Honduran growers are justifiably proud of their coffee. It was coffee that saved the nation from bankruptcy in 2009 after a political coup. In 2011, Honduras was named the largest coffee producer in Central America, 7th in the world for coffee exports in 2012, and the second-largest exporter of Arabica beans. Considering that coffee was slow to start up in this land of jungle and mountain, even more impressive.
Europeans brought coffee plants to the country in the late 1700s; the stage was set for the industry to blossom, but bananas got in the way. Yes. Strange as it seems to coffee lovers, bananas held sway as principal export crop for almost two centuries after the arrival of the first coffee plants. Over the years, various presidents attempted to promote coffee as a commodity. However, large corporations controlled the banana industry, and coffee production was mostly the realm of individual farmers. It wasn’t until the mid-1900’s that coffee cultivation became widespread in Honduras. Widespread, yes, but prices for coffee were so low that growers would often smuggle their beans across the border into Guatemala to sell at a better price. In addition, lack of infrastructure has meant that many farmers continue to process and dry their coffee themselves and mix these small lots together to sell to exporters. It sounds neighborly, but the results can be disappointing flavor-wise.
In 1998, just as a number of coffee farmers and exporters were finding their way into the American specialty coffee market, Honduras was devastated first by hurricane Mitch, and then by the storms and floods of 1999, devastating 80% of the nation’s agriculture. Since then, new export taxes, incentives for coffee farmers, and improved roads and infrastructures have been changing the coffee industry. Cooperatives, support from the Instituto Hondureño del Café (IHCAFE), "protected origin denomination," and notoriety gained by Cup of Excellence winning coffees: all are helping to awaken the world to the excellent coffees coming out of Honduras.
Yes, Honduras has battled hardship, disasters, and violence, but coffee is helping to make a difference. In fact, there is an active program for young gang members who are caught in a round of violence and poverty. In this coffee vs. gangs program, they learn how to grow coffee, manage a farm, and carry on exporting business. The next generation of coffee growers is taking shape through family farms and programs such as this. No wonder Hondurans are proud of their coffee.