2019 is a landmark year for Bell Lane as we embarked on our new green coffee purchasing strategy. A goal now turned into reality! To purchase green coffee directly involves many factors, cash flow and relevant volume are two. For us buying direct is the only way to control our green coffee stock, it provides traceability and provenance in a very competitive coffee market. It allows us select coffee suitable for our customers, our taste profile and blends. But also to help small farms get a better price for their coffee and to provide them the opportunity to invest in their future with a long-term coffee partner like Bell Lane Coffee. This first trip was made possible by our friends and green coffee brokers DR Wakefield. As we have no experience in origin trips we worked with Henry and his team who looked after us for the entire trip.
Niko and I left Dublin for what was going to be a long few days. After three flights and 30+ hours travelling we touched down in San Salvador Airport in Honduras at 6 pm local time. We had agreed to meet up with three other coffee buyers from Australia and the UK. After clearing customs off we went to start the 3-hour ride to our first location.
During the next few days we had a jam packed schedule which included cuppings, farm visits, co-op meetings each day and a lot of travelling by jeep.
Our first cupping of the trip was in a town called San Juan in Intibucá which is 3 hours south of San Salvador Airport. The mayor of the town had invited us to come for a presentation on how San Juan is prospering and included a cupping of some local producers’ coffee as well as coffee from the local Co-op Comicoval. This was an unusual experience for us as we are not used to cupping so late at night, it was after midnight before we finished, and we still had an hour jeep trip back to the hotel. We tasted so many coffees that night from local producers and they turned up in droves to get feedback on their coffees and to see if their coffee was good enough for our customers. We were excited by the opportunity to taste so many different coffees in one location and it was also interesting to chat to the producers.
The next day we had another early cupping in Marcala in LA PAZ, this area shares a similar profile coffee to Intibucá. We were with a new co-op called Cafesa with only 47 members, the highlight was a cupping with Uber Nicolas who oversees quality; he was a Cup of Excellence judge with a huge amount of experience, he also has the loudest slurp you have ever heard around a cupping table! The coffee we tasted was great. In fact, some of the best coffee I have personally tasted, but not the right fit for now.
We traveled from Intibucá west to La Labor in Ocotepeque to a co-op called Cocafelol. This would be the largest co-op in the area dealing with 1,000 + local farmers. Cocafelol are a very proactive co-op using chromatography to analyse the soil, giving assistance to their members like this for free. They also turn the waste product like parchment (skin of the coffee cherry) into fertiliser and organic compost. This is distributed to members free of charge and sold to other farms as organic fertiliser. The co-ops are so important, they are not just there to help export coffee, they play a massive part in the sustainability of a farm, help improve on quality which in turn increases the revenue that the farm can achieve for their crop.
The following day we started off with a little trip to a small co-op called Amprocal, they are neighbours to Cocafelol. Amprocal is a female only co-op that was established in 2007 by 8 women producers whose only income was from coffee. Today they have 86 women members, apart from green coffee processing, they also assist with coffee roasting and micro financing service for female producers. Many of the members have their own farms and are certified organic and/or Fair trade certified. The remaining members work directly in coffee related areas. Delmy Regalado’s involvement in the Co-op has been instrumental in its progression and has had a direct impact on the Co-op operating a sustainable organisation. Delmy is the current President for the Honduras chapter of IWCA (International Women’s Coffee Alliance). The IWCA is an organisation that supports women in the production and marketing of coffee. The work that they do makes it possible for more coffee to be produced in an ethical way, sustainable way and promotes equal opportunities for women in the coffee industry.
Later that evening we tasted coffees from several producers of the Amprocal co-op, we were pleasantly surprised that the coffee on the table was some of the best cups we had tasted, in particular, a coffee that stood out was from a little farm in Ocotepeque in western Honduras. This was a washed mixed variety of Pacas and Catuai; that cup profile was very different from all the other samples. It was a sweet apple acidity mixed with a buttery mouth feel and both Niko and I picked the same coffee. We were so impressed with the coffee we bought the entire lot, 80 bags.
This was my aha moment! Travelling to origin as a green coffee buyer for my own coffee business, meeting passionate producers, tasting their coffees and then having the resources to buy the full lot was special. Both Niko and I had agreed that this coffee was for us and possibly the best we had tasted over the 5 days of the trip.
The trip came to an end very quickly, we had travelled across Honduras and clocked up 1,000+ km over the five days. Bumpy roads, traffic jams and warm dusty air was now behind us. We packed our bags and took the 3 long flights back home.
Thanks for reading, hope you enjoyed…..SB😊