Sweet Maria's Home Coffee Roasting

Honduras Cupping Competition & Coffee Trip 2003
In May-June 2003 I was invited to be a judge in the first ever Honduras Specialty Coffee Competition, which next year will probably become an auction too, possibly a Cup of Excellence branded competition. We arrived early to travel to the coffee growing regions along the northern border with Guatemala, including the region of Copán, famous for the magnificent Mayan ruins as well as great coffee.

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We had a welcome lunch and some remarkable musical accompaniment in the small town of Santa Rosa de Copan. These guys were amazing considering all their instruments looked homemade. The drummer had the proverbial Coke-bottle eyeglasses and the half-heartedness at which he attempted to keep rhythm with the father-son Marimba-ists was personally inspiring to me.

Graffiti is always interesting to me and Santa Rosa had some of the finest. To me, this composition here beats most gallery-hung fine art paintings I have seen...

And my second favorite artwork to photograph on trips; utilitarian sign painting ...
... these were on walls in the Ciudad de las Ruinas Copan

Back to coffee! The flowering was still active on some farms we visited in the South (above are blossoms just about to open) but in Copan and Ocotepeque in the North the first flowers had already dried and fallen, leaving the young undeveloped green cherry in their place.

In the photo to the right you can see the brown remnants of flowers and the coffee fruit that replaces them.

We stopped by the roadside for a little coffee break at and there was actually a few red ripe coffee cherries on the sunny plot beside the road. I think this is the first time I ever picked coffee and drank coffee at the same time. There is not much fruit in the coffee cherry but it is sweet, and once you taste it you will be able to identify this flavor that emerges every so often as a positive quality in the cup.

One of the first farms we visited was that of Roberto Salazar, a young farmer from an extended family of coffee farmers in Ocotapeque. His coffee is remarkably good, from Typica, Caturra and Pacas Cultivars at about 1300 meters. Pacas is a natural hybrid of Caturra (some say of Typica too but I am not sure about that), and produces Caturra-like cup character. It's a good Cultivars, unlike Catimor.

Roberto Salazar is as successful in vermiculture as he is in coffee cultivation. His organic worm-bedded fertilizer/compost is so good that he sells it to many other farms. The introduction of vermiculture to help process coffee pulp into rich, potent fertilizer has been huge: The preferred worm is the California Red Worm ...
... and here they are! I can't communicate how finely grained and perfectly composted his finished soil was. It actually dried on my hands into a hard crust, like Elmer's Glue dries on your fingers. If you like gardening, this kind of stuff gets you excited. If you don't, it gets you repulsed.

After a pleasant stay in the town Ruinas Copan, we toured the Copan Mayan site for several hours in the morning. Having had a class in Maya Studies at UCLA years ago, I could muster up a vague idea of all I was missing in this short trip around the ruins. They are known not as the largest, but as the most detailed and beautiful Mayan ruins. Here is a picture of a small area behind the the large stadium/ballcourt. You need many days to really see this place.

At right, one of the many intricate monoliths, this about 12 feet high.

There is something eerie about the Maya. I know that's probably an ignorant statement, and maybe I am just phobic. But these ruins were built by the Mayan rulers to inspire awe (and fear). The fact is, many centuries later they still do. The more you look at the amazing representations of kings and gods, of jaguars, of snakes, of things that you are supposed to fear, you start to feel it.

Or then again, you can simply look upon the beheading stone above and get a more palpable sense of fear. The victim's head was placed in the indentation in the top; the curving channels in the sides to make an impressive display of the blood flow!

After a dose of terror, I was happy to see these little guys, monkey representations. The Maya weren't all blood and guts, I suppose. I need to find that old textbook...

Leaving the ruins, there was an impromptu parrot talent show at the front gate. I was most amused by the way they ran along the ground seemingly driving the sandy dirt into their nostrils, then chewing and spitting rocks. It was like a parrot equivalent to coffee cupping: obtuse, amusing, gross.

We stopped at a local roaster for a Copan coffee company called Welchez. They had an amazing re-cast, modern version of a Royal #5 roaster or an old conduction Burns. In fact the roast times and quality of the roast seemed excellent. But the cooling tray, oh jeez. It was 98% clogged, so no air flow could cool the coffee. The roaster (person) would dump the coffee out of the "cooling tray" after 20 minutes and it was still quite warm. I tried to tell him why this was a problem but didn't want to seem rude. They also had a neat 2 kilo sample roaster (right) also completely clogged in the cooling tray.


The First Honduras Specialty Coffee Cupping Competition at San Pedro Sula

The cupping competition followed the Cup of Excellence procedures, even though this wasn't a CoE event. It was very well organized!

Scott Reed from Royal Coffee scores a flight of coffees.

Sharing scores after a flight of coffee - Willem Boot (Boot Coffee Consulting) was the head judge, and has been acting as a consultant to the Specialty Coffee Association of Honduras. His attention to detail made the whole thing run perfectly.

To the right, me trying to do 3 things with 2 hands.

The judges for the competition. This was a really good group and I think we had a fun time and had good focus in our endeavors. Seeing more of the countryside is an important part of a cupping trip - it's all about the cup, but you need to understand the culture, the people, and the land!

A neat surprise was this small portable cupping roaster. It's electric, has an 80 gram batch, and is made to be abused. Sounds great right? Well, its also about $2000.

It's not over yet! We need to go South to the old capital of Tegucigalpa to see more coffee farms ... read on ...

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