EDUCATING THE EDUCATORS- HONDURAS 2017
This is a 6 month story about a trip to Honduras and a special coffee from there.
I was never the competing type growing up. I did not care for being coached and the thought of depending on the “team” for the outcome made me sick.
This changed when I started to work in coffee. Goshen started to compete in Americas Best Espressos and Brewers Cup and found ourselves placing in the top 3 almost every time. Not only was I roasting the coffee, but I started to be the one to compete and I started to enjoy the competition. What I get from competition is feedback and validation from peers. These two have become huge for me.
Rewind to mid December 2016 on an extremely frozen night. Black ice spots littered the roads to Rise Coffee in St. Louis and the scene was perfect for a roasting competition held by Genuine Origin coffee importers. The premise of the competition was to have competitors purchase the same green coffee, roast the coffee to your style, send the coffees back, and finally have judges cup the coffees to score them. The winner got a fully paid trip to Honduras, second and third place got a spot on the trip and would just need to buy the plane ticket. I was intrigued for sure. I entered both Carl and I in the competition. I then immediately forgot about the competition. I was reminded about the competition when Carl asked me to taste his roast. This was the day before the coffee was due. Carl’s roast was great. I was frazzled. I quickly assessed Carl’s roast and tossed my roast in. I thought it was ok, but nothing special, plus had no time to do multiple roasts. Oh well, at least Carl would have a good shot at winning. Later I received an email saying that 31 coffee companies had entered the competitions and Carl had just slightly scored out of the top 8. I got a follow up email that said I was in the top 8 highest scoring coffees. These 8 coffees would go head to head in a bracket style slurp off at Rise Coffee here in St. Louis. I was happy just to be in the top 8. By the end of the night I received 3rd place. My spot for Honduras was secured.
Rewind to mid February 2017 at 3:30am to a small house in disarray with myself still needing to finish packing. I had 20 minutes till I was picked up by Tony of Genuine Origin. How many Goshen shirts are too many? Is twenty 12oz bags of coffee too much for the locals? Most likely. “Honk Honk” driver is here. I am quickly put to ease with stories from Tony on the way to the airport. He tells me about touring through Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras with his old band. His new role with Genuine Origin. His new role as a father. He then proceeded to take out a large plastic bag full of everything you would ever need for a 3 month safari. Heavy duty insect spray, vitamins, sunscreen, wet wipes, and various pills for any type of tummy shames. He was precise, always on time and made sure we kept on schedule. It was quite obvious he was the “Dad” of the trip and there was no better person to fill that role.
Origin trips are monumental on their own, but a good crew can make that origin trip a memory for life. We had that for this trip. A bunch of legends: Tony Auger, Tymika Lawrence, and Calos Umanzor from Genuine Origin, Tim Maestas from Augies Coffee, Michael Butler from Comet Coffee, Scott Carey of Sump Coffee, and Bret Colman of Zen Cafe Coffee Roasters. All of these people are part of a movement progressing coffee and I felt honored to be a part of each conversation I had with them. Every coffee professional I have met has amazing stories, insight, and wisdom. Coffee people are the shit.
I could go on and on about how important and pivotal it is to travel to origin and see coffee produced first hand, but I will save some time and say if you know, you know. I want to focus on what a got from this trip. This was my second origin trip and much different than my first, not an any negative way. Genuine Origin’s main goal was to provide us with insight to the work they are doing at farm level. What they are doing is inspiring. Honduras grows a ton of coffee. 5% of that coffee is specialty coffee, so sad to see because there are some truly remarkable coffees coming from there right now. Genuine Origin’s job is to get that number way up. To do that you need to educate the farmers growing the coffee. You need to convince them to try new farming methods and techniques, to drop their past on generation after generation farming cultures. You need to have them cup their coffees and cup specialty coffees and teach them what good coffee tastes like. This hit home. This is our job at Goshen as well. So how does Genuine Origin complete such a task? Simple answer: hard work. Complex answer: They have “model farms” that farmers visit to see every process from seedling to final cup, done properly. I witnessed coffee seedlings placed in two different sized grow sacks to show that plant yield can double in the same amount of grow time in a larger grow sack. We traveled up a long bumpy dirt road to see where the coffee goes to get planted. Coffees about 9 months old stand about mid thigh height in perfectly straight lines spaced 18 inches apart from one another. The rows go for what looks like forever. A beautiful painting brought to life. The coffee plants do not have cherries yet, just the most green of green leaves I have ever seen. We travel up an even more bumpy and dirtier road to see an even bigger hillside full of coffee ripe with fruit. These plants are much taller now. Almost head heigh, some have deep red fruit, some have green unripe fruit, and some have stunning white flowers smelling of jasmine on them. This was an exemplary farm and every aspect is thoroughly thought about. Farmers are taken here to show them what their farm could become. A goal. How hard work and smart farming can produce great coffee that can be sold for a higher price. For those farmers deep in the mountains without transportation, Genuine Origin travels to them. They have a pimped out mobile cupping truck they bring directly to the farmer. They will taste their coffee and other specialty coffees with the farmer. They will then offer suggestions on how to produce better coffee and work with them to do so. So Damn. They educate the educators.
The trip was not a buying trip. That was also a big difference. We tasted coffees, but not with the intention of purchasing. I liked this. Everyone on our trip was there for good coffee, we all wanted the best coffee, no question. With this factor off the table I found it easier to focus on the message Genuine Origin was presenting us. But that was me and with that being said, most people want to buy coffee on an origin trip. People want the story, they want the amazing coffee with the first hand story. Hell, who wouldn’t? So, as a perk of being a part of this trip Genuine Origin offered everyone on the trip the first samples of this years harvest. A kind of, if you like it you better take it before we make them available for everyone kind of thing. It would be a few months before samples would arrive. That’s okay, I would be riding a life high for a while when the trip ended anyways.
Rewind to beginning May 2017 and I received an email letting me know Genuine Origin had selected 13 coffees from Honduras for this years harvest. They would be receiving 9 of them first. I quickly made arrangements with Tony to cup the first 9 the following week.
Rewind to May 19 2017 to a cupping lab located off of Cherokee Street in St. Louis with Tony Auger. The room smells of mixed berry pastries with only ground coffee in sight. Good sign. Hot water is added to the endless army of coffee filled glasses. The table was a remarkable representation of how coffees from the same country can have drastically different flavor profiles. I swear Tony had put an Ethiopia, Congo, and Colombia on the table, but no. Just all fantastic tasting coffees from Honduras. We saw a clear stand out on the table. A coffee from the Marimba Reserve produced by Alfredo Nolazco. I thought it tasted like a blue raspberry gummy candy. And if you did not know, I freaking love candy. Out of excitement and fear that some other coffee roaster could experience this magical coffee we secured the entire lot. To be exact, 975 pounds of this coffee is on our way via boat right now.
Fast forward to mid June 2017 and we should be enjoying this coffee together.
Special thank you to Genuine Origin for your tireless effort to bring better coffee to the market.
Goshen Coffee Co.