Coffee planet (EXPROCCI) and the Oompa Loompa (Part 9)
Location – Santa Rosa de Copan
Following breakfast, we settled our bills, packed and were on the move again. For the first time we were headed out of the mountains and as we dropped down towards Santa Rosa there was a noticeable rise in both humidity and temperature.
Something odd was going on with the front left suspension of our vehicle and as a result we crawled all the way to our destination which had a knock on effect for the rest of the day. Omar, the general manager of Capucas came along for the ride. Capucas does not have its own export licence and uses Coffee Planet to provide this service.
We met with Janny Torres who heads up the business and her team in the tasting room (where else!). Following a brief presentation another round of coffees were put on for us to cup. This is where the final checks on the coffee quality are made prior to export. The buyer will already have seen a sample and placed their order in the knowledge that what he/she has tasted is what they will receive. This check is effectively adding braces to the belt.
Next it was a tour around the processing plant where the coffee is hulled, sorted and graded. The scale is immense as is the noise. The level of capital investment is also huge with not much if any change out of half a million dollars for a laser green coffee colour sorter. They have two!
Conversely for small batches they have the ability to hand sort green coffee. We had a go at doing this and felt sick after just 5 minutes. It’s the equivalent of motion sickness as the beans move past your eyes whilst the background remains still. How anyone can sort coffee this way is beyond me.
Amidst all the heavy duty technology is a small slightly quirky department, that of the bag stampers. Each coffee sack is screen printed prior to filling. Every sack can be personalised in immense detail depending upon the demands made by the customer and on top of this it’s all done by hand. A lot of effort goes into a product that few people see.
Next it was lunch in downtown Santa Rosa. A gorgeous open air restaurant on one of the many side streets. One things for sure we have never lacked for food on this trip. Vast quantities of steak, chicken, tortillas, tacos, salad, black beans and rice were placed on the table. As much as we tried to eat it all we still filled something like three doggy bags with the leftovers.
Satiated, we returned to the offices of Coffee Planet
We thanked our hosts and then moved on to the next exporter with whom we had an appointment. They were close by, incredibly close by, in fact so close that we had to cross 6 lanes of traffic to reach them. They go by the name Beneficio Santa Rosa. The first sign you see on the door is “no guns allowed”. Only in Honduras!
The offices are very slick. The huge boardroom designed to impress as we sat down and vanished into our chairs. The feel of the place is very different from where we had just come. We were greeted by Jean Jarquin, the managing partner of the business.
He gave us some real insights into the issues facing the Honduras coffee industry and her economy. The biggest issues are around Climate change, Emigration and coffee pickers.
Climate has had a major impact on the harvest this 2019/20 season. Everything happened a month earlier than usual and as a result coffee volumes were down 25% to 30% year on year. One of the issues was the lack of coffee pickers coming over from Guatemala. Because of the timing of the crop there weren’t the pickers about at the most critical time.
Emigration is also a major issue. Because poverty levels are so high (68% of people in Honduras earn less than U$2 per day) many farmers simply walk away from their farms and head north to America. They’re prepared to be killed, raped or suffer serious injury along the way. I don’t think it’s possible for us to even begin to comprehend that level of desperation. But of course it means fewer people working the land and lower production. After coffee the biggest revenue earner in Honduras is foreign exchange. That is money sent back to the country by Hondurans living abroad. Quite a startling statistic.
He then went on to describe the “dry canal” strategy, something the Government hopes will help the economy to grow and enable people to stay. Further south the Panama Canal is already at capacity but businesses still need to find a cheap and easy way to export goods around the world. By improving the road network the Government hopes to encourage haulage companies from Nicaragua and El Salvador to go through Honduras and use her main port on the Caribbean, Puerto Cortes. It’s the only deep water port in Central America.
For now his business strategy is one of investing in providing processing facilities for his suppliers close to where they grow the coffee. It’s a big investment and he acknowledges that his business is some way behind their competitors. He’s working on a 5 year plan but admits there are no guarantees of survival as many of the biggest competitors are global players.
We had a tour around the processing facility which didn’t match the glitz of the office. Books and covers come to mind. I do hope he succeeds with his vision but his approach is so much more transactional than Coffee Planet.
Finally with time running out we did our last cupping of the day. As always interesting to see the standard of that being produced. The twist in the tail came as a surprise to me. When asked by Jean where we had come from I innocently said Coffee Planet. He asked if I was aware that his organisation once owned them but that a director had surreptitiously separated the businesses and took what appears to have been the most successful part. Jean was not impressed.
We parted company as our final destination of the day COAGRISCAL awaited our presence. They grow coffee, cocoa and pepper. We found our hotel, dumped our luggage and were whisked to the grounds of the Co-op. We met briefly with the management team before being given a whistle stop tour of their Cocoa processing factory.
The lead Oompa loompa (because it is a bit like visiting Charlie and the Chocolate factory) was Roberto. We had to don a hair net and shoe protectors for the visit and were shown where the Cocoa bean is roasted, crushed and churned. At each step of the process we tasted the Cocoa which slowly became the familiar flavour of chocolate. It’s another of those processes that makes you wonder how anyone ever discovered chocolate.
Having completed out tour we were taken to the in-house “restaurant”. I think we were all wondering if it were possible to eat anything after such a huge lunch. We didn’t do too badly once the wine started to flow! Another immense meal followed as we were brought “taster” dish after “taster” dish. It was terrific but we needed to get some rest.
When we got to the hotel we realised that we had each been given the offer of a complimentary cocktail when we first checked in, it would be a shame to waste it! So a few diehards returned to the bar, after all it was Valentine’s day but none of us was with our partners. A further “sex on the beach” cocktail and we were well and truly done. Our final day was nearly upon us.