For over a decade, the Paz family has been responsible for changing the face of Honduras specialty coffee. In 2000, the Paz family built the Beneficio San Vincente mill in Peña Blanca, Santa Barbara, and since 2008 BSV supported coffees have produced five first place wins in the country’s Cup of Excellence (the most of any other mill in the World). The Paz family has also been pivotal in the support and nurturing of Santa Barbara producers. We chat to Benjamin Paz, who’s family have been pioneering and instrumental in changing the face of specialty coffee in Honduras, and Andrew Kelly from Small Batch Roasting Co, Melbourne about the intricate details of his three visits to Honduras, including the Santa Barbara region.
Benjamin, can you tell me about your work with supporting and nurturing Santa Barbara producers?
At San Vicente we find farmers who produce good coffee or have the potential to do so, and connect them with specialty coffee roasters around the globe. We want to create that bond, that connection. I think, the most important and influential thing we have done, was to discover the area’s potential and show that to the coffee world. Also, with the help of coffee buyers, we organise farmers and, prepare and teach them how to produce better coffee; we also collaborate, to provide farmers with economic resources and needed operational resources. At the end of the day, the goal is to ensure farmers have a sustainable price and roasters/buyers receive a good consistent coffee.
Benjamin, What’s exciting about the coffees produced from the Beneficio San Vincente mill?
I think the most exciting thing about these coffees is the complexity of the flavours. There is passion fruit, papaya, nectarine, blackberry, plum, and all kinds of citrus flavours. The diversity coming from one mountain is so wild and interesting that it makes every single cupping or brew, a totally new adventure. The unique climate, temperature and soil in the mountain create this, with the added value of the care and passion on processing the coffee from plant to green.
Benjamin, As a leading specialty coffee producer, what do you see as the future of specialty coffee, for Honduras/ Beneficio San Vincente?
Every time I think about the future, I always think about the upcoming harvest and all the work we have to do as farmers and also as a company. The future for Honduras is now, today. We need to increase production, improve quality, build more relationships. The market is growing really fast, the demand for great coffee is increasing and more good coffees are showing up, at other origins. We have to remain competitive and stay at the level, of other producing countries.
Benjamin, could you share some words, with consumers about the coffees being offered by Small Batch Roasting Co in Melbourne?
All coffees are special, and those lots were carefully saved and selected for Small Batch, and they got almost everything we offered; they ended up buying more than they expected and probably more than they needed. That is something we appreciate a lot and that means the quality was good. The farmer work really hard all year around in order to achieve the goal of having a buyer, having a relationship and having a fair price. We are really happy about those coffees being in great hands. I hope you all enjoy all the work going in those beans.
Andrew, why did coffee from Santa Barbara captivate you?
Santa Barbara had long been something of mythical font of good coffee to me. Why? There’s a high level of representation of Santa Barbara coffee both at Cup of Excellence level and also on the menus of respected roasteries/cafes around the world – especially among our favourite North American and Scandinavian roasters. It always puzzled me that the representation of these coffees in Australia was however quite low by comparison and I was motivated to find out why this was the case, and assess first hand the quality and characteristics of coffee available.
Andrew, on face value, the whole concept of ‘visiting origin’ sounds thrilling, could you provide some insight on the reasons (and process) for visiting Honduras?
The first visit in August 2014 allowed us to tour the bulk of the producing regions in Honduras and start to assess which millers/exporters/regions we may wish to work with. We cupped last pickings even though the last few containers of quality coffee were mostly already dispatched. This enabled us to commence our efforts to profile the country’s coffees (in totality, not just the Santa Barbara area) and to learn what varietals and plant husbandry predominates and also see the regional and cultural differences in processing of cherry and parchment compared to other coffee countries of the Americas.
I also got to assess what kind of producers there are in the region and to assess how knowledgeable are they in coffee production – are they already doing all they physically can to produce superlative coffee, or is there still room for improvement? How much “animo” do they have? Are they happy with the prices they’ve historically received? Finally, I got to see for myself the harvest cycle in the key areas and to assess logistics (storage, milling, export conditions). So it was a pretty ambitious and valuable trip! Overall, happily, I was sure able to confirm the uniqueness of the coffees of Santa Barbara and began the process of finding the source of the uniqueness.
My second trip, in February 2015 was to follow up with the producers met on the first trip who were expected to have some unsold production. This was still early harvest, and this gave us a chance to select particular producers off the cupping table whose coffee we really liked, in order that we could secure more while the harvest continued. It was really also to start to understand the climactic conditions during which harvest occurs, and see generally what quality and progression of harvest there was so far.
The third trip in May 2015 was to cup these later pickings and find out exactly what was available to purchase, and then make offers. It was clear that we’ve have to be persistent to ensure we could receive the quality of coffee desired, and clear also that the producers had other avenues through which to sell their coffee at a premium. We needed to cup when the coffees were at their peak, and have our fingers crossed that the producers we were invested in relationship-wise had brought in the goods.
Making three trips to secure one purchase of coffee may seem like a lot, but it demonstrates the value of being on the ground, and how important details and relationships are in securing great coffee. The producer needs to know the buyer will be there when they say they will, and will pay for the extra efforts in producing high-grade specialty coffee that the buyer demands. My point is that, yes, visiting lovely countries is indeed thrilling – especially country’s bursting with possibilities of unexplored geography, new flavours, and different lovely people – but what should be evident from the description above is the sheer amount of detail involved in buying the best coffee. It’s the small things that are important along every step of the path: exactly correct ripeness of coffee cherry, cherry flotation, precise depulping, intentional fermentation, painstakingly careful drying, optimal storage, timely and exact milling and shipping, and etc. The devil’s in the detail, as well as the nuggets of gold!
What do you see as the future of specialty coffee, for Honduras?
We’re working towards a future in which consumers identify positively with particular producers from the area (when roasted transparently by good roasters, and used when fresh), and are prepared to pay a premium to enjoy them. This premium sustains these producers better than they have been sustained in the past. This future involves us giving feedback, assisting with provision of equipment or technical assistance all resulting in an improvement in the flavor and simultaneously the livelihood of everyone involved in the chain. Preferential flavours in the coffee will be more able to be targeted as techniques improve and understanding grows. The kids of these producers can get sent to school and college, but also see that specialty coffee is a good business and one that is sustainable environmentally and financially, and that provides the great satisfaction that only production of an advanced sensory item can.
Andrew, could you share some words, with consumers about the coffees being offered by yourself in Melbourne?
Small Batch Roasting Co is privileged to be offering these sought after and rare coffees that reveal very transparently the environments of their production. These cool climate coffees have a really interesting and unique fruitedness and sweetness and lots of character in general. We have chosen to circumvent the limitations of the small quantity of many of the lots by adopting the handle “The Santa Barbara Project” as the headline identification of the coffee (then designating further whether it’s espresso or filter roast style and secondarily listing the producer’s name) to try and encourage people to sample all of the producers efforts sequentially or simultaneously as in the Bean Market example.
There is only one Santa Barbara, and we are confident that we are bringing you some of the best coffee from the region you will ever taste. Strong embrace of the project will enable us to more strongly support producers in our purchasing in coming years!