One of the great joys of my role as Head of Coffee at Pact is seeing first hand the difference we can make to the lives of our farming partners. Particularly when we’ve spotted a potential coffee growing star of the future.
Last spring, I was very excited to return to the Cangual region of Honduras to meet Bernabe Aguilar – a young man with a great deal of promise. I was eager to see how he was getting on with bringing his coffee beans up to specialty level, as I had heard from our local contacts that he had been working hard to improve their quality. Bernabe’s farm is small. It’s only a couple of hectares – that’s the size of a couple of football pitches side-by-side. Coffee is the only source of income for his young family, which is why making the switch to specialty coffee means so much to him; and us.
The Cangual region is incredibly remote and crammed with small coffee farms. Quality varies a lot from farm to farm and it can be a real challenge to find coffee gems from the many farms I see. Visits by coffee buyers like me are a rare event for the locals; as Pact is one of the few companies that does these trips. All the growers gather together and we walk around as a large group of as many as 30 people. The farmers learn from each others’ growing techniques and we talk about small process changes that could drastically increase the quality of their coffee, such as making sure cherries are picked when they’re perfectly ripe.
When I met Bernabe, the owner of El Sapote farm, he demonstrated that he had taken our suggestions for improvement on board and really nailed the growing process. Up until we worked with him, he had been producing commodity coffee for the Honduran market but his drive to up his bean-growing game changed that. We have other coffees from this area of Honduras in our Select plan (you might remember Aguacate and Aguacatal), however, his farm – El Sapote – stood out to me as being ready for the premium Micro-Lot Plan. I offered to buy his whole crop – just ten sacks – right away.
In his first year of farming specialty coffee, Bernabe carefully followed the instructions given to him, selecting only the ripest cherries, controlling their fermentation and drying them very carefully. And wow, did all that extra attention pay off! What was revealed was a delicious coffee with syrupy sweetness, cherry and black tea flavours. Those delicate black tea flavours only come through when a farmer picks and processes beans to a very high standard.
Why Espresso Roast?
El Sapote is a really interesting choice for an espresso roast. Because of how well balanced this coffee is, we were able to roast it very lightly. This means we can preserve all those complex flavours which are developed when the coffee grows at high altitude. A less well-balanced coffee would have had to be roasted more darkly, which would have covered up the nuanced flavours.
Whilst this coffee works really well as espresso, we’re also planning on holding back a few sacks of beans to be roasted for brewing methods, so that those who are fans of the V60, Aeropress, stovetop and cafetiere don’t miss out!
The Future for Bernabe
Bernabe has used the money he made from working with Pact to make things more comfortable at home for his wife and two small children. He’s built a them a bathroom. He’s also bought some more land to expand his farm. It’ll be four years before his first coffee crop arrives from this new investment and I can’t wait to try it.
Bernabe is a great example to his peers of the success that can come from producing specialty coffee. Success stories like his spread throughout the region, and more and more farmers look to do the same. This is great for the farmers, as they’ll earn more money in the long run, and great for us because we get to discover new specialty coffees that we can share with our customers.
By Will Corby