Coffee of the Week: Gumercindo Ventura, Honduras
This coming week will be an exciting across all Highwire locations as we will be serving a very special coffee, a returning favorite from a producer named Gumercido Ventura.
Highwire first offered Gumercindo’s coffee in 2016 based on samples from a program called the Catracha Project, which serves to highlight coffee from producers that live around the village of Santa Elena in the La Paz department of Honduras. Catracha/Catracho is the name that other Latin Americans use to refer to people from Honduras.
Mayra Orellana-Powell, a native of Santa Elena, started the Catracha Project in an effort to connect buyers more directly to producers in her home town, raising their profile and increasing amount paid to the producer. Mayra, in conjunction with Royal Coffee Importers, has helped to connect Gumercindo and Highwire every year since.
There's actually a great short film called The Way Back to Yarasquin which details Mayra story and how she got the project started. In the film Mayra talks about how she first connected her coffee to local Bay Area roasters and with their help started to add additional producers and connect them to other roasters.
Cory Morgan, the senior roaster at Highwire, was the first one to try Gumercindo's coffee at a tasting at Royal Coffee in 2016. From that tasting, Highwire selected Gumercindo's coffee, and we've been buying whatever he has available every year since.
Gumercindo’s farm is called La Palma. It is pretty small — only a single hectare. On this plot, he grows a variety of coffee called Catuaí, which is known for high yields and sweetness. Once the coffee is harvested by hand, the outer fruit layer will be removed in a process called depulping. Though the outer skin is removed, the seeds inside the coffee fruit still have a lot of sticky mucilage on them. In order to remove the mucilage, the coffees will be left to ferment in a tank, which breaks down the sugar layer around the beans. Fermentation times will be determined mostly by ambient temperature, but once the mucilage is mostly broken down, the residual fruit material will be “washed” off of the seeds. Finally, the coffees will be laid onto raised drying beds under a parabolic shade structure (see above) which allows the moisture on and in the coffee to evaporate. Slow and careful drying is essential to preserving the qualities in the cup.
We received only three sacks of this coffee this year, half of which was immediately roasted for service this week! Though harvests were down, the biggest reason for the small supply is actually that the going price for a pound of green coffee in Honduras at the time of harvest was much higher than usual. Though folks like Gumercindo typically see great prices through participation in the Catracha project, in order to get those prices, they have to do a lot of work carefully selecting the coffee, processing, and drying. When prices are this high, there are huge multi-national coffee businesses that will come through and buy coffee at decent prices, paying cash in hand, no careful work needed.
Some of what we would have bought this year got sold to these roving buyers. And while we wish we had more to offer, at the same time it's understandable that Gumercindo would take an easier pay-out for some of his coffee when that option was available. High prices can be a real boon to producers, especially after years of super low prices.
High prices are also challenging to the Catracha Project which has to compete with the fast-and-easy buyers that pass through town. Though they understand the motivations of the producers in selling, it makes sustaining the relationships with roasters harder. Regardless of this year's situation, Highwire will continue to support Catracha and Gumercindo as long as there is coffee available for us to buy.
Currently the Project is working to provide value to their producers in additional ways, including seeds for fruits and vegetables to help people in the community grow their own food. Additionally they are working to plant trees in the community to re-forrest area that were previously cut for other projects.
We're really excited to continue our support of the Catracha Project at large and Gumercido in particular. This coffee is really special and something that we can very proud of serving.
National Coffee Day
In celebration on National Coffee Day this coming Friday, September 29th, Highwire will be giving away 8oz hot drip coffee, for free, in all of our locations, all day!
That same day, we are also opening up the Roastery to the public in from 1:00-3:00. This is your rare chance to glimpse behind the curtain and see where the coffee magic happens. Please claim a ticket to the event via Eventbrite.