From Liquidamber to SanMarcos (Part 6)
Another relatively genteel start however Delmy who took us around the COCAFELOL operation yesterday, today wore a different hat namely that of the business owner of her own brand San Marcos.
The drive to her farm was as ever spectacular and thankfully our driver was none the worst for wear.
One of the plants that make origin visits so spectacular are the wonderfully iridescent Bougainvillea. They lift the soul and are generous in their blossom. One such example was a rather tired private swimming pool close to the road that was transformed by this abundant flower.
After a few photographic detours, we arrived at the entrance to the Liquidamber farm. This is the farm from which we source our Honduran coffee so it’s really exciting to stand amongst the coffee bushes from which the coffee we use has been picked. The ultimate in traceable coffee.
On the way there we pulled into the house of one of the farmworkers. I always feel sorry for them in these scenarios being overwhelmed by strangers from the other side of the world. They are however always welcoming with a ready smile. Inside the lady of the house was making Tortillas on a small oven cum stove. It’s a really simple process they grind the beans on a small hand grinder. This creates a paste to which they add some oil. Little pates are made at speed with enormous skill and then placed on the heated surface of the oven. In about a minute you have a perfect Tortilla. In Honduras, beans are cooked in every conceivable way. They’re really the equivalent of our potato and as we have already spotted you can’t get away from them.
A few Tortillas consumed and we were off to see the San Marcos farm. Once again the setting was spectacular. It was also pointed out to me that the name “Liquidamber” came from one of the trees that provides shade cover for the coffee plants. The leaf shape is like that of a small maple.
We were also shown a large area on which Avocado was being planted alongside the coffee. It’s another source of revenue and grows well in this area, however, it also takes a lot of nutrients out of the soil that needs replenishing.
Although we had been driven up to this area it was decided that we should walk back down to where lunch was being prepared. It was an absolute pleasure. As always lunch was a feast but we needed to get moving if we were going to get to taste a selection of coffees at Delmy’s offices.
We had one brief stop for a bag of chilled coconut water. It is homemade and comes in a plastic bag. The technique to drinking this is biting a hole in one corner of the bag and gently squeezing the bag so that a stream of liquid coconut flavour hits the tongue. It was delicious and refreshing in equal measure.
We got down in time to see some coffee that had been fermenting (to remove mucilage) going through the next process that of being washed and in turn sorted to remove lower-quality beans. It’s a really simple system making clever use of gravity. As the coffee moves downstream the lighter beans float to the surface. These are skimmed off and put to one side whilst the rest are collected to either go on the patio or be placed in raised beds (same process just two different methods).
And so we moved to the tasting table and the cupping of dozens of coffees. They vary from single to blended varietals; some micro-lots, which is a coffee that seems to be particularly good is set to one side by the producer in the hope of getting a better price. Just for good measure, there may be a coffee on the table that uses a different process method to the others. In some ways, this can muddy the water as it’s difficult to draw quality comparisons when the taste profile is so different.
In the business, there is quite a sophisticated marking sheet to ensure that we are all measuring the same things and it’s not just personal preference. You would have thought that there wouldn’t be much variation between coffees processed in the same way, but you’d be wrong. It can be really marked and of course, that’s what the best roasters are looking for because the best coffees are able to achieve significant premiums which is a major financial incentive for the producer.
We cupped around 20 coffees on this occasion but there were many more to come later in the week. I find it really interesting as on a day to day basis I rarely cup coffee, however by the end of a week by cupping this many coffees the taste buds really start to pick up the subtle nuances that are second nature to our Wakefield colleagues.
That brought us to the end of our second day, well almost, there was just the usual small party to contend with! Another first as the music, lights, and BBQ were all set up next to a perfectly raked coffee patio. Interestingly whilst they had been building the patio the producer had come across some Maya artefacts but scared that the Government would stop his progress he decided instead to put what he had found in a display cabinet for us all to see. It’s interesting they revere the past but not to the detriment of the future. A couple of hours later after a few beers and some delicious food we were all totally pooped and got delivered back to our hotel. I think our hosts were a little disappointed at the lack of stamina but if we were to be any good for the following day we needed all the recovery time possible. Already it felt like we’d been away for weeks, not days.