Aaron MacDougall, roaster and owner of Broadsheet Coffee Roasters in Cambridge, MA, won our Roast and GO roasting competition—and a trip to origin. In February, he traveled with a group to Honduras, home of his competition-winning coffee, Guama Danta. To our delight, Aaron agreed to write about the experience. This is his seventh installment in the series. His first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth posts are some fantastic reading.
It’s our final day, and all our flights are mid afternoon.
At 7:15 a.m., we check out of the Hotel Monteolivos in San Pedro Sula for a breakfast of sloppy but tasty baleadas. We eat quickly and hop back into the Land Rovers to visit the Molinos de Honduras (MDH) headquarters and main mill. We sit down with General Manager “Don Frank” Reese again and pepper him with questions: about logistics management, progress made in his three years at MDH, goals for the next five. And why Honduran coffee? What makes it special?
Don Frank is most proud of building relationships directly with producers and says they are now being paid 60-70% more than they were when they could only sell to intermediarios. He has just finished a large financing spread across a large number of producers and contrasts the current interest rates for the producers against the 5-8% per month they were previously charged by many intermediaries.
He’s also working to improve the coffee of El Paraiso, a growing region that he feels has huge potential for quality but that is one of the most backward in the country (“It’s like New York” quips Assistant General Manager Joshua Tracey. “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.”)
Don Frank has also overseen the growth of the microlot business from 15 bags in total three years ago to 1,500 last year. He’s building databases on producers, tracking progress from their baseline and creating systems for organizing technical support visits. He stresses the importance of building long-term relationships not only with the producers but with other organizations on the ground, from fertilizer manufacturers to IHCAFE.
We hear about the company mantra of resource efficiency, productivity and quality as keys to a robust supply chain and true transparency, and “no bullshit” as the connection linking this “chain of trust” to buyers and consumers.
Carlos Umanzor, a trader and sustainability specialist, leads us on a tour of the huge dry mill facility. While similar in layout to the one we saw at the MDH warehouse in Comayagua, the scale is dramatically larger. The milling line is also more sophisticated, incorporating a strong magnet to pull stray objects out of the green coffee, a de-stoner and a pre-cleaner to remove any twigs. This is of course in addition to density sorting for both parchment and milled greens (it is shocking to see how effective this alone is), screen size sorters and an amazing panel of laser-color sorters.
The sorted green coffee is automatically weighed out, bagged and sewn up (for non-GrainPro packing), then quickly loaded into Kraft paper–lined containers or, interestingly, un-bagged and shot via a “bazooka” into “jumbo” container-filling bags (for conventional coffee, which, surprisingly, often come with certifications).
Joshua Tracey later tells us that since San Pedro Sula is so hot and humid, they organize arrivals of parchment and shipments of green coffee on a just-in-time protocol that minimizes the time spent here.
Proof Is in the Cup
They’ve organized a final cupping for the group, and Joshua (another famous cupper), Carlos and Don Frank all participate. The coffees are again great microlots of Paranema, Lempira and IHCAFE varieties and we score them from 83–87. The profiles this time are on the bright side with tasting notes of lemon, lime, green apple and blackberry. Delicious.
As for “why Honduras”? Joshua answers: “Honduras is a diamond in the rough,” with coffee every bit as good as that grown elsewhere in Central America. They’re also, in a sense, starting afresh here (in terms of reputation), means there are no entrenched perceptions of what the coffee taste profile should be, and they have incentives to create microlots with highly differentiated characteristics.
There has been a lot of shop talk and serious discussion, and I’ve learned as much sitting in the trucks as I have walking the farms and mills.
We’ve had very full days, starting early and ending late, and at times ending with a drink. I’ve tried to detail some of the highlights, but have left out so many of the wonderful sights and cultural experiences we’ve had on this trip. I’ve also neglected one of my favorite aspects of the trip: the many amazing conversations shared in the group. The people on my trip are incredibly witty and it has been so much fun; but there has also been a lot of shop talk and serious discussion, and I’ve learned as much sitting in the trucks as I have walking the farms and mills. Our guides are super bright and knowledgeable and everyone in the group has been so generous in sharing information.
It’s been a privilege and a joy to spend time in Honduras and to get to know these amazing people.
— Aaron MacDougall, Broadsheet Coffee Roasters
Want to experience what’s happening in Honduras? Click to order green coffee samples.