THE HONDURANS ARE VISITING!

By James Guard
on June 28, 2017

Courage is different things. One thing it is is not accepting ‘well, that’s just the way things are’. The unbearable itch that forms the forward momentum of wanting to take steps to change something that is unacceptable. That always moves me, when people who have every reason to give up, just don’t.

Those who take that turn away from accepting defeat and then take steps toward a different option. The courage to choose that despite what everyone else sees, you see something better. That courage to see something better, to break the inertia of accepting defeat, opens the way for something to change. To be better.

 It was this vision and courage that led a group of coffee farmers to turn and move away from a stagnant commercial coffee market in Honduras, that saw farmers receiving little return for their work. COMSA had a vision, for a community that looked after each other, the earth that produces their coffee, and the children that that are the next generation of coffee famers. Being a Fairtrade co-op meant the price they received for the coffee was stable, and rather than that being an end itself, this stability provided a platform to build infrastructure geared up to producing fantastic coffee.

Central and foundational to COMSA’s (Café Organico Marcala S.A) vision is the use of organic practices that do no harm, and in fact feed the land from which all the coffee is grown, a revolutionary use of organic methods and processing that simultaneously blesses the earth, preserves water, creates masses of bio diversity, and encourages the growth of some darn fine coffee!

We’ve developed a freakishly serendipitous relationship with COMSA, from being found by Suita, offered some samples, loving the coffee, buying some, going on a somewhat impromptu visit to Honduras, and then being blown away by the sheer quality and scale of the coffee growing and processing, and now buying some more for this year, including a couple of stunning micro lots!

Those Micro-lots are from David Chavez, and Miriam Perez, two of the original rebel alliance that took up the gauntlet of intensive organic farming, and focusing on growing sensatioanlly tasty coffee.

Soooo…here’s the really exciting bit! Rodolfo Penalba, the GM and co-founder of COMSA, David Chavez a farmer who's also the president of the COMSA’s board a pioneer and passionate educator, our mate, and organisational legend Suita, and the people who run the COMSA school, are visiting Manchester from the 11th-14th July!

Now, this would be exciting in its own right, but as it happens, (and this is another Serendipty momement…) one of the coffees we chose in our blind cupping was a beautiful washed coffee from Don David Chavez, and we also chose a natural from Miriam Perez, a funky stunner from an awesome woman, who also happens to be Rodolfo’s wife!

Sooooo come join the family, cup their coffees with them and absorb some of that deep coffee farming knowledge!

11th July 7pm

At Rise at the back of Grindsmiths Deansgate:  We are going to have an evening of panel discussion around the issue of sustainability in coffee trade, with COMSA, Fairtrade and couple of respected peeps from the speciality coffee trade. This will be free, but we’ll do an event brite for it, as numbers will be limited! The panel will be Rodolfo, Howard Barwick (Head Buyer Bewleys UK/Grumpy Mule), Holly Bowman (from Northstar Coffee in Leeds)

And we'll have someone from Fair Tade there too.

With provenance and origin story being so important to Speciality Coffee...its a chance to really dig into this idea of fair 'ethical' 'direct' trade of coffee, and what this actually means to the farmers, hearing from the farmers themselves!

 

13th July 6pm-10pm:

We are having a cupping event with difference at the roastery, the main difference being the farmers will be there! We are going to set up all sorts of interactive stuff so we can really dig into the elements that influence how coffee is grown and processed and how this is fundamental to its character and flavour. We’ll also be brewing and pulling shots…well, you will!

The cupping will be structured, and there will be a talk about COMSAs organic vision and how this contributes to flavour. However, we also want to leave lots of time for you to just hang out and socialise, brew their coffee with them and chat to some awesome coffee brains, and ask all those questions you’ve always wanted to ask coffee farmers about!

This event will be ticketed £10 each, and will include a bag of coffee. All the proceeds will go towards Team COMSA’s travel costs. We’ll send out the Event Brite for it very soon.

 

 

 

 

Trip to Honduras March 2017

By James Guard
on April 11, 2017

The story of how we met Suita Manuela Diaz Nolasco (she picks which bits of that name she uses on any given day!) Is on the Web shop page for Honduras Serendipia which also explains why its called that!

Suita Manuela Diaz Nolasco. Honduras Coffee Brain.Suffice it to say that this young woman has great vision for how speciailty coffee can benefit the lives of coffee farmers all over Honduras. Her family is involved all sorts of aspects of coffee production in different parts of the country, with her uncle Radolfo Penalba (in the main pic for this post) responsible for starting the COMSA co-op that we visited in Marcala, in La Paz, in the South West of the country.

His vision for excellence and organic coffee production is a huge inspiration and is something Suita would like to see taken up by other coffee farmers and co-ops around the country.

 

Our path towards the trip started when Suita visited the roastery, gave us some COMSA coffee to try, which we just loved. We found a way of shipping some over. So far so good! But how did we end up having our minds blow in Honduras? Well now...there's a story...

Whilst Suita was over here studying, her parents and auntie came to vist, so we thought it would be rude if we didnt give a chance for people to meet them, so we organised an impromptu 'meet the farmer' event at Grindsmiths.

 

It was an excellent event, and after some initial nerves, the family warmed up and gave a brilliant insight into the dedicated work and persistence of vision that this family have displayed for 30 years or so.

 

 

It was actually quite an emotional event, with a deep connection felt between passionate coffee people from both ends of the chain. The family said that we should come visit Honduras, so how on earth could we refuse? It was a brilliant chance for a few mancs to land themselves in the middle of a coffee dream world and walk the farms and processing mills where all the flavour comes from.

Santa Barbara

26 hours of flights later, Suita picked us up at the airport and we drove five hours south to Santa Barbara, to stay a night with her auntie and family. We arrived at dusk to be welcomed with a barbecue, beers, and a little tour of the beneficio...the family mill where coffee cherries are washed and dried.

There was such a welcoming atmosphere, and to be put up for the night in the family home in the middle of a beautiful coffee farm was such a privilige. It didnt feel like a tour. It felt strangely like home, because we all care about and make our livings from coffee.

 COMSA, Marcala.

The next day we walked the farm, I inherited a hat, we said our goodbyes and jumped in the 4x4 to drive down to Marcala....

 

We arrived at night and woke up to a stunning vista.

 

 Fortaleza is the organic farm that COMSA run, the base for all their education and where the amazing lodge for visitors is. You wake up at six in the morning...(we're not going to talk about cockerals...just leave it) and its warm and its beautiful and you have 3 days of fully immersive coffee ahead!

 

 

The simple premise of COMSA is based on the idea of Finca Humana...which when translated as Human Farm sounds a bit like a B horror movie, but the idea is, put good stuff in, and you get good stuff out:

 

 

 

 

 

"Work on the plots, begins with the selection of seeds, seed care, nursery, planting, etc .; In this sense, human farming starts with children, is where working with partners COMSA and community focus. The children are the true allies for the future, for that reason should feed your brain with important information, with healthy practices, sports, music, science, art, agriculture, love, respect, self-esteem."

Radolpho Penalba, COMSA general manager.

 

 

 

We met so many awesome and inspiring people! Like this guy! Oscar Omar Alonzo. When he originally took up the gauntlet to move from conventional to organic speciality coffee, it was a very hard time for Oscar. His yield dropped and the new organically grown crops took a few years to become fruitful. He told us that he was in a particularly dark place, but then, he had a vision of bicycle. You must keep going forward, keep everything in balance...then you will be succesful.

 

 

He actually has a tandem that becomes a real life ride on metaphor for working together and keeping everything in balance! And of course, he has named his farm Finca Cual Bicicleta...Like a Bicycle!

 

 

 

He's an amazing man, and loved meeting Kieron who was with us! Mr. Carney, a humble dude who works his ass off training for Baxter Storey, and has placed in the top 10 in the UKBCs for the last two years, who Oscar insisted having his picture taken with. Mutual respect for people who have a passion for beautiful coffee!

 

 

 

 

Cafe Organico Marcala has over a thousand producers, all producing organic coffee and the co-op mill has exceedingly high standards on the quality of the cherry that is accepted into the massive wet mill opreation. Some producers also have micro lots that are either dried on the producers farm, or centrally at the mill.

 

 

The farmers will all produce both good quality cherry that is processed centally and combined into complete lots

 

 

 

 

 

 

And also micro-lots that are either dried on the producers own farm, or centrally.

 

 

 

There is a strong focus on education, and there are some genius methods employed to see organic processes used from seed to harvest to processing and even using the cleaning solution used for the machinary at the mill!

 

This is Don Roberto, general manager of the wet mill, who was very proud and passionate about how they combine live micro-organisms with the water residue from the washing process, let it ferment, then it can be used as a highly effective cleaning agent! We ate a little to prove the point that the solvent is so safe, you can eat it! Safe....but doesn't taste all that amazing!

 

Organic Vision!

The organic production means that the land the COMSA members grow on is incredibly well looked after and nourished...I've never been so enthused about soil! But a session with the agronomist responsible for the production of the fertiliser used at the co-op sorted that right out!

 

The short version is, traditional mass produced fertilizers kill the soil, dead earth requires more chemicals pumped into it to produce anything, but whatever grow will be dull and lifeless, because the soil is dead. No minerals, no flavour. 

 

 

 

 

 

 So COMSA produce an incredibly rich fertiliser that recycles coffee pulp, the water that is kept from the washing station, instead of draining into the land, ground up rocks and micro organisms from the forests around the co-op, and other organic matter. Its put into sealed barrels to ferment, and brews into life giving soil enriching goodness!

 

 

The result of all this, is a co-op where everything is built on well nourished hearts, minds and soil! The natural bio diversity and thriving flauna and fauna mean a wealth of happy insects cross pollinating all over the place, contributing to flavour developement in ways that blew my mind!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The co-op continually re-invests in infrastucture that improves the quality of their processing, like this astonishing bank of raised beds for the controlled drying of tasty tasty microlots....

 

 

 

 

 

 And a beautiful polytunnel of immaculatly processed natural coffee. And believe me..."beautiful polytunnel" is never a phrase I would ever have envisaged using...but it was.

 

 

 

 

At the end of the day, all this only matters to us as a roastery if we find something magical in the cup. And to be fair, it was no surprise whatsoever that the tables of coffees we tried when we were there revealed some absolute stunners!

The quality control at COMSA is rigorous, and we were excited to see what lots were going to be possible for us to buy. We're only little, so its not like we can wave a hand and take the lot...but there was sooo many goodies! The range of flavours and cup profiles on the table was astonishing! Kid in a candy store vibes...I brought back about 30 samples to try with Sean at the roastery...

 

 

 

I like this picture cos it was when Sean, who's been a licensed Q-grader for over 6 years, slurped and reslurped and slurped again...and one particular micro-lot drew a fair number of expletives that are probably not suitable for descriptors to go on labels. It goes down as one of the most complete Central American coffees we've ever tried!

 

 

The four of us had the most inspiring, thought provoking and for me, really quite moving time. There is such a deep connection between the way the community at COMSA look after each other, the earth and their coffee, it's all interdependent, in a holistic way the depth of which blew me away.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We've bought three different coffees from COMSA that arrive in few weeks, and we're gonna have a party when they do! You're all invited!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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