No one knows for sure exactly when coffee first reached Honduras, but it is believed that seeds may have arrived from Costa Rica between 1799 and 1804 amongst the goods brought by travelling merchants. Today, coffee plays an important role within the national economy and has great potential for growth and quality improvement.
Finca Altos de Erapuca is a relatively new coffee farm which was established in 2008, with its second harvest in December 2014. Previously the land had been given over to cattle but with an altitude of 1,300 to 1,360 meters above sea level, owner Carlos Efrain Paz Sevilla recognised the farm's great potential for producing coffee. With many years’ experience in coffee, through the management of other family farms, Carlos planted entirely Catuai making the farm something of an oasis in a land of Cattimore – the varietal that has greater rust resistance but much less complexity in the cup.
The farm is located in Copan, on the slopes of Honduras’s second highest mountain – Erapuca. It’s a dramatic volcano-like mountain with its conical shape and though the slopes don’t benefit from mineral rich volcanic ash, the land is fertile and soil quality is excellent. The mountain’s peak reaches 2,255 meters above sea level. Finca Altos de Erapuca is a big farm since there are 264 hectares of protected rainforest, but upon 24 hectares there is an abundance of healthy looking Catuai. There are some signs of rust, as in almost all cases in Central America, but Carlos is managing it well enough to expect a crop of around 2 containers between December and March when the coffee will be harvested. Carlos believes he must protect the land for future generations and has made the brave step of running the farm in compliance with organic production rules and methods. Finca Altos de Erapuca is now both Rainforest Alliance and Organically certified. The coffee is fertilised three times per year and the harvest begins tentatively in December, but hits full swing in January and February, with shipments starting in April. Rust is controlled on a 25 day spraying cycle and September - during the rainy season - is the worst time for occurrence of rust. Only compounds permitted by the organic certifiers can be used, making the fight against leaf-rust even tougher.
There is a house for permanent staff on the farm which is powered by solar energy but other than this the farm is all natural rainforest, with only a small area devoted to coffee. Following careful red cherry selection by specially trained pickers, the post-harvest operations of washing, drying and milling take place further down the mountain.
It is clear that Carlos is setting high standards and has a strong desire to penetrate the growing specialty market. Though much of his coffee was exported in 2014 to a US importer (it was sold via local middle-men) he did produce a few tiny microlots for a Japanese client.
Once the coffee is picked it is trucked down the mountain to a wet mill called Empresa Vecinos del Trigo where it is pulped and washed in a Penagos Eco pulp drier. From there the coffee will be delivered to Aruco - a dry mill with large patios and a bank of mechanical driers also. A combination of the two drying methods is employed, with coffee first drying on the patio until the moisture content reaches 43%, after which it goes to the mechanical driers (known as Guardiolas) – which are maintained at 35 C for a period of 35 to 40 hours until the moisture content falls to 11 or 12 percent. The coffee then goes to the Santa Rosa Beneficio mill for parchment removal and a final defect removal (by hand or machine) before being packed in hessian sacks lined with Grain Pro and finally prepared for export.