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Origin Focus – Honduras - Part 2

Updated: May 21

Honduras holds a crucial position in the global coffee market. Remarkably, this Arabica origin leads the Central America production, and has established itself as the fourth-largest Arabica producer globally, trailing behind Brazil, Colombia, and Ethiopia. Ultimately, understanding the dynamics of Honduras's production and particularities, is essential for having a good understanding of this origin. 

 

In the second part of our blog series, we delve deeper into the rich tapestry of Honduras, building upon the historical foundation laid in Part 1. We'll conclude the discussion on production history while also exploring Honduras' producing regions, the dynamics behind demand, its specialty industry, and the famous cup profiles associated with this origin. 



History of Production  

In 2017, Honduras reached its highest-ever production levels, sparking optimism for the future ahead. However, this wasn’t the beginning of a new era, as a rust epidemic would soon pose a new challenge to Honduras in 2017/18. After the 2017 record (7.6m bags), weather-related issues have further impeded progress, causing a notable retreat in production levels since the peak bringing production back down to ~5.5m bags. 

 



During the 2017-2021 period, excessive rain from La Niña triggered another rust epidemic continued to diminish the crops. Rust is a fungus that affects the leaves of the coffee plants, and as such, it thrives in the presence of humidity, especially in high-altitude lands. Honduras was a perfect fit for rust, given the mountainous lands, and the heavy regular rains from years of La Niña.  




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The return of the rust caught many people off guard, since after the 2012 epidemic, Honduras prompted a strategic shift towards rust-resistant varieties, with Lempira emerging as a notable example, and constituting around 50-60% of Hondo's coffee production by the 2017 record. However, as time progressed, Lempira lost its rust-resistant status, leaving the door open for new rust outbreaks. Recognizing the urgency of the situation, IHCAFE took proactive measures to develop solutions and prevention programs. Catchy slogans such as "everybody against leaf rust" and "don't change the coffee variety: change your attitude" encapsulated the rallying cry for concerted efforts against rust. 




The institute introduced an innovative alarm system, triggering national alerts when rust levels exceeded 6%. This prompted more frequent checks, enhanced monitoring, and meticulous pruning of the crops. IHCAFE also took a holistic approach by educating producers on preventive and nutritional protocols, providing crucial support to ensure the implementation of these measures.  

 

The concerted efforts to anticipate and address new threats without resorting to changing coffee varieties have shown positive results. Since 2021, Honduras has been on a path of recovery from weather-related challenges, successfully harvesting a slightly larger crop in the 23/24 season, and with no immediate signs of adversity ahead. While Honduras is still struggling to regain the heights of the 17/18 records, the Honduran coffee crops find themselves in a notably better position following the disciplined response to the rust epidemic. 

 

Demand for Hondo Coffee and Specialty Industry 

Honduras has a low domestic use ranging from 5-7% of its production, which means most of the coffee produced is destined for exports (93-95%). Most of this exportable volume relates to commercial-graded Semi-Washed coffees, that are destined for the international market and often graded as certified coffees on the exchange. 




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However, the mountainous terrain and high elevations in Honduras contribute to the development of distinctive flavor profiles, leading to the production of specialty coffees. The emergence of the specialty industry in Honduras has been accompanied by social, environmental and quality certifications, such as Rainforest Alliance, Fair Trade Organic, and various specialized micro lots. Recognizing the potential of the specialty coffee sector, Honduras took strategic steps to boost its standing in the global market.  

 

In 2004, IHCAFE enlisted the Alliance for Coffee Excellence, aiming to facilitate coffee auctions and bring in specialty experts and buyers to Honduras. The efforts seem to be paying off, as the popularity of the Honduran specialty coffee has been on the rise, and this has been incentivizing the local industry, which is consistently expanding. 

 

Producing Regions and Cup Profiles 

Honduras follows a single harvesting calendar, running from October to January, which aligns with other Central American countries. The mountainous terrain presents challenges for mechanized harvesting, leading the country to heavily depend on manual labor. This has been an issue, as in the past few years, labor shortages due to low wages and immigration have made harvesting more challenging in Honduras.  

 

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The coffee areas are spread throughout most of the Honduran territory and can be divided into 7 main regions, in the descending order of output: Copán, Opalaca, Montecillos, Comayagua, El Paraíso, Ocotepeque and Agalta. While these regions share similar general altitudes and weather patterns, there are unique micro-climatic characteristics that distinguish the cup profiles of each region, including slight variations in altitude, humidity, and plant varieties.  



Copán  

This is the most famous producing region in Honduras. Not only does Copán produce the largest portion of the country’s output, but it also distinguishes itself as the leader of both specialty and commercial grade industries in Honduras. Coffees from Copán are well-suited for blends, as they have delicate acidity, balanced aftertaste and are often sweet. Copán neighbors Ocotepeque, which is known for its rich, full-bodied and well-rounded cup profile. 

 

Opalaca 

Opalaca ranks as the second most important origin in Honduras, closely trailing Copán. Situated southwest of Copán and cultivating similar varieties in the same micro-climate, it exhibits remarkably similar cup characteristics, marked by delicate acidity and a well-balanced aftertaste. It includes the region of Lempira, which typically offers a medium-bodied cup profile with a balanced acidity and mild, nutty flavors. 



Montecillos  

Montecillos is a small region bordering Comayagua. It’s home to some of the highest altitudes (1200-1600m) and coolest temperatures in Honduras. As such, Montecillos produces sparkling tartaric acidity coffees, those that can impart a bright and crisp sensation on the palate. Cooler temperatures and increased stress from the altitude lead to a higher concentration of sugars in the beans, helping these coffees develop a sweeter flavor.  


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Comayagua 

Heading slightly north from Montecillos, we'll encounter Comayagua in central Honduras. With altitudes similar to those of Copán, the relatively high elevations help preserve sweetness. Comayagua coffees typically exhibit a cup profile characterized by fruity flavors, often with notes of citrus, stone fruit, or berries. 



 El Paraíso & Agalta 

El Paraíso shares a border with Nicaragua and experiences relatively high temperatures compared to the other regions, and this helps increase acidity. It grows a variety of coffee types, particularly rust-resistant hybrids, which are not preferred by the specialty industry. However, El Paraíso offers smooth well-balance cup profiles. Agalta is more to the north, but much like El Paraíso, it has a relatively warm micro-climate. Agalta coffees also have pronounced acidity, and sweet finish. 



 

Conclusion 

Its been a tough road for Honduras in the years after reaching the highs of production in 2017/18.  Like many Central Amercian origins, Honduras struggled from Rust in the wake of the excess rains of La Niña. However, the disciplined approach from IHCAFE and local farmers seems to be paying dividends in putting this origin on the right path to recovery.  Based on current trends, we could see Honduras recover to new highs over the next 5 to 10 years. 

 

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In addition to quantity, the focus on quality has made Honduras an essential part of the global basket of washed Arabicas.  The range of microclimates and efforts to improve quality has led to Honduras establishing himself as a workhorse of the specialty coffee world.  

 

Going forward though, it may be a different type of certification that brings Honduras into the forefront of the discussion. Given the extreme low levels of certified inventory over the past year and the rapidly declining differentials, we may see a lot more discussion about Honduras as we look for new certified coffees to fill the void. 


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