La Tortuga Honduras
- June 2017
- Written by : Geoff Watts
Vice President / Green Coffee Buyer
According to the Chinese zodiac, 2017 is the Year of the Rooster, but the arrival of some exceptionally delicious new harvest lots from the Caballero family in Honduras has us celebrating the Turtle here in the Intelligentsia QC lab this spring. We always expect good things from the Caballeros; over the past decade, they have been among our longest-standing Direct Trade partners and among the most reliable growers we work with. The constancy of their forward progress is like the tick of a metronome—every single season they reinvest profit into improvements to their farms and mill in a patient and deliberate effort to get better at what they do, and the results of their commitment to their craft show up in the cup. Most years the Turtle takes an incremental step forward, but the 2017 edition of La Tortuga has come charging out of the gate singing like Adele on a sugar high, and already looks like it might become one of our most memorable Central American offerings.
That’s fitting, since Fabio Antonio Caballero is one of the most unforgettable and beloved farmers in our entire producer network. Just speaking the name Don Fabio conjures good vibes and elicits many smiles around the Intelligentsia collective and amongst the ECW (Extraordinary Coffee Workshop) family of growers. His charisma and generosity of spirit have left a lasting impression on all those who’ve had the pleasure of meeting him. When I drive around with him in his hometown of Marcala people on the streets wave and greet him with enthusiasm and warmth, as he has been a positive force in the local community for decades. I speak for the entire team 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 that 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.
Don Fabio and his son-in-law Moisés Herrera are artisan farmers with a tremendous pedigree. They’ve taken home more than a dozen awards in the prestigious Cup of Excellence competition over the years--including a first place victory in 2016 that set a new price record for the country at auction when it sold for a jaw-dropping $120 per pound—and they sell their coffees to some of the most selective roasting companies in the world. Don Fabio’s daughter Marysabel has become a global ambassador for Honduran coffee and their 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 many 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 by marching alongside them and assisting them in showcasing the potential of this unheralded nation on the rise.
The first lot in the La Tortuga lineup is an early-Summer stunner: limeade is the most pronounced of a handful of citrus flavors in this coffee, balanced with notes of pear and an articulate cane sugar sweetness.