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Meeting Coops in the Heart of Central America: Honduras

It was a particularly cold morning here in the UK when Henry and I set off for Honduras in mid-January. There had been three long years and an international pandemic since DRWakefield’s last visit to Honduras, but it was a first for me. Thankfully I was in good hands, both with Henry and with all the producers and exporters we visited. After 14 hours of flying and a short stopover in Miami, we made it into San Pedro Sula just in time to sink a couple of Salvavida (the national beer of Honduras) before bed. It was my first taste of local produce and thankfully was not my last as we made a whistlestop tour through the coffee growing departments of Honduras. 

Honduras Trade Logistics, San Pedro Sula 

Our first meeting of the trip was with Virginia and Hilda of Honduras Trade Logistics who met us for breakfast in the hotel where we were staying. Virginia was kind enough to make me my first baleada: unofficially the national dish of Honduras it consists of a tortilla folded in half and filled with refried beans, cream, and cheese. I found it delicious, which was good because baleadas would go on to constitute most of our diet for the next ten days. 

Virginia has been in the coffee industry for 40 years, so is incredibly well connected. She used to work with the Hawits who are one of the largest coffee families in Honduras, and now runs her own brokerage and logistics company. We discussed opportunities for new business, including the growing demand for traceability reaching down even to commercial grade qualities these days. 

Coagriscal, La Entrada:

We met up with Sandra, Oscar, and Douglas from Coagriscal for lunch later that day at their facility. Given the poor performance of the last harvest, it was great to see them busy and doing well this year. They think this crop is likely to be larger and of better quality than the last, and most of their producers are 60% of the way through their harvest. They have two separate companies a stone’s throw away from one another: Coagriscal for certified coffee and BEO for conventional. Each have their own mill and warehouse and used to share some staff but are now mostly separate. We cupped some offerings from different regions across Honduras in their lab and were left impressed at the improvement on last year – a sentiment that was continued throughout our trip. They have recently diversified into chocolate making as well under the branding of Xol (pronounced “Chol”). As cacao grows at a lower altitude than coffee it makes good use of lower lying areas of their producer’s farms. We were given a tour of their chocolate factory which they invested heavily in last year – including a museum of Mayan artifacts on site 

Coagriscal- Oscar and Sandra ( on the left)

Cocafcal, Capucas Village:

The next day we met up with Omar at Cocafcal’s dry mill in Santa Rosa de Copan. Unusually for a coop in Honduras, only half of their producers hand in coffee in parchment while the rest hand in their coffee in cherry. Part of the reason for this is that roughly 40% of the producers in Capucas are RFA certified, and as such are not allowed a wet mill within a certain distance of their coffee trees, so have to hand in their coffee to the mill.

Omar, Henry and James at Capucas

After staying the night in Santa Rosa we drove up to Capucas Village itself the next morning. Located within the bounds of a national park containing the country’s highest mountain, the views are breathtaking. Omar took us to see Don Panchito, a bit of a local legend in Capucas who despite his small farm size (just under 2 hectares) produces some of Cocafcal’s most sort after microlots: all of which he processes on his own farm! We then went to visit the wet mill where Omar was proud to show us a colour-sorting machine for the cherries – the first in Honduras! For those of you who don’t know, colour sorters are commonplace in dry mills for removing defects from the dried coffee by analysing the colour of the beans. A colour sorter for coffee cherries though is a novel and possibly game-changing piece of equipment for wet mills. It works in much the same way but analyses the colour of the coffee cherry to sort whatever you put in. This makes it very easy to source only the ripest cherries from a batch. 

Don Panchito, contributing farmer

We also visited their mechanical and solar dryers. Depending on the grade and the process, they will dry the coffee using different methods. The most consistent is the mechanical dryers as you can control the temperature and time, usually around 30 hours at 30 degrees – but some processes like honey or naturals require being dried on raised beds indoors and can take up to a month depending on the process.  

We then visited their SCA certified lab, where we cupped some delicious microlots including an anaerobic offering from Omar’s farm which tasted strongly of watermelon (it was a blind cupping, I promise there was no bias going in!). On site, they also have a barista training academy where they offer free training to the local youngsters and make extra revenue from external students. They’re very on top of seizing any opportunities to diversify their revenue, and even gave us some succulent but strange flavoured ice cream which they revealed (after many failed attempts at guessing) was in part made from the leaves of coffee trees! 

Cupping with Henry at the Capucas Lab

Beneficio San Marcos, Amprocal and Cocafelol, La Labor:

Next, we moved west again to the Ocotepeque region which borders both El Salvador and Guatemala. In these lush highlands is where Beneficio Sand Marcos, Amprocal and Cocafelol are based. Closely tied together, there are familial and filial links across all three cooperatives and they work closely together. We first met Delmy at the Beneficio San Marcos offices and dry mill where we were given a tour of the new equipment they’ve purchased to aid with the quality and sorting for this year’s harvest. She told us that this, combined with a better crop this year has led to a 1-2 point increase in cup score for even their commercial lots. After an exhaustive cupping of their conventional coffees and microlots I’m inclined to believe it too! 

Elsy, Delmy, Rosa, Yeni

We also visited the Beneficio San Marcos wet mill which does not get as much usage as Capucas. In Honduras the norm is for producers to hand their coffee in parchment and Ocotepeque region is no different. For exporters, it is preferable to have the coffee arrive in cherry, as they can control the wet milling process to achieve a more consistent cup overall. If lots of smallholder farmers are all processing their coffee on their farms there could be wildly different variation, and this is difficult to sort out once it has been handed in. Thankfully this usually isn’t the case, as modern dry mills are very good at sorting all grades of coffee but would still be preferable to control the entire chain of processing. The flip side for farmers is that after picking they only have a small window of time, usually around 12-24 hours, to deliver the coffee cherries to a wet mill. If they process it on their farm this saves them a lot of stress and time. Also, the dried coffee parchment keeps for a while so they can hand it in at a time and price that suits them. 

We were then taken to visit Amprocal, which is a group of women producers that split off from Cocafelol. They have over 100 members in Amprocal these including all the producers and administrative staff. They even have their own roastery on site where they sell coffee they’ve grown to the internal market. Business seems to be booming and they had to buy a second roaster and train more staff to roast just to keep up with the demand! 

The next day we visited some of the contributing farms to Beneficio San Marcos and Cocafelol. We started out for breakfast with Selin at his house next to his farm, Finca Guadalupe. We then went to Cocafelol’s mill where they showed us an impressive range of sustainability procedures they implement. All of the pulp that’s usually discarded when they mill the cherries is composted and turned into organic fertiliser, and they even turn some of their honey water (the wastewater from the mill) into biofuel.  

We also visited Finca Liquidambar: a large, organic high altitude farm named after the tree which natural grows there. The farm itself is 56 hectares but only half of that is used for coffee, with the rest being a variety of wild areas, avocado trees, and beehives. At higher altitudes they plant Copalchi, an indigenous tree, in between the coffee trees. This serves to stop soil erosion on the slopes but also provides shade as well as protection from the wind for the smaller, more delicate coffee trees.  

Soex, Santa Rosa De Copan

Back in Santa Rosa we met with Wendell who, with his wife, set up Solcafe cooperative a few years ago. Wendell used to work with the Catholic Relief Service and called on a lot of coffee producers he knew from back then to start the cooperative. Originally exporting through other companies like Hawit-Cafex he recently also set up Soex as an exporting arm of Solcafe. We visited the warehouse and mill where we were given a tour of all the brand new equipment they had bought to be switched on for the first time mere days after we were there. We were also treated to some of the best tasting coffees we’ve had from Honduras – but perhaps we were influenced by the view from the cupping lab which has to be one of the best vistas I’ve had while drinking coffee! 

Comsa, Marcala:

After leaving Wendell we were driven down to Comsa – the largest cooperative in Honduras with over 1200 memebers, 400 of which are female producers. They were keen to show us the facilities they provide for their members including an on-site primary and secondary school for the producer’s children. Almost all their member’s farms are organic, and the ethos is very much part of Comsa’s identity. They have a pilot farm near the mill where they showcase the benefits of keeping an organic farm to members and would be members of the coop alike. They have a chromatography machine there as well to analyse the mineral content of your soil on site and tailor make an organic fertiliser best suited to your farm’s needs. Seox’s cupping lab vista set a high bar, but I think Comsa raised it even further with the view from their lab. The coffees we cupped were of similarly good quality, including some very experimental processes that divided the room a bit like marmite. 

Comsa Cupping Lab

The next day we went to visit one of the contributing farms: Finca La Colmena which roughly translates to beehive farm. The owner, Dilsia, is very in touch with nature and dedicates almost half of her 6 hectare farm to animals and native plants. As you might guess from the name, there are a lot of beehives on the farm but she also keeps lots of logs piles around for native solitary bee species who like to nest in them. Sadly, Dilsia tells us that climate change is beginning to show its affects as the weather has been more extreme in recent years which led to half the bee colonies dying of cold this winter. As the years go on, climate change is unfortunately something which producers are having to factor in. 

Hawit-Caffex, San Pedro Sula

One 5 hour drive later (with a short stop for a Salvavida on the shores of Lake Yajoa) and we were dropped off back in San Pedro Sula. The next morning, we went to have breakfast with Raul and Munir who founded Hawit Caffex in 2001. Since then, they have grown to become one of the largest exporters in Honduras. They work with a lot of coops to export their coffees, with over 40% of their coffee being certified as fairtrade. They told us they had just opened a new sorting and processing facility that could help increase the consistency of not just the Grade 1 SHG, but all of the subsequent grades which make up the majority of commercial exports and are often overlooked. While focussing on consistency of product for Hawit-Caffex they were also excited to tell us they were soon to be setting up another exporter purely focused on specialty coffee in Honduras. It’s still early days, but they have already decided on a location for a new mill where they will process a lot more experimental coffees, watch this space! 

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