“If you don’t love coffee, you cannot produce great coffee”Marysabel Caballero
When Marysabel Caballero was a little girl, her parents decided to get back into coffee, quit their city jobs and started farming. She remembers life on the farm fondly. She loved being with her family on the farm and helping out. Her mother was from a coffee producing family, so coffee is in her blood. Marysabel married Moises Herrera in 1996 and together they manage their dry mill Xinacla and about 150 hectares of coffee farms. “I am the tradition, and Moises is the passion” Marysabel tells us. Marysabel brings a lot of knowledge to the operation, and Moises is the innovator, always asking why things are the way they are and wondering if it can be improved.
Moises came from Guatemala to work with a Guatemalan exporter in Honduras, as their accountant. He started to buy some lands and plant coffee as an investment, thinking he could sell it when his contract was up and move back to Guatemala. In the meantime, he spent a lot of time in the cupping lab, falling in love with coffee. Marysabel wanted to plant Izote (a plant used at the farm as a fence and to avoid erosion) and was told Moises had some on his farm that he might be willing to sell her. They got talking and Moises told Marysabel he would marry her. Marysabel didn’t take him too seriously at first, after all he was just about to go back to Guatemala. But true to his word he came back and two years later they were married.
“There is no such thing as luck in speciality coffee, only hard work” -Marysabel Caballero
Marysabel’s great grandfather Felipe Garcia started coffee production in Marcala in 1907. He transported his coffee by donkeys and ox carts from Marcala to the nearest port, in El Salvador. Tragically, Felipe died young, just 44 years old. Marysabel’s grandfather, Arsaces Garcia was just nine years old at the time. He married at age 14 and took over the family farm. Marysabel’s mother Sandra Isabel is Arsaces 8th child, and together with her husband Fabio Caballero they bought farmland from Arsaces in 1975. It was on this farm that Marysabel learnt everything about coffee from an early age. When Marysabel married Moises they began planting and cultivating coffee on their first farm, La Maltide, and started the mill Xinacla. Marcala was the first Central American region to gain “protected origin denomination” for coffee.
They have since been extremely successful producing quality coffees and have contributed to the improving reputation of Honduran quality coffees. Everything they do at the farms is documented, and they invest considerable time and resources both in new equipment and planting of new coffee varieties in order to improve the quality of the coffee. After advice from Tim Wendelboe they started using raised African beds with shade to dry their micro lots. After experimenting with a few different types of shade, they settled on a blue plastic (after all, the sky is blue and gives the right amount of light dispersion and heat). They believe drying coffee is one of the most crucial steps. For their larger lots, they dry the newly washed coffee on patios for 6 hours before transferring them to Guardiolas (horizontal dryers) for around 80 hours.
Despite earning early success in Cup Of Excellence, it has not been plain sailing. In 2013 they were hit by a devastating leaf rust attack (known as roya in Spanish), which affected the coffee quality for years. Seeing all your sweat and hard work go to waste due to roya must be absolutely devastating. In 2015, they came in last place in Cup Of Excellence. At that point she decided she had to have a real think about what they could do differently, and how they could get back up on their feet. “The first thing you have to change, is your mind” she tells us. It can’t have been easy but in 2016 she came back not only winning first place but also achieving the highest kilo price ever for Honduras coffee in the auction.
The Caballeros are extremely committed to the environmental sustainability of their farms. A lot of their energy and focus goes towards improving the soil of their farms to ensure a healthy growing environment for their coffee shrubs. At the farms they produce organic fertilizer made from cow and chicken manure mixed with pulp from coffee cherries and other organic material. This is used in addition to some artificial fertilizer to ensure that the coffee plants get the nutrients they need. The soil is analyzed annually to provide proper nourishment to the coffee. All water used for processing is filtered before it is released into nature again.
‘If we destroy the environment, we destroy our way of living” – Moises Herrera
They keep some parts of the farms as forest. Moises has witnessed that deforestation can cause serious issues with water, draughts and erosion. He says if we want to keep being able to have fully washed processed coffee, they need to maintain the biodiversity and forest on the farm.
There is no use of pesticides on the farms as fungus and other coffee diseases are controlled by controlling the amount of shade. They have also started planting trees further apart than what is considered normal, as this reduces the risk for fungus and leaf rust. Traditionally people have believed that the more coffee you plant the more yield you get, but actually when you plant fewer trees, with more room to grow, they get healthier and bigger.
Every year they choose one employee and help them with whatever is needed, like building them a house. In 2014, they donated land to build a school, La Escuela De La Piedrona.
The local pickers that are hired to harvest the coffee get paid more than what is normal in the area because they are required to sort the cherries during picking. Therefore the pickers are equipped with two bags during picking. One bag for ripe coffee cherries, the other is for immature and damaged coffee. The picking is crucial. Marysabel believes that when a cherry is picked, it already has the top quality within it, and everything else they do can only maintain that quality or reduce it. But not add to it. Picking at the right time is therefore of utmost importance.
They’re also unique in that they offer work outside of the main harvest season. They don’t use herbicides, and instead have workers remove weeds by hand. This means they can provide more work, as it can be really difficult for seasonal pickers to find work outside of harvest season.
We have known the Caballeros since 2005 and have been buying coffee from them since 2012. We just received this season’s coffee earlier this week, and we’re thrilled to see it perform so well.