The Essential Guide to Honduran Coffee

Did you know that Honduras is the top coffee producing country in Central America?

In 2018, Honduras produced 5.8 million bags of coffee (a bag weighs 60kg) and ranked number 6 behind Brasil, Vietnam, Columbia, Indonesia and Ethiopia, according to Wikipedia.

On this page, we will take a deeper look into various aspects of Honduran coffee such as its history, top growing regions, type of varietals, harvesting season and more importantly, what makes it so special.

Let’s get started.

Honduran Coffee – A Quick Fact Guide

  • Top Growing Regions : Copan, Opalaca, El Paraiso
  • Growing Altitude : 3,300 to 5,000ft
  • Harvest Season : October to February
  • Type of Beans : Arabica (Bourbon and Typica)

Honduran Coffee - When Did it Started?

Guide to Honduran Coffee

Honduras achieved independence from Spain in 1821, but historical records show that the locals were growing coffee in this region even before. 

There are many records detailing the origins of the Honduran coffee industry, including a document from late 1799 indicating that 3 barrels of coffee beans had been imported from Havana, Cuba. This kickstarted the coffee production in Honduras.

Hondurans, particularly rural farmers, were very excited about the potential for a thriving coffee industry in their nation. Today, Honduras now ranks among the top 5 countries in the world for coffee production.

Coffee Growing Regions in Honduras

There are numerous regions in Honduras known for having the ideal climate and elevation for coffee production. The 2 most important regions are Copan and Opalaca region.

Together, they are called the Honduran Western Coffee (HWC) Geographical Indication, which indicates their importance to coffee growing.

Copan Region

When one thinks of Honduran coffee they are likely imagining the famously sweet, caramel-flavored delicacy that originates in the region of Copan, located in the west and bordering Guatemala.

With altitudes ranging from 1,000 to 1,500 ft above sea level and a wide range of humidity and temperature unique to Honduras, Copan allows for coffee production in both very hot and relatively cool harvest seasons.

Opalaca Region

Opalaca is just slightly east of Copan and this includes most of Santa Barbara, Intibuca, and Lempir.

Opalaca has a slightly higher altitude than Copan, ranging from 1,100 to 1,500 ft above sea level. Even though they are at about the same altitude, Opalaca has warmer temperatures compared to Copan.

The diverse flavor profiles of the coffee cultivated in the Opalaca region are growing steadily in popularity as international coffee fans discover this lesser-known region.

El Paraiso

Last but not least, the southern region of El Paraiso (1,000 to 1,400 ft above sea level), bordering Nicaragua, is known for its higher temperatures compared to Copan and Opalaca. .

Its temperature range from 16 to 22.5°C,  which makes growing coffee easy during the peak harvest season. 

In 2017, a coffee blend from El Paraiso won the prestigious Cup of Excellence award, putting this sleepy southern region on the worldwide stage. El Paraiso coffee is known for its very unique flavor profile; notes of green apple, jasmine, and even white wine have been recognized.

Types of Varietals and Beans

Like most countries with a strong influence on the coffee industry, the most common varietals grown in Honduras are what are known as the old Arabicas, including Bourbon and Typica.

Bourbon

Arabica Beans - Bourbon Varietal

In Copan and Opalaca, where elevation is extremely high and coffee is farmed on mountainside ficas, or farms, Bourbon is the primary Arabica. 

This is due to the fact that Bourbon reaches its highest quality potential when cultivated at very high altitudes. 

Bourbon, which was introduced by the French to many Latin American countries in the 1700s, is recognizable by its tall, green-tipped leaves and round cherries.

According to World Coffee Research, Bourbon is one of the most culturally significant strains of Arabica. With a relatively low yield potential and strong susceptibility to coffee leaf rust and other diseases, Bourbon is considerably rare and thus prized by international coffee lovers. 

It is important to note that in most parts of Latin America, Bourbon itself has been replaced by sub-strains of Bourbon. The original varietal is found only in a select few countries, including Honduras.

So, how does the Bourbon varietal taste like? 

In the cup Bourbon is known to provide a bold yet creamy blend of flavors. Those who have tried the original Bourbon note its chocolatey flavor, low acidity, and sweet aftertaste.

Typica

Arabica Typica Coffee Varietals

As for Typica, it is known as the granddaddy of all coffees, at least according to Stumptown Coffee Roasters. All major Arabica offshoots originated from this varietal, which is said to have originated in Yemen.

Its name comes from the Latin word for ordinary, and it is a very popular varietal worldwide, but it is anything but boring. 

Typica is easily distinguishable from Bourbon in that it has larger beans and bronze leaves, as opposed to green. The plants are similarly tall and susceptible to leaf rust, but they grow well in high-elevation regions.

Typica’s flavor is refreshingly light, sweet, and clean, with a balanced body and low acidity. Modern hybrids have attempted to bring out different flavors, from red wine to dark chocolate, but the original Typica flavor is simple.

Honduran Coffee Harvest Season

With such a massive global impact on the coffee industry, you can imagine that Honduran coffee farmers are working around the clock to ensure they are cultivating the best possible product. 

They are especially busy during the harvest season, which falls during the months between October and February and coincides with tourism season, particularly in Copan.

From small-scale agrarian farmers to massive corporations, everyone in the coffee industry is busy during this six-month stretch of time, in which coffee cherries are harvested with patience and a keen eye for detail. 

Central American culture is less hurried and more understanding of the fact that quality coffee takes time to produce. Typically, the fruits of Honduras’ labour do not reach North America until April.

What Makes Honduran Coffee Special?

Low Temperatures

Contrary to popular belief, Honduras can actually hit pretty low temperatures during the coffee harvest season , allowing for unique flavor profiles to be brought out in the popular Arabica varietals common to Honduras.

Particularly in Copan, where the temperatures can be as low as 52°F/11°C, the climate is essential to coffee cultivation.

Mountainous Geography

All of Honduras’ biggest coffee-producing regions share one thing in common, high altitudes. Coffee farmers in Honduras, particularly Copan and Opalaca, work on mountainside ficas, or farms. 

Arabica varietals grow best in mountainous regions, making Honduras an ideal location for coffee production.

Diverse Flavor

The full-bodied yet gentle blends that have become popular all around the world are unique to Honduras, which is probably at least part of the reason why tourism season coincides with coffee harvest season. 

From notes of caramel to notes of white wine, you can be sure you’ll be in for a treat with every sip of Honduran coffee.