The villages of El Cielito, Cedral and Las Flores follow one after another along the mountain range in Santa Barbara. Grown on this hillside is mostly Pacas, a dwarf Bourbon varietal.
It is challenging to process coffee cherries in areas like these, which are close to the jungle and thus, close to rain. The drying process, in particular, is especially demanding. But, when these processes are precisely controlled, seemingly problematic factors (like drying under challenging conditions) are what make coffee from this area particularly interesting. The coffee produced here possesses flavor attributes not found anywhere else in Central America. These are truly exciting coffees, a result of the synergistic phenomenon that a cup of coffee so elegantly can represent: soil, climate, plant genetics and processing interact in innumerable ways to create something remarkable.
Over the past several years, this particular hillside has become the largest supplier of Cup of Excellence winning coffees in Honduras. The most successful farms with the smartest and most innovative farmers are neighbors on this hillside and they help each other to refine the best of their lots. There exists an eagerness here; a willingness, motivation and ambition to produce the best coffee in the country.
For all of these reasons, new relationships are hard to come by in Santa Barbara. When a producer finds a buyer for their coffee both parties typically like to work together year after year. A model we fully support. Two years ago, while traveling in Honduras, Passenger's green buying team was introduced to Jeovany Rivera. Tired of market swings and consistently low prices, and inspired by the prices his neighbors were receiving for their specialty lots, Jeovany was interested in producing specialty coffee. As we knew the soil, climate and varietals (Jeovany cultivates Pacas and Bourbon) were appropriate for stellar coffee production, we were eager to agree to the relationship and in the Spring of 2015 we purchased Jeovany's entire production (a humble three bags, each weighing 152 pounds). This was his first attempt at producing specialty coffee and the coffee was very good. Not excellent, but very good. More importantly, Jeovany was eager to work hard in order to create an amazing coffee.
With the money Jeovany made from his first specialty production, he invested in raised, covered drying beds. Proper drying of coffee is absolutely essential. The coffee cannot be allowed to dry too quickly as this will produce faded, papery or, in the worst cases, woody coffees. Nor can coffee get wet while drying as this will promote the growth of mold and bacteria. Jeovany's investment was very wise. The results of this investment are undeniably perceptible in the coffee we purchased from Jeovany this year. For the second consecutive year we purchased Jeovany's entire production. This consisted of two bags during the main harvest and one additional bag from late harvest pickings. These late harvest pickings are from the highest parts of the farm and posses a complexity and depth of sweetness that is invigorating.
This Holiday Season, we at Passenger decided to start introducing intentionally paired coffees. We are referring to these intentional pairs as Comparative Tasting Boxes, and one of the boxes we released presents two vintages produced by Jeovany Rivera on his farm in Santa Barbara, Honduras. One bag is his 2015 harvest, his entry into specialty coffee. This lot is clean, sweet and fruited. All that one would expect from a well processed coffee grown in Santa Barbara. The other bag is from the aforementioned 2016 late harvest. The clarity of flavor presented in this lot is markedly greater than the 2015 lot, a result of improved drying. The fruits are more lively, the sweetness more saturated and the finish cleaner. For us at Passenger this represents exactly how we would like to engage with producers. The premium paid in 2015 allowed for better drying beds to be constructed in 2016, which produced a better tasting coffee that we were able to pay a higher price for, as we are able to expect a higher price for it from our customers. This creates a feedback loop that reinforces quality and increased pay based on quality. At Passenger we strongly believe that this is the direction specialty coffee needs to take if it is to exist long term.
At Passenger we undertake the laborious task of sealing some of our coffees while still green (unroasted, raw) in small portions and holding them in deep freeze storage until roasting. This prevents any flavors that would typically be associated with old coffee (paper, wood) from emerging and suspends the coffee in a state of perpetual freshness. This allows us to present coffees in ways that would not typically be possible. For example: comparing vintages. You may notice that the Jeovany 2015 harvest has the most faint hints of paper in the finish. This was in the cup when the coffee landed last year, and is a result of the patio drying that Jeovany was doing before he built his raised and covered drying beds. Should this coffee not been placed immediately into deep freeze storage, this characteristic would have developed into quite unpleasant flavors. Thankfully it was halted where it was and rather than become unpleasant, it became teachable.
Enjoy these coffees. Taste them side by side. Experience the increase in quality from year to year. Experience a producer going from good to great. We look forward to continuing our work with Jeovany and possibly even present future iterations of this Comparative Tasting Box that contain additional vintages.