by Kevin Stark

Editor’s Note: This is part of a continued series on our commitment to the Catracha Quality Project. Look for further articles and for the arrival of these coffees in the coming months. We have a few of these coffees available SPOT in both Oakland & Seattle. See the previous installment here.
In January, I traveled to Santa Elena, Honduras to visit producers that work with Catracha Coffee. Catracha Coffee is a coffee-buying social enterprise that connects smallholder farmers in the region to the specialty coffee market. For a few years, Royal Coffee has been working with Catracha and its producers. We are expecting the production to nearly double this year, as more producers hear about the opportunity and market connection.

An interesting part of this project is the focus on improving quality through data management. As Catracha grows, it’s important that it shows continued improvement in quality. To track this progress, Lowell Powell and Arvin Juan are running a quality project with an emphasis on capturing exact information about what happens on the farm and while being processed. Powell and Juan installed data loggers in the coffee fields, solar driers and patios of four separate farms. Information from these loggers will map the post-harvest process and chart each step: receiving, pulping, fermenting, drying, and storage. The goal is to capture the uniqueness of the process from farm to farm, and to develop a set of standards.

For more details about Catracha Coffee and my first impressions from the trip, take a look at my previous post in the February Second Edition of the Royal News here. I overlapped for a few days in Santa Elena with Arvin Juan, who is the project manager for the quality project. Afterwards, he sent me some thoughts about the trip, how the project is progressing, and some early signs of success.

From Arvin Juan:

It was a very encouraging trip. This year we saw the extensive use of black netting during the drying process by Eva Vasquez and her team in Marcala, and we distributed that netting to farmers like Toño Granados, Porfirio Lopez, and several others.

Last year, we began talking about the use of black netting on patios and solar dryer beds to improve drying conditions. The idea was that the netting would: 1) allow for increased airflow and easier management when used on patios, 2) provide an improved drying surface as a solar dryer bed (when installed so that no parchment can get trapped between the wood frame and the drying surface) while also allowing the coffee to be more easily managed (e.g. covering at night and transporting).
We were able to confirm this year that the harvest consists of four total pickings, at least for the four farmers we surveyed. The first and last picks are considered “cleaning” picks (underripes, overripes, and damaged cherries from requema [reburning dead plant matter to clear fields]) and the middle two picks are “full” picks with that coffee being specialty grade that would be sold to Catracha. This information is key to building a meaningful process map, and it was interesting to learn that the four farmers arrange their pickings in a similar way.
We walked the perimeters of farms this year which brought to light how steep and/or densely planted some farms are. Pickers are faced with challenging work conditions which I’m sure makes quality-focused picking not too easy.
I expect the installation of thermometers in solar dryers to increase awareness of temperature and ventilation. I am also really glad to meet Porfirio and to work with him on the Catracha Quality Project – he’s a progressive thinker who is mindful of quality across the post-harvest process and could inspire others.