La Tortuga Honduras
- June 2018
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
Don Fabio Caballero has anchored our La Tortuga project since its inception 15 years ago, and continues to set the standard for Honduran coffee. Don Fabio’s first La Tortuga of the season tastes like maple, tamarind and canteloupe.
Fabio Antonio Caballero is a legendary figure in coffee, and one of the most beloved people in the entire Intelligentsia Direct Trade network. Simply speaking the name Don Fabio conjures good vibes and elicits smiles around the Intelligentsia collective and amongst the family of growers who participate every year in our Extraordinary Coffee Workshop. His charisma and generosity of spirit have left a lasting impression on all those who’ve had the pleasure of meeting him. I speak for the entire team at Intelligentsia when I say that we are fortunate to be partnered with such a humble, compassionate and extraordinary gentleman.
Don Fabio’s farms mirror his personal charisma—they are bursting with life and have characteristics that make them easily distinguishable from the other coffee farms in the area. All of them are managed in a way that is orderly but not manicured, with respectfully preserved natural beauty. Butterflies and birds make themselves at home amongst the coffee trees, and there is a notable balance of wild environmental forces and conservative human intervention. These farms feel at ease with themselves, just like their maker, and the coffees that are born here reflect that condition—they have an irresistible combination of juicy, fruit-driven vibrancy and comforting sweetness.
The individual farms are located at especially high elevations for the region, stretching up to almost 1700 meters and pushing up against the boundaries of where coffee can grow in this zone. The cool nights that occur here are advantageous for quality production due to the positive effects on the coffee tree’s metabolism and the extended maturation times that lower temperatures bring about. The complexity found in theses coffees can in part be attributed to the climate that encourages the accumulation of acids and sugars in the coffee cherries, and the vitality of the soils in which they are cultivated. But growing the coffee is just one of many steps required to produce quality. The preservation of the intrinsic beauty that nature creates is just as critical as its development. The attention to detail that takes place after picking, beginning the moment the cherry leaves the tree, is what distinguishes true artisan farmers from those who simply aspire to produce quality. Meticulous post-harvest quality control is what makes the difference between merely good coffees and the holy-smokes-this-amazing, mouthwateringly great ones.
This year the Caballero family has taken yet another step forward in their quality control efforts. In past years all of their coffees traveled to San Pedro Sula to get milled, sorted and prepared for export by our friends at Boncafe. Last season they decided to invest in milling equipment, including a state-of-the-art color sorting machine, and for the first time are now able to prepare small lots by hand close to their home in Marcala, with meticulous attention to detail.
Local and global recognition
Don Fabio is an artisan farmers with a tremendous pedigree. He and his family have taken home more than a dozen awards in the prestigious Cup of Excellence competition over the past thirteen years, including first-place finishes in 2016, when they set a new record at auction when they earned a jaw-dropping $120 per pound, and again this year in the 2018 competition. They sell their coffees to the most celebrated roasting companies around the globe and are one of Specialty Coffee’s biggest success stories. Don Fabio’s daughter Marysabel has become a global ambassador for Honduran coffee, and the family’s collective efforts to cultivate and promote quality over the past fifteen years have been instrumental in helping Honduras develop a very deserved reputation as a producer of world-class coffees.
The March of the Turtle
We originally named this project “La Tortuga” back in 2004 when Honduras was still just beginning to take its rightful place among the great specialty origins of Central America. The name came from the old adage about the turtle and the hare: for decades, countries like Costa Rica, Guatemala, and El Salvador owned the spotlight in the world of specialty while Honduras was considered a country with inferior quality. But really it was just a matter of time before Honduras would catch up with the others, and today some of the most fascinating coffees we find in all of Central America are coming from the country that was once regarded as having been left behind. The Caballeros have been at the center of the vanguard carrying the quality of Honduran coffees to a larger audience, and we are extremely proud to be marching alongside them and assisting them in showcasing the potential of this unheralded nation on the rise.