In Honduras, Growing Coffee is a Family Affair

The ESCOBCAFE school teaches the sons and daughters of coffee growers how to become coffee cuppers, a step up in an important industry.

 

Sandra Yessenia Cruz, a student in the ESCOBCAFE cupping school, stands with her father, Francisco Ivan Cruz.

It’s not easy to balance raising a family with running a successful coffee farm. Sandra Yessenia Cruz, a 22-year-old single mother of two, has firsthand experience with both. She lives with her parents on their small coffee farm in the Santa Bárbara department of western Honduras. Ever since Sandra was a child, coffee has been a huge part of her life. She watched her father, Francisco Ivan Cruz, painstakingly tend to the family coffee trees, day after day, year after year. Even as they struggled to control outbreaks of coffee leaf rust, they never considered a life without coffee. 

However, it wasn’t until Sandra became a coffee cupper – a professional coffee taster – that she really understood everything that goes into creating the perfect cup of coffee. “What strikes me the most is that you think it’s just harvesting the coffee, but you can’t begin to imagine what else is involved,” she says. “I love being a part of this whole process – from the farm to the cup.” 

My goal is to always keep learning about coffee and to cultivate the land my dad gave me.”
– Sandra Yessenia Cruz, ESCOBCAFE student

Coffee cuppers like Sandra test, analyze, and rate coffee quality. In Honduras, there are few coffee cuppers, which can make quality control difficult in the value chain. In addition, of the few professional tasters in the country, 95% are male. Recognizing coffee cupping as an opportunity to improve economic opportunities for women in Honduras, TechnoServe and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) developed ESCOBCAFE, a school to train the sons and daughters of coffee farmers in coffee cupping. At the beginning, the school offered space for 30 participants, of whom 80% were female. Recently, 79 young people have participated in the program, 38 of whom were women. ESCOBCAFE was developed as part of the Mejoramiento Agrícola Sostenible (MAS) program, which aims to improve the livelihoods of coffee and bean farmers in Honduras.

Sandra participates in a cupping at ESCOBCAFE.

The knowledge the students receive from the school is critical in helping their coffee-farming families earn more money, ensuring the success of their farms for generations to come. Through improved quality control, coffee producers are able to sell directly to the exporter, which can increase income by 30 to 40%. In addition, coffee exporters often hire students as full-time coffee cuppers, which can be a huge income boost for families.

You think it’s just harvesting the coffee, but you can’t begin to imagine what else is involved. I love being a part of this whole process…”
– Sandra Yessenia Cruz, ESCOBCAFE student

For Sandra, attending the cupping school has opened the door to new opportunities she couldn’t have imagined before. Her father, who has grown coffee for the majority of his life, recently gave her a plot of land on the family coffee farm. “I have always supported my daughter and will continue to do so,” Francisco says, pride evident in his voice. 

Students at the ESCOBCAFE coffee cupping school in Honduras.

Equipped with the technical knowledge necessary to produce and recognize high-quality coffee, Sandra’s future is bright. Once Sandra graduates from ESCOBCAFE, she will be prepared to find a job in Honduras’ growing coffee industry. Her teacher, Helmer Cortés, has been particularly impressed by her drive and work ethic. “Sandra is an excellent student and I know she is committed to continually learning and growing,” he says. 

Sandra herself now has a completely different vision of her future. “My goal is to always keep learning about coffee and to cultivate the land my dad gave me,” she explains. “I would love to find a place to work where every day you can taste coffee and keep learning.”

Learn more about TechnoServe’s coffee work.