After 2 long years, our Director and Green Coffee Buyer Jan Komarek has ventured back to source to visit our coffee friends, old and new. He is visiting some coffee farms that we have had long standing relationships with over the years and stopping by some new farms.
After a 2 year hiatus, I am excited to once again be able to travel to visit the coffee producers we source from at Bailies. On this trip I will be visiting Central America, with my first stop in Honduras, followed by Guatemala, then Mexico.
Honduras is undeniably filled with genuine and hard-working people determined to succeed through hard work and perseverance. I was lucky enough to meet some of these people 6 years ago when I first visited, and we have been buying their coffees ever since. The producer group of these coffees initially started with two siblings, Karen and Edgar. When they started out, their coffee was simply sold to a local Co-op, but they hoped to differentiate themselves and produce specialty coffees. This is how Pacayal was born. (Pacaya is a type of palm flower that is often consumed in the region – so Pacayal translates to the area where these grow). Pacayal’s motto is “quality does not suffer in crisis”. Karen and Edgar’s passion has since inspired relatives and friends, who have decided to join the movement. They slowly started to separate their coffees in hopes of selling them through Pacayal.
When I last had the chance to visit them, their operation lacked some infrastructure. They were drying the honey processed coffees on Karen’s garden, they also had no mill or formal offices. They did however have great washed coffees that showed potential, and they were committed to getting better. Fast forward to 2022 and they now have their own office building, communal wet mill with drying patios, professionally equipped new dry mill and have expanded to 135 members and are working with a number of well respected roasters and a few importers. They also have 4 Q Processing Specialists (Coffee Quality Institute’s program for teaching and certifying specialists in coffee post-harvest processing) and have a professionally equipped quality control lab. Of course, through the communications over the years I was aware of most of these improvements they have made, all of which made it easier for us to get more consistent coffees. But seeing it all in person was impressive.
Speaking of their own experts in post-processing and agronomy, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to pick their brains. We had a passionate discussion about fermentations, experiments, new varieties, and high scoring microlots, as well as coffees that unfortunately didn’t score as highly as expected and why. I shared some of the experiences of other producers we work with and they shared with me their own findings and results of their experiments. Coming out of these conversations, my brain is always working overtime, trying to explain the weird and wonderful, unexpected outcomes.
One of the benefits of visiting origin is that I can chat with the producers about their thoughts and plans for the future. Everyone is very aware of the changes to their farming conditions due to climate change and diseases like Roya (coffee leaf rust) and Ojo de Gallo (American leaf spot). Even farmers that have grown previously resistant Arabica coffee varieties are now finding that their trees are affected with these diseases. Management of these issues is becoming increasingly more difficult, especially for organic producers. The positive side to this is that all farmers were aware of the individual challenges of their farms, and they are enforcing risk-mitigating practices, developed with local agronomists. The solutions range from re-planting trees or changing varieties in the farm, to shade management, pruning, mulching etc. The reality of this is that all of these efforts require work and will take time.
Another very noteworthy topic I was interested in was the high numbers of female producers in Pacayal. With about 40% female farmers, the group has significantly more than the average representation, and they even have a specific program to empower female producers. I spent some time talking with the women that take part in the program. It was very insightful for me; I was impressed that topics that could sometimes be perceived as sensitive were discussed very openly and frankly. I certainly can’t claim to be in their shoes, but it provided me with a very interesting insight into some of the challenges that female farmers can face. Sometimes it is a mix of culture or tradition and other times land inheritance or intra-family relationships can affect the situation as well. I appreciated listening to what they think are the best ways to face these challenges and how to empower women who want to become producers.
The best part of my trip was of course visiting Dona Isaura. It has been 6 years since I last saw her in person, although we have done some video and phone calls over the years. But a lot of things have changed in that time, so we chatted for about 2 hours straight just to catch up. We chatted about all the new microlots that she’s producing and experimenting with. About her family history (which would be a blog post in itself!). About the changing conditions and her progression towards organic farming. About Sarah’s competition with Isaura’s coffees…. It was very nice. Later she fed me with delicious homemade lunch and we went to spend time in the farm and wet mill and see all the lots we talked about. This place is always very special to me.
For the last stop in Honduras, I went to see Dona Reina from Los Naranjos farm. Hurricane Iota in November 2020 damaged a significant part of Honduras and destroyed Dona Reina’s house. Shortly after, Pacayal organized a fund raiser for the nearby communities and their members that had been affected by the hurricane. Bailies also contributed to the fundraiser, so they took me to see Dona Reina’s house to show me how, with the finances, they managed to rebuild her house. It was nice to see the rebuilt house, and it made me proud that we were able to help and also made me very thankful that I have not witnessed any hurricanes in my life!
Altogether it was very busy trip. I was still struggling with jet-lag while trying to fit as many visits into each day. But it was very nice to be back, see all the familiar faces, talk to all the producers and taste the previews of the coffees we are going to buy this year. I just hope I will be back sooner next time around.