ORIGIN STORIES: HISTORIC HURRICANE SEASON HITS CENTRAL AMERICA
Words by 49th Green Coffee Buyer, David Pohl
The hurricane season has just ended, thankfully, after a record setting year that devastated much of Central America - already on its heels from the ongoing pandemic.
More hurricanes have been named this year than ever before (30), and the last two of the season, Eta and Iota, were particularly damaging to coffee communities throughout the isthmus.
Many of our partners were impacted, especially Beneficio San Vicente in Santa Barbara, Honduras. Our export partner there, Benjamin Paz, put out a call in the wake of Eta to raise funds for members of the community who were displaced by heavy rains and wind, resulting in mudslides that washed away homes and farms. To date they have raised $57,000 to help with the clean-up efforts, but the needs go far beyond this sum (donate here).
While there was no loss of life that we are aware of amongst our friends in Santa Barbara, some of the facilities at BSV were flooded, and many of our partners lost hundreds if not thousands of coffee trees. The timing of this could not be much worse, not only because of the pandemic, but also because the harvest is just getting under way. Downed trees full of fruit ready to be picked equal lost income. For many farmers natural disasters such as the 2020 hurricane season can literally push them to the edge, having invested in coffee trees for 9 months, now is supposed to be the time when they see a return on that investment. With reduced harvests, it can be difficult to pay back lenders who provided credit for fertilizers and infrastructure improvements, not to mention feed and clothe their families. This secondary disaster, unlike the hurricanes which make a big splash in the news, will likely play out over the coming months with very little attention from the media.
We are reminded at 49th how important our philosophy of striving to source coffee sustainably is to building resilience in coffee communities so that they are able to weather adversity. Our Sourcing Philosophy is based on three pillars - pay fair prices to farmers for great quality coffee, develop long term relationships with them, and conduct all of our business transparently. It is very simple but also incredibly important to stay true to this approach, as we have done since 2004. We cannot protect from hurricanes, but we can help our producer partners have the resources to create healthy farms that are able to recover from natural and other disasters.
Coincidentally we just received a new shipment from Honduras, including a coffee from long term producer partner Ramon Rodriguez, which is currently featured in our Holiday Espresso.
There is perhaps no more fitting way to support BSV and communities in Santa Barbara than by enjoying an espresso or latte made with Ramon’s Holiday Espresso. Shop Now!
Another country battered by hurricanes this year but still managing to export incredible coffees is Panama. Our partner for the last three years Jose Lutrell of Hacienda Cañas Verdes, otherwise known as Abu Geisha, in Boquete, was spared the brunt of the hurricanes, while farms on the other side of Volcan Baru did not fare as well (more on that next month when we introduce our newest Panama offering from Finca Sophia).
Abu Geisha, available now as part of our Small Lot Series is a special coffee having developed out of Jose’s discovery of his historic roots in the Boquete coffee community. In fact, Frank Tedman, an engineer who emigrated from Canada to Panama to work on the canal, and who was Jose’s great grandfather, established his first 10 hectare farm in the 1890s in Boquete. He quickly became one of the largest exporters of coffee from Panama to Europe. Jose’s grandmother sold her stake in the original family farm, but Jose’s father (also Jose Luttrell) bought a farm of his own with the hope to turn it into a productive farm over 40 years ago. And there it stood for many years until father and son decided to renew the old family farm, turning it into a state of the art, innovative producer of geisha starting in 2008. Jose’s father sadly passed away as this process was underway, leading Jose to double down on his desire to rediscover the land and build upon his family’s legacy in Panamanian coffee.
Geisha grows slowly and it wasn’t until 2014 that Abu Geisha had its first “harvest” of 90 pounds of coffee - which Jose gave to friends and family to taste. Since then production has ramped up and Abu is now a fully functional farm producing a wide array of washed and natural process Geishas.
Jose runs Abu as a family business, with support from his wife, mother and children, who have taken an interest in cupping and even selected the lot for the Best of Panama competition that won 11th place this year. Jose is “totally fascinated by well processed coffee” and excels at natural process and anaerobic coffees, as well as at washed coffees. Since 2017 Abu Geisha has placed in the top 15 of the Best of Panama 4 times, and Jose continues to push the boundaries to produce compelling Panamanian coffees. Jose is a valued partner of 49th Parallel and we are honored to offer his coffee again this year.