Sitting down to talk about our 2021 Honduras coffee offerings feels a little bit crazy: how has a year passed since we visited our producing partners? How has only a year passed?
Todd and I visited Honduras together at the end of February, flying home on March 7. The weeks that followed our trip have become some of the hardest we have ever been through as a business: we almost completely closed up, pivoted to delivery, furloughed half our staff, and held on for dear life. In a matter of weeks the joy and excitement I felt from visiting with Benjamin Paz, Olvin Fernandez, Pablo Cruz, the Guzman Family and William Alvarado was swallowed up by the stress and fear of what was to come. All we knew to do was to keep on going and keep on trying. And the trying turned to surviving, thanks to our community and our customer
We are the end of the supply chain: as the roasters we are the last hand that will touch the coffee before you all get to take it home and drink it, so it is crucial that we do our very best to tell the coffee’s story and represent the producers well. Creating a demand for these coffees is how we are able to be good partners to the producers. Having COVID shut down business focused us on how our volatility might affect our partners, and how critical it is for us to protect our relationships and shoulder the risk with them.
Honduras, like everywhere on the globe, was hit hard by COVID: roads to the remote regions were shut off from larger municipalities in order to protect citizens, but that precaution also kept migrant pickers from helping with harvest. Many of the struggles we were facing were the same for Hondurans; only in a totally different and harder context, with zero government support and limited - if any- access to loans. Not to mention the effects our own shutdowns were having on their livelihoods: as many coffee companies were significantly shut down, they were unable to fulfill their contracts.
I want to be honest and hopeful, because that is my favorite way to be: we were able to maintain all of our commitments because we were able to do many creative pivots: subscriptions, delivery, discounts, jugs upon jugs of lattes. And that is because of you all! I spoke to Benjamin in Honduras at one point in the middle of April and all the joy and passion that I felt when visiting him before the pandemic flooded back in. We talked about how hope is contagious! How our producers and their hard work to still get us our coffees in the midst of this global pandemic made me want to work harder, but how producers were seeing our efforts in keeping things going which made them want to work harder! Hope makes more hope!
We are incredibly grateful for our relationships in Honduras: in most cases we buy 100% of the coffee each of our individual relationship produces: last year the Guzman family produced about 300 pounds and this year they have produced a couple thousand. We are invested in their success and this is beyond marketing words: if our hard work succeeds, the Guzman’s will be able to make coffee producing their sole livelihood. They have put their trust in us to make their dreams come true. This is the case for all our producers: Olvin Fernandez is a legacy coffee producer, working his farm alongside his brother’s farms on what was once his father’s land. How can we ensure that coffee can remain the source of pride and opportunity for Olvin’s children as well? Pablo Cruz works alongside his son Pablito, who is passionate about specialty coffee and together they are making huge changes and improvements because of our commitments to them.
I have worked in coffee since 1997 and visiting Honduras last winter was my first time seeing coffee in origin. I thought I loved coffee as much as it is possible to love a thing but I was wrong: seeing it on trees in the mountains while walking the farms with our partners, it’s a whole new expansive universe for me.
As the green buyer, Todd is traveling a handful of times a year, and it always made more sense for us to send our employees on these trips than for me to go. Todd was insistent that I make this trip and I get it now: Olvin Fernandez is more than just the name of our coffee producer: he is an amazing human with his own family of small kids, producing coffee next to his brothers and nephews. He grows avocados and mulberries, just like my family does. Putting a face to a name is only one part of it: to see the hard work that goes into a bag of coffee, well I can’t explain it! These coffees are grown in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. They are hand-picked, hand-sorted, processed and delivered to Beneficio San Vicente who exports the coffee directly to us.
Something that Felix, our retail operations manager and all-around best guy, said to me the other day that has stuck is this: knowing someone beyond the one dimension of work makes communication and work easier and better. Knowing a person outside their work means you have a holistic view of a person, which leaves an impression on you! Visiting our partners is more than just tasting their coffees and seeing where they are grown and negotiating pricing: for both parties it is the deepening of a trust relationship. Meeting Pablo’s kids and sharing work and down time with them means I know them, and they know me and can trust that I am here to support their work. In Pablo Cruz’ case, two years ago when Matt and Todd visited, he had plans to build a wet mill, and we gave him a premium to help pay for it. When we visited this year it was completed: which means more control over the quality. This year we hope to help him purchase a truck to transport his coffee: currently he transports 100% of his harvest by mule.
My favorite moments were walking along the ridge of William Alvarado’s farm: one row of coffee trees remarked his farm, the row right next to it marks the start of Wilson Morales’ farm – who sells his coffee to our dear friends at Cat and Cloud. To the left of Williams farm is Benjamin Paz’ farm. Three distinct farms with their own relationships, together. The global coffee community is represented every hectare, and it’s so obvious that it will thrive together, or not at all.
In a relentlessly difficult year, Honduras was hit by two back to back hurricanes in November, totally devastating much of the country. We were so proud to see our neighbors Direct Relief on the ground immediately. In the weeks that followed we were able to ensure our partners were safe and - while impacted - not devastated. We immediately sent money to all our partners to ensure that they could make the necessary repairs to their farms and helped to support Benjamin Paz’ Gofundme to support the infrastructure rebuilding that is necessary. Again, Honduras is facing a devastation without much government support or access to capital. There is still so much work to do, and there is hope! And the coffee is being harvested right now. It is all so impossible and so amazing.
One thousand difficult moments have stood between when we tasted our coffees in Honduras with our producers and now. And somehow these coffees taste, feel and represent the resilience, the hope and the joy of partnership more than ever before. It is my privilege to serve them to you, my community.
I was given the opportunity to interview Benjamin Paz for Barista Magazine, and it is out now. You can read it here if you would like to know more!