24 years ago, I had just arrived to Honduras and decided to make it my home. I started a small publication called Copan Tips. The purpose of this publication was to provide information to travelers visiting Copan Ruinas. Most travelers who went there did so on a tight schedule, and missed most of the better things to do in Copan Ruinas. I felt that if they had better information, they would extend their stay in this lovely town.
A few expats in town jumped onboard with the idea, and offered to help write a couple of articles. One of them, titled “Notes from the Forest” was about the different trees around Copan. The purpose of it was to help the visitor identify the most outstanding trees in the forest. Mimi de Castro, a local resident in Copan who is an expat from San Francisco kindly put it together.
This post is relevant to the Copan Ruinas Valley. Yet many of the trees mentioned here are abundant throughout Honduras. Following is a copy of the original text for your enjoyment. Thank you Mimi for your cooperation!
Coffee Harvesting Season in Honduras
Welcome to the coffee harvesting season in Honduras! Each year, between the months of October and February, there is a flurry of activity in the coffee farms. Just about everybody participates in some way on making sure the harvesting and processing of coffee takes place.
If you wake up early you will be able to see large, open air trucks jammed packed with people (men, women and children). They are all traveling to the coffee plantations in the mountains. Each person will have some kind of a gallon container of the own, usually tied with a string and swung across their chests. These containers have become the modern version of the traditional wicker coffee picking basket. If you missed the morning departure, you will have the opportunity to witness the return trip in the afternoon. They are back sometime between 4:30 and 6:00 P.M.. In Copan Ruinas, this activity will come to your attention if you around central park or somewhere near the soccer field.
For those of you in Copan Ruinas and planning to visit the hot springs at Agua Caliente your short trip will be doubly rewarding. You will pass through the heart of the nearest coffee growing region accessible from Copan Ruinas. As you travel northeast from Copan, you will pass through small villages and end up at Agua Caliente (the hot springs). At these altitudes coffee bushes are inter-planted with shade giving trees. The whole effect from a distance is one of a closed forest. Within the forest, it is possible to observe epiphytes on the shade trees. These consist of bromeliads, orchids, palm and fern varieties as well.
A Short History of Coffee in the World
The word coffee derives from the Turkish and Arabic languages. It is through that it goes back further to the word “kaffa”. This is a region in Ethiopia where the wild form of Arabian coffee still occurs. Coffee is a product of Arabic regions since 1000AD. It is the Arabian Culture that is responsible for spreading coffee throughout the old world. We can trace coffee’s progress from North Africa on the Baltic region and finally to the first coffee house in Vienna in 1683.
One hundred years later the Dutch were growing coffee on plantations in Java. And one hundred years later still, the French had invested millions of Francs in growing coffee in their Caribbean Colonies. By the end of the XVIII coffee was a commercial product in Cuba. Coffee was present in Guatemala also by the end of the XVIIIth century. The production there was small and was sold in apothecaries and by street venders as a remedy for inebriation.
Coffee as a cash crop was in full swing in the Guatemalan departments of Alta Verapaz and Chiquimula in the 1860’s. At the turn of the XIX century, there were coffee plantations in the mountainous areas around Copan in Honduras.
Coffee is a fast growing tropical evergreen shrub that related to the gardenia. The coffee bush has attractive dark green shiny leaves. The tiny white star shaped flowers appear at the onset of the rainy season and gill the plantations with a pleasant perfume. Coffee berries ripen during the course of 8 – 12 months. The picking of these berries goes on, as mentioned earlier, from October to December.
Coffee must be hand picked due to terraced planting and because only the ripe red berries should be removed from the plant at each picking. For this reason, the harvest period extends over a quarter of the year!
Coffee in Honduras
In Honduras, after harvesting the berries (remember, this is a continuous process) they are processed by the wet method. This entails washing the the fruit. Then it is lightly pressed and again washed to remove much of the pulp. The seeds that still have residue clinging to them are placed in a waster filled fermentation tank for one to three days. The odor of the acidic residue is quite strong and you will be sure to notice it if you visit any of the coffee growing areas in Honduras. The most significant ones are Copan Ruinas, Santa Rosa de Copan, Gracias, Santa Barbara and La Esperanza in Western Honduras. Lake Yojoa, Siguatepeque in Comayagua and Marcala in La Paz, are also important coffee growing areas.
The seeds, still in their thin protected covering are then put to dry in the sun. Roasting is usually done by the importer to the to the markets taste. This proves of sun drying you will see taking place, everywhere. No place is too small! Front porches of homes, driveways and of course covering the large commercial size cement courts in the big plantations. By now, throughout the world, varieties of Central American coffees are famous. I hope your visit and investigations provide you with a chance to sample this rich product at its source!
Honduras has become one of the biggest coffee exporters in the World. It produces more and better coffee that its Central American neighbors. If you enjoy a good cup of coffee, make sure you visit the different gourmet coffee shops in Honduras. You can buy some great coffee in Honduras to take back home as a gift.