plots, he still keeps the skeleton of his first small greenhouse for drying. “To remember where I started from,” he explains.
“Everyone thought I was crazy when I first began,” Pancho admitted, with a smile, “but now I share everything I’ve learned over the years.
I don’t want to keep the knowledge I’ve acquired to myself, I want to pass it on to everyone who wants to take the same path.”
And in face of climate changes that are messing up the plant’s flowering and fruiting periods, as well as increasing extreme weather events and the spread of diseases, the most environmentally friendly and product quality-friendly path seems to be the only way forward.
Pancho’s plots, both those he manages as Umami area, and his smaller personal ones, are veritable forests in appearance, hiding an intricate biodiverse system of fruit trees, woodland, edible plants and fauna. Many elements lead to a healthy planting that does not require excessive external inputs: proper spacing between plants, proper shading with other trees, and fertile soil for which only compost and organic fertilizers are used.
Pancho’s soil and plant management improvement activities have set an example for many other coffee producers who have followed the same path and started producing with organic practices and more attention to the stripping and drying processes. Judging from his family, it seems that Pancho’s passion for coffee has also influenced his daughters. He has four daughters and 3 currently work in the coffee business. Two of them are professional tasters, including Delmi, the youngest, who at only 20 has already been a cupper at Cooperativa cafetalera Las Capucas) for a year.
“My father’s focus on quality,” says Delmi Villeda, who we meet in the tasting workshop, “is what got me interested in professional tasting. My experience in the field since I was a child also helps me every day in my work to suggest possible solutions to producers when their coffee has organoleptic problems.
“Coffee production is a field in which women’s work is often behind the scenes and unrecognized, even though it is basically an activity that involves whole families. But perhaps something is changing.”
A day in the finca to process coffee
We spend the afternoon together at Finca Rio Colorado during a field visit by the Slow Food Coffee Coalition team.
“What are you doing tomorrow, Pancho?” I ask him as he sits down to rest and talk with us.
“The same I did today! The harvest season is very busy. Nature doesn’t wait.”
From the end of October to the end of April, every day, Pancho follows more or less the same daily routine at the finca, where coffee is not the only crop: in fact, there are also cocoa, pineapple, plantains, banana, avocado, citrus, and other fruit and wood plants, which need attention to varying degrees.
In particular, for coffee production, Pancho directly manages the activities and schedules the work. Among the first things to do is to arrive on time at Cooperativa Las Capucas’ benefit humedo plant with bags of coffee to be washed: if he arrives too late at this time, he risks waiting hours for his shift.
Coffee washing is that operation, in the case of so-called “washed” coffee, that serves to remove the mucilage that covers the coffee beans. This is the next step after stripping and fermentation, which takes 12 to 24 hours.
Once the operations at the Cooperative are completed, it returns to the Finca for the stripping operation of the freshly harvested coffee. At this stage, from the coffee in fruit, it goes through a mechanical stripping machine that removes the pulp part, leaving only the beans covered with mucilage. The same beans that the next day, once fermentation is complete, will be taken to the cooperative to be washed and brought back to the finca for drying.
Another activity of the morning, in fact, is laying out the washed coffee for an initial drying in the sun on the patio, followed by a second drying phase in the “African beds” sheltered from the equatorial rains.
The afternoon is usually devoted to “menear,” that is, turning the coffee that is drying with a rake, so that all the beans are equally in contact with the air and no mold is created. There is a scent in the facility where the drying takes place that has nothing to do with the classic roasted coffee scent we are used to; rather, it is reminiscent of cocoa butter.
After several days on the African raised beds, the coffee is ready to be transferred into bags and transported to San Rosa de Copán where it enters the “beneficio seco,” the facility where the dried coffee is stripped of its outer part (endocarp or parchment) and put into bags to be sold as green coffee. From the end of October to the end of April, each day follows more or less this route.
His co-worker, also called Pancho, sleeps in the finca’s facilities along with the seven other workers who are hired seasonally to harvest the coffee plants in a scalar fashion. Coffee, in fact, is not a plant that can be harvested all at the same time, but is more like a fruit tree: if high quality coffee is to be produced, only the fruit at the perfect stage of ripeness should be harvested.
The Slow Food Coffee Coalition and the Participatory Guarantee System
“It’s a great opportunity to be part of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition, because we can really tell our experience about the work we do in our country, and I’m really happy to be able to express it just as we learn it in the field.”
In addition to Finca Rio Colorado, 2023 will see many other producers in the Slow Food Las Capucas Sustainable Coffee Village Community participate in the Coffee Coalition and sell their coffee within the network.
The Coffee Coalition is expanding, and the group of roasters interested in buying good, clean, and fair coffee through direct contact with producers is growing. The participatory certification method (Participatory Guarantee System) adopted in the Coffee Coalition is key to increasingly eliminating the knowledge gap between producing and consuming countries and providing producers with an alternative to third-party certification. In some cases, the roaster can also be an active part of the assurance process as in the case of Sandro Bonacchi and B.farm.
Creating lasting agreements between producers and roasters
The example of B.farm and Umami area
Sandro Bonacchi from B.farm, with his B.house micro torrefaction, is a member of Umami area Honduras and therefore co-owner of the finca Rio Colorado. He was also among the promoters of the Las Capucas Sustainable Coffee Village Community, as well as an early signatory of the Coffee Coalition.
What is the name of your roastery?
The micro-roastery, the physical establishment of B.Farm, is Bhouse and is located in Quarrata in the province of Pistoia, Tuscany.
What is the philosophy of your roasting company?
B.farm is a company that operates throughout all the supply chain and has a circular vision of coffee: to make a good coffee for everyone, from porducer to consumer, putting in contact every link of the chain and exchanging value and knowledge. We work and support innovative and quality coffee projects. We provide training and know-how on green coffee, roasting, and finished products. We work in a circular way on all that is the coffee quality supply chain: from agricultural quality, to the skills and knowledge to make sure that it is properly treated.
By what standards do you decide which coffee you want to buy?
Beyond the coffee we source from the finca we are partners with (Finca Rio Colorado), the approach is direct trading, which is to get to know the producer as much as possible and create a partnership to ensure even the producer that the product will be bought not only for that year, but that a lasting relationship is created. The idea is to work side by side in order to get a quality product, respecting the people and the environment and to pursue an agricultural development, respecting the quality.
What is your vision as a roaster? Why did you decide to take this path?
The roaster is an essential part of the process but is not the lead actor anymore. As roasters, we don’t want to take center stage roasting undifferenciated products, but to be the chefs who know how to process quality raw materials well, in order to offer a complete range of products with different flavores in order to please everybody. These are obtained only through a very complex path upstream. A path that ends in two kitchens: the roastery and the bar. The brand is not the roastery, but the single product, with its sensory characteristics and its “recipe”.
Why did you decide to join SFCC?
I decided to join the Slow Food Coffee Coalition on the one hand because of the criteria by which Slow Food evaluates the raw material, namely the vision of good, clean and fair. On the other, because of the power of Slow Food to be the link and a megaphone of change for the supply chain.
A perfect partner for what we do as B.farm, but doing it together is more powerful. With Pancho and finca Rio Colorato, we have been members of the Slow Food Coffee Coalition since the beginning.
What do you think is one of the main achievements through SFCC?
The “Finca Rio Colorado” coffee and the “Doña Elda” miocrolotto (produced by Pancho’s wife Elda, hence the name) were two of the first five coffees sold with the Coffee Coalition logo, obtained for the first time in Slow Food’s history through a Participatory Guarantee System (PGS) process.
The PGS born within the Coffee Coalition is a “bottom-up” certification, based on trust and transparency, which involves first and foremost the producers, but also all other stakeholders interested in ensuring the organoleptic, environmental and social quality of the product through the organization by the community of field visits to producers and knowledge exchange. The work of these people is more widely known and recognized.
How can our readers find you?
Online and offline! b.house is an e-shop, but most of all of phisical place where you can live different experiences: seeing the roasting process live, training on cupping e on extraction methods, drink a good coffee, buy it. A whlesome coffee experience. To all our Tuscan friends, meet us on February 23rd in Pistoia at Slow Food Pistoia headquarters at “Il Funaro” at 8:30 pm where we will present and talk about the Slow Food Coffee Coalition!
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