This past June, we embarked on our first Coffee Origin trip to Honduras! We partnered with Alejandra Flores of Unataza Coffee, who is actually from Honduras herself. Here are some of the things we did, learned, and celebrated from our trip.
As you may know, the coffee industry as a whole is one of the worst offenders when it comes to problems like human trafficking and modern day slavery, child labor, and grossly underpaid farmers. This is in part because most of the areas where coffee grows (equatorial regions) are underdeveloped and already dealing with poverty, unsupportive or corrupt governments, and other injustices. Coffee farmers and their communities are already dealing with these hardships and are unfortunately easily taken advantage of by the global coffee industry.
This is why it’s so important for us at La Terza to establish direct relationships with the farmers from whom we buy our green coffee beans. We want to cut through the supply chain and make sure they are being paid fairly for their product and are able to create a sustainable business, despite things like changes in climate. Although we source our coffee from all over the world — Nicaragua, Colombia, Ethiopia, Kenya, etc. — we chose to visit Honduras for this trip because of the direct connection we had between Cincinnati and Honduras through Alejandra. We are so grateful that she was able to show us around her home country and connect us to two different coffee farms there!
The Coffee Farms
Our team visited two different coffee farms while in Honduras. One is owned and run by a wonderful woman name Katia and the other by a young man named Carlos. Katia, whose farm is in Copan, is a 4th generation coffee farmer. Carlos’ farm is in Santa Cruz, Lempira. Carlos shared how they are in the process of educating their workers to improve the selection of the coffee and distinguish it from the different varieties, as well as improving and expanding the drying techniques. We loved learning about the history and heritage of these farms. Carlos and his family were native to the area and we were actually the first Americans to ever step foot on their soil!
It was wonderful to see firsthand the ways in which these two farmers were able to positively impact not only their own families and direct communities, but also their neighboring communities as well with their business! Both Katia and Carlos spoke about their vision to continue to make an impact on the people around them as they each grow their coffee plantations. To be able to see firsthand how the coffee sold and brewed in Cincinnati is directly impacting entire communities in another part of the world in a positive way was a real honor for us. We are incredibly grateful to be able to get to know and trust the people who are growing our coffee so that we can pass this along to our customers and wholesale partners!
Serving the Communities As a Whole
As we planned this trip, it was important that we asked the farmers and their communities what they really needed the most. Since the entire communities (and not just the farmers themselves) rely on the coffee in order to thrive, we wanted to understand how we could serve them on a holistic level.
We were told that many of the children on the plantations are not able to attend school regularly due to the dangerousness of the road leading to the school. Our long term plan is to help install solar panels (since they don’t have electricity) with iPads so that the children are able to continue their learning at home when they aren’t able to make it to school. On this trip, we were able to get some additional information and measurements so that we might be able to bring the solar panels next time.
The Future of Specialty Coffee
La Terza’s CEO, David Gaines, says, “I left Honduras very encouraged about the role that speciality coffee can play in the coffee industry as a whole.” First, speciality coffee tends to be a higher quality product for consumers in general, as it tastes better and has more health benefits. Second, David explained that as Katia has transitioned from conventional to speciality coffee, it has only allowed her to pay her employees more, build a school for the children in her community, and continue to add onto the school as her wages increase. Specialty coffee truly has a lot of potential for coffee farmers, coffee shops, and coffee consumers all at once and we are excited to be a part of this growing aspect of the industry.
We also joined forces with some of the members of the community to cook healthy meals for the children using local ingredients. Chef Lindsey Cook of The Jaded Fork was one of our team members on the trip. Read below about her experience on the trip.
Hear from Lindsey:
As a culinary educator, I was a part of the coffee trip to Honduras to observe current culinary practices within the community and school and to provide meals for the plantation children that attend the community school.
As a culinary professional, I have had international cooking experiences and industry exposure to a variety of cuisines and their indigenous ingredients. Culturally, I have travelled to other countries to be a tourist and enjoy the local fare and culinary traditions. Academically, I have had the pleasure of teaching students from dozens of different countries and have been exposed to their palettes, their food memories and traditions. This trip allowed for me the perfect opportunity to volunteer and utilize the combination of all the culinary, industry, and academic skills I have gained and been exposed to over my career.
Our trip included visiting the coffee plantations and local, surrounding cities. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to be offered home cooked meals provided by our host families and we were welcomed into the activities of the daily lives at the plantation. We were asked to cook some meals for the students who attended the school on the coffee plantation, which was by far one of the most rewarding days of my entire career. I have never worked in a more challenging environment (no running water, language barrier, a demographic for whom I hadn’t ever cooked, minimal cooking equipment, no electricity, etc.)
We created recipes using ingredients the locals were already familiar with in their daily diet, as well as what was locally and seasonally available. We created healthier versions of foods they already enjoyed and increased the nutritional value of each dish by including fresh produce and healthy fats, making it a more balanced meal.
Our black bean cakes were bite-size, which made them fun and kid friendly. They were made by mashing local red beans (which turn black in the cooking process!), local whole eggs, shredded carrots, yellow onion, and fresh seasonings and herbs. We bound them together and encrusted them with crushed, toasted plantains to provide a little added crunch and to eliminate the need for bread crumbs.
We also prepared a fresh, zesty, shredded cabbage, carrot, scallion creamy adobe slaw with low fat mayonnaise, white wine vinegar and fresh cilantro and minced garlic.
Our banana cinnamon pancakes were a big hit! These were a new, somewhat healthier take on a tasty breakfast sweet treat. We drizzled the pancakes with local amber honey that just lightly enhanced the natural sweetness of the pancake batter and fresh bananas. It was also a nice substitute for syrup, which isn’t indigenous to their area.
We also prepared a vegetable and sausage pasta dish with a homemade “rose” sauce from rehydrated milk, stewed tomatoes, herbs, zucchini and spinach. The students enjoyed eating the pasta, as most of them had admitted to never having it before!
After visiting the plantation, the school, and meeting the students, I knew I wanted to stay connected to the community and to provide them with ongoing culinary support. Working with Katia, we realized that providing the school with an onsite cooking facility where fresh food could be prepared for the students each day would open up so many opportunities for the students. The opportunity to eat an additional fresh meal each day, the opportunity to stay at school all day instead of having to return home to eat, and the opportunity to be exposed to more ingredients and the nutritional benefits of those foods.
My catering company will be offering up to 10% of our overall profits to purchase kitchen supplies and equipment to assist with the build out of the school’s kitchen space. Our first goal is to provide a stove unit, then a means of refrigeration, and eventually a handwashing and food preparation sink area. We would also like to eventually communicate and work with a nutritionist to develop monthly meal plans that could be produced on site in the new kitchen space.
There is a lot to do! And so many ways that we can offer support to the children, the community and the coffee plantation as a whole. We hope to support culinary growth for our friends in Honduras through our culinary involvement here in Cincinnati.