Benjamin Paz, Honduras
This week's coffee is a very special one to me because it delicious, first of all, but also because it represents the realization of a plan between friends more than 10 years in the making. Benjamin Paz is a dear friend of mine. As in, my kids send him happy birthday videos every year and he stays at our house when passing through the Bay Area. If it were't for the fact that I got sick in December, many of you would have met him.
I first met Benjamin back in 2011, as we rode up a mountain standing in the back of a pick-up. The Paz family owns a coffee mill called Beneficio San Vicente (BSV) in the town of Peña Blanca in the Santa Barbara department of Honduras. On my first trip to Honduras, I spent a couple of days cupping at BSV and getting to know the team. I wanted to visit a producer and his family way-way-way up the mountain so we climbed into the truck and started up the muddy, rutted roads. Holding on the the roll-bar of this truck for dear life, I introduced myself to Benjamin and ask about the area and what we would see. His English was only so-so, my Spanish was worse, but we tried to work things out through lots of pantomime and laughing. By the next harvest season, he'd been elected to take over the hosting duties for most of the visitors because his cousin Arturo's laconic affect wasn't really getting the job done. By the time I went back in 2012, Benjamin was able to crack jokes in English and worked pretty much as a full-time host, running people up and down the mountain and helping to cement many of the producer/buyer relationships that define much of the service that Beneficio San Vicente provides.
Coffees from the Santa Barbara mountains are highly sought after because of quality to be sure, but also because BSV provides a gateway to consistent micro-lots for roasters all around the world. BSV built up the infrastructure to support relationships between producers in the region with buyers. It's obviously good for their business, but it's also helping to build up the communities in those mountains. BSV has facilitated producer/buyer relationships that have lasted for more that 15 years.
Along with being incredibly personable, Benjamin is also incredible curious. He and I did a three country swing from Honduras, through Guatemala and down into El Salvador, all so he could meet people in those countries and see what their operations looked like. He's friends with pretty much everyone in coffee and is know for being both generous and genuine. He also started his own farms (La Salsa, La Orquidea, La Lotteria), planting the local favorite Pacas, but also other varieties that he's picked up on his travels, including Gesha (aka Geisha) and Parainema (aka PacaWeirdo). He's given those seedlings to his friends and neighbors. At one point I accused him of being the Honduran "Johnny Gesha Seed". He's explored some of the crazier processing methods, experimenting with Anaerobic Fermentation and even some Naturals. The culmination of this work led to Benjamin taking 1st place in the year's Honduras Cup of Excellence Competition.
In the years after I stopped working as a buyer, we still traded stories and jokes over WhatsApp. We'd get together when he was in town and I lamented that I missed buying coffee and having a more direct connection to that work. So when I applied to Highwire, he was one of the first people I reached out to. I think I might have even of used him as a reference?
Anyway, fast-forward a year and I can see that we would have space for some BSV coffees on the menu. Typically, I look for coffees from Central America to arrive sometime in the summer and to be mostly used up within the first months of the new year. Coffees in this region though mature very slowly. Nearby Lake Yojoa creates a lot of humidity in the pocket valleys up the mountain which manifests as fog in the mornings and in the evenings. The cool temperatures and reduced day-light mean that this part of the country can see harvests extend into April and even May, where other parts of the country are done with everything by mid-March.
He sent us several samples, including coffee from his own farm, La Orquidea. I immediately fell in love with this coffee because it had all the classic hallmarks of the best coffees from Santa Barbara. The aromatics off of the ground coffee are your first clue. There's something more there, a tease of the flavors to come. Pacas, from this area in particular, will have a deep, honey-like sweetness, that is present in every sip. The acidity of these coffees is unique, with a floral quality that builds to moments of sweet lime, or green apple candy, but still in context with the flavor. The roast will help bolster the caramel and chocolate tones, but these coffees have everything that you could want.
We only got three bags of this coffee to work with but I wanted to share it in the cafes as a Coffee of the Week because it is a really wonderful experience. I'm also happy to say that we snagged a bag of Benjamin's Gesha from the same farm that he won CoE with. We'll have that for sale (probably only as retail bags) in a couple of weeks.
Thanks for reading!
-Steve Ford, Director of Coffee