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Honduran Coffee: Exploring Common Varieties

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Honduras might be a relatively small country, but it’s a significant producer of specialty coffee and coffee in general. Depending on which of its six distinct producing regions you visit, you’ll find different altitudes and micro-climates present, as well as different processing methods being used.

In 2021, Honduras will be the fourth country to host the Producer & Roaster Forum, in what will be the largest coffee-related event to take place in the country over the past 10 years. Read on to learn more about some of the common coffee varieties Honduras has to offer.

Lee este artículo en español Explorando Las Variedades Comunes de Café de Honduras

Coffee cherries on a plant, at a coffee farm in San Marcos, Honduras. Credit: San Marcos

Common Honduran Coffee Varieties

The Instituto Hondureño del café (IHCAFE) is an organisation that aims to promote social and economic sustainability for coffee growers through the promotion of local coffee production. As part of their efforts to promote Honduran specialty coffee to the world, they’ve divided its coffee-producing areas into six regions: Copán, Opalaca, Montecillos, El Paraiso, Agalta, and Comayagua. According to IHCAFE, these are some common Honduran coffee varieties:

  • Lempira is a hybrid between Caturra and Timor. It produces high yields of average-sized beans and thrives in warm temperatures and acidic soil. It’s small, has bronze tipped leaves, and requires plenty of nutrients. It’s susceptible to rust disease and Ojo de Gallo, a fungus characterised by small yellow leaf spots that causes defoliation and berry drop.
  • Bourbon is a significant variety which produces beans at high altitudes and usually produces low yields when shade-grown. While in many parts of the world it’s been replaced by other varieties (including Caturra, Catuai, and Mundo Novo), it’s still a specialty coffee worth investing in, provided time and care is taken.
  • Catuai is a hybrid that has a high yielding potential. Nowadays, it accounts for nearly half of the Arabica cultivated in Honduras. As it’s small, it can produce more beans in less space. In terms of appearance, it has green-tipped leaves and average-sized beans, and red and yellow varieties exist. Nevertheless, it’s highly susceptible to coffee leaf rust.

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A worker handpicks coffee cherries off a plant at a farm in San Marco, Honduras. Credit: San Marco

  • Caturra is a naturally occurring variety that mutated from Bourbon and was first discovered over a century ago in Brazil. Like Catuai, it’s a relatively small plant, allowing for greater productivity. However, it’s highly susceptible to coffee leaf rust, which is why it was used to parent more resistant cultivars. It’s a compact plant with green-tipped leaves and an average size bean and offers a good yield and cup quality.
  • Pacas is another Bourbon mutation that was discovered in El Salvador and is still produced in the country to this day. It was first introduced to Honduras by IHCAFE in 1974. Pacas produces a standard yield of beans. It’s a dwarf plant with green-tipped leaves, and while it’s suited to high altitudes, it’s well-adapted to low altitudes too. Its ripening and productivity is average, and it requires a moderate amount of nutrients. It’s also susceptible to coffee leaf rust.
  • Typica is one of the oldest and most important C. arabica coffees in the world, dating back to the 1700s. It produces small amounts of beans, with a good cup quality. It’s a tall plant with bronze tipped leaves and produces large beans. However, it’s susceptible to major diseases and requires a standard ripening time and amount of nutrients.
  • IHCAFE 90 is capable of producing high yields that ripen early. However, it requires high amounts of fertilisation. In terms of appearance, it’s a dwarf plant with dark bronze tipped leaves and produces an average bean size. However, it results in a low cup quality at high altitudes and is susceptible to coffee leaf rust and Ojo de Gallo.
  • Villa Sarchi is a natural mutation of Bourbon, but a single-gene mutation means it grows smaller. It originated in Costa Rica and was introduced to Honduras in 1974 by IHCAFE. Villa Sarchi thrives at high altitudes and tolerates strong winds. It has green-tipped leaves and below-average bean size. Like IHCAFE 90, it requires plenty of nutrients. However, it’s susceptible to coffee leaf rust and Ojo de Gallo.

Coffee beans lie in drying beds on a farm in San Marco, Honduras. 

What You Need to Know About These Varieties

Many of the varieties that currently thrive in Honduras were introduced by IHCAFE. As mentioned, in the seventies they introduced three varieties from neighbouring countries: the Pacas from El Salvador, Villa Sarchi from Costa Rica, and Catuai from Guatemala. In addition, they created two new varieties in the nineties: IHCAFE 90 and Lempira. Newer varieties have been created to balance disease resistance with coffee quality.

Bourbon and Typica are well known, relatively common varieties. Despite their excellent quality, they’re low yielding and very susceptible to coffee leaf rust and other plant diseases. Consequently, they’ll require more care during production and processing. However, producers can expect a high price for these varieties, provided they’re cultivated with attention.

Lempira and IHCAFE 90 might be more resistant than other varieties, but they also demand more nutrients, which will be a costly investment that producers need to make. For this reason, their price will be relatively high too – but buyers and consumers will get a coffee that is of good quality.

Caturra and Catuai both have a high susceptibility to certain diseases, which means they require care and will demand a high price to be viable for producers. Pacas and Villa Sarchi offer great quality and a good yield, so buyers can expect a good cup profile. However, as producers have to put extra effort into caring for this crop, the price has to be relatively high.

A range of Honduran coffee samples await cupping. Credit: San Marco

Whether you’re looking to produce Honduran coffee, buy it and sell it, or roast it, knowing what the country has to offer will help you make the best selection based on what you’re looking for – and are able to support. It will also help you better understand improved varieties that may be cultivated in the future, that could also meet your needs. 

Highlighting Honduran coffee is something that next year’s Producer & Roaster Forum will focus on in more detail. This will benefit everyone involved in the coffee supply chain who wants to know more about what Honduras has to offer the specialty coffee world.

Enjoyed this? Then Read Micro Mills & Third Wave Cafés: Exploring Honduras’ Specialty Coffee

Written by Miguel A. Hernández Zambrano. Featured photo caption: The Pacamara coffee variety grows on a farm in Honduras. Featured photo credit: San Marco.

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