Pro-tips from the Staff 6/15
If you haven’t heard of La Unión, don’t blame your lack of attentiveness in elementary school geography class: it’s one of the smallest municipalities in the department of Lempira in western Honduras. And travel to La Unión is a challenge. The 1300 mile flight from Atlanta, GA to the international airport in Honduras takes about as long as the 80-mile drive from the airport through the mountains to La Unión.
Why La Unión? Our friends at Aldea Development, founded by University of Michigan graduates in 2009, have been working with the community since 2010. Aldea began as a microfinance organization (their former name was Unión MicroFinanza) and has since expanded their activities to include technical training for farmers, research, community development, and green coffee purchasing. We visited Aldea to get a firsthand view of what they do and the role they play in the community of La Unión. We also wanted to meet Pablo Paz, a coffee producer in the area, whom we purchased coffee from last year.
Harvest season in Honduras runs from January through April. We visited in mid-February and so witnessed the whirlwind of activity that accompanies the season. Coffee cherries are still picked by hand in Honduras — as they are almost everywhere coffee is produced – and one morning we had the opportunity to try our hands at picking. It takes a discerning eye to select cherries that are adequately ripe – pick too soon, and your coffee might end up tasting underdeveloped; pick too late, and it could develop a host of unpleasant flavors during its fermentation stage of processing. We did a pretty good job picking out the ripe cherries, but our speed left something to be desired. It took us about twice as long as a skilled picker to fill a basket.
It is important that coffee cherries are processed within hours of being picked. In Honduras, almost all coffees are processed using the washed method. The site where this washing takes place is known as a beneficio in Spanish. At the beneficio, the whole coffee cherry is stripped of its fruit, fermented, and rinsed with plenty of fresh water. After a first round of sorting, the beans are dried on raised beds, sometimes inside of a greenhouse-like construction known as a solar dryer.
After drying, coffee goes through another round of processing to remove its protective parchment layer (a step known as milling) and is sorted once again. And then there’s the barge ride halfway around the globe to a port in the U.S., where the beans are warehoused until they travel (by truck) to the back door of our roastery in Ann Arbor, MI. At which point we roast, package, deliver, grind, brew, and drink them with help from our wholesale customers and you, our guest! It takes a lot of work from a lot of folks to make your morning brew a reality. It sounds a bit grandiose, but a great cup of coffee is an achievement, a testament to the power of cooperative efforts that link people from all over the world.