photos by Co-Founders Ryan O'Donovan and Colby Barr
The familia Benitez has been involved in coffee-growing for generations in the Cielito municipality of Santa Barbara, Honduras. Today, in this Santa Barbara mountainside community, Juan and his brother own and operate their neighboring small farms responsible for producing what we believe is some of the most delicious Pacas to be found in this region.
A returning favorite Farmlevel offering, Juan Benitez coffee is characterized by the tropical fruit and blackcurrant complexities that the Santa Barbara region is renowned for.
Verve co-founder, Colby Barr, on location at the farm of Juan Benitez.
Colby took some time to discuss the relationship between Verve Coffee and Juan Benitez.
VCR | How long has Verve been working with Juan Benitez?
Colby | Since his first year of production - the first year we ever went to Honduras. I think we’re four to five years deep at this point.
VCR | How big was that first production lot compared to last year?
Colby | The first year was less than one bag. There are about 150 pounds of green coffee per bag. Actually, one bag of green coffee equates to about one hundred 12 oz. bags of coffee for retail. This last year’s harvest was well beyond that. I think he’s up to around 20 bags, or 2,000 retail bags!
VCR | So, we hear Juan has a fresh concrete fermentation tank now. Is this the first year that we’re tasting coffee out of that tank?
Colby | Yes! It’s really nice and he’s very proud of it. His old tank was this little tiny wood box that was super small and, well, let’s call it rustic. His new tank is now a larger and more cleanable concrete one, which is great for coffee quality plus he can process more coffee per batch. This is really important because he is at such a cold, high elevation for the region, it takes a long time to process coffee correctly.
VCR | Pacas is a pretty interesting cultivar. What’s the deal?
Colby | Though originally discovered as a mutation from Bourbon in neighboring El Salvador, the only Pacas we receive these days comes from Honduras. Pacas is a variant, or phenotype, of the classic Bourbon.
VCR | How does it cup compared to Bourbon? Or, is it superior in growability? Growing higher or colder, etc.
Colby | The flavor profiles are similar and highly desirable: super sweet, dense, intrinsic flavors. When you grow Bourbon at a high elevation, it’s one of the best varieties out there. With Pacas being a variant of that, it’s the same thing. Buying really high, critical-elevation Pacas or Bourbon makes those coffees just amazing. All coffees do this, but particularly Bourbon and Pacas develop this crazy sweetness. Also, in this microregion of Santa Barbara where our Honduran coffees come from you get this added magical, complex, tropical flavor - straight up mango and starfruit. Sometimes I think I’m tasting a Sidamo when we cup them. Juan’s coffee is one of the best representations of this.
VCR | Why do you think this is?
Colby | Firstly, there is something happening based on this unique micro-climate, it’s like the Burgundy of coffee growing regions. It has east-facing morning slopes and exemplifies this whole concept of exposure. The soil is volcanic and there is a giant lake below the mountain that helps generates dense, afternoon fog on the hillsides.
Secondly, Juan Benitez grows his farms at one of the highest elevations out of any farmer that we purchase from. He has really strong and young plants that are only in their fourth year of production. He farms it impeccably and they’re some of the best, healthiest looking plants I’ve seen.
VCR | Is there anything happening in the future in regards to this farm?
Colby | Heck yeah! His brother, Natividad Benitez, is an award-winning producer (Finca El Ocotillo), so Juan is in good company. He has the potential to be one of the best coffee farmers in Honduras. He’s really just getting it going and is already blowing us away. He has room to grow even higher up the mountain and we’re helping him get some special coffees to put up there.
VCR | Anything else to add?
Colby | Juan took the risk and entered the specialty coffee market against the pressure to just sell it as a commodity. It’s crazy to think that we buy all of his coffee and get to share it with the world. Our Honduras Farmlevel project feels kind of like a Cinderella story and Juan is Cinderella, except he has a killer mustache and sweet brimmed hat.
VCR | Excited to see where this goes! This coffee is already a huge fan-favorite.
Colby | It’s only getting better. Cheers!
The newest offering from Juan Benitez is now available. CLICK HERE to purchase.