Marysabel Caballero, Finca El PuenteSince entering her coffee into a national coffee competition in 2003, Marysabel Caballero has become a leader and renowned figure in the Honduran coffee industry by producing some of the most delicious, unique coffee in the world. Director of Coffee Peter Giuliano immediately fell in love with the dark-fruit nuance and silky body of coffee from her family’s Finca El Puente, nicknaming it “The Purple Princess” because “its perfume and silkiness seem feminine and regal, and the aromas and flavors of the cup—lavender, plum, grape, incense—all seem purple.” We have been lucky to partner with the Marysabel and her family since that first competition, and Peter, along with Sustainability & Producer Relations Manager Kim Bullock, visited them on the farm in Marcala in April of 2007. We’re especially thrilled that the Caballero family will be in Asheville, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Atlanta to visit ust, as they are not only exemplary coffee producers but also passionate coffee educators and great friends of ours!
Q: How did you start producing coffee?
After studying in Tegucigalpa and receiving my degree, I returned to Marcala with the idea of helping my family manage our farms. At that point I met Ezri Moisés Herrera, my husband, who is originally from Guatemala and has a background in coffee. We got married and embarked on the adventure of growing coffee in an area which, in those times, was not considered cultivatable for coffee. My husband had complete confidence in the conditions of that area, as much in the soil as the climate, and thus we began, as a couple, to plant coffee there.
Marcala, in the southwestern region of La Paz, is one of the oldest coffee-growing regions of Honduras. The story goes that my great-grandfather Felipe García was one of the first people to export coffee from Honduras to Germany, via El Salvador.
Q: Where were you born?
I was born in Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, on November 29th, 1970. When I was 8 years old, my parents decided to move back to Marcala, my mother’s hometown, because my father’s banking job transferred him to a branch there.
Q: Do you have children?
I have two boys: Ezri Moisés Herrera Caballero and Fabio Moisés Herrera Caballero.
Q: Tell us a little bit about your coffee.
We (my husband and I) consider that the coffee that we produce is one of the best of Honduras. To get this level of quality we have to work very hard in each and every stage of coffee cultivation, from selecting seeds to preparing bags for export. One of the things we love most about growing coffee is that each day is different. Only when get word that Counter Culture has approved samples of our coffee do we sigh with relief and happiness because we know that the work and the care that we put in throughout the year has been worth it. The most important thing for us is to satisfy the buyers of our coffee.
Q: Who is a hero of yours?
My father is a very noble, good person who wouldn’t know the meaning of resentment or cruelty. He works hard, he has an encyclopedia’s worth of knowledge about coffee and he perseveres through problems. When faced with a problem he never falters but always says that the even when bad things happen, we have to look for the positive and keep going. He has been an important pillar of strength in my life.
Q: What is a regional food specialty of Marcala?
Although we have a few distinctive dishes, one of my favorites is made with a variety of wild mushrooms called choros, which you can only find at the beginning of winter and which grow under pine and oak trees. We steam the mushrooms with butter, onion, green chile, garlic, and salt and pepper. The garlic is crucial because if it turns black, it indicates that there is a poisonous mushroom in the pan. These mushrooms, like coffee, are God’s gift to our region!
Q: What are you most proud of about your coffee?
As I said before, the most satisfying thing for us is when our buyers appreciate our coffee, but I’m also very proud that in all of the competitions in which we have participated, our coffee has always been selected as one of the best!
Q: The life of a coffee producer requires a lot of work. What do you do to relax with your free time?
I often study with my children (because I want to make studying a habit for them) and I take them out for ice cream. Likewise, I talk to my husband and my parents over a cup of coffee at their house.
Q: What is the most beautiful place you have ever been?
When we go to Guatemala to visit Moisés’ family, we stop in Copan Ruinas, a small town in the west of Honduras with cobblestone streets that you could walk completely in an hour. The town has various attractions for visitors, but the most impressive thing about this town is the Mayan ruins— relics of a civilization which continues to surprise us as we learn more about them. A few years ago they discovered an entire temple, called Rosa Lila, buried beneath the ruins, and today you can visit sections of it. The colors in the temple are so bright that it could have been built yesterday and they say that it’s the best-preserved edifice in the Mayan world.
Q: We know that you’re working on a “coffee zoo” with different species of plant. How is it going so far?
A while ago, I had the idea of making a small garden with different varieties of coffee and I started it last year with 60 seeds of each of the six principal varieties of coffee: red catuaí (which is what we have the most of on our farms), yellow catuaí, tequisic (a Bourbon selection), pacas, Ihcafe 90 (a variety that the Honduran Coffee Institute released in the 1990s) and lempira (another new hybrid). I now have five more varieties to plant at the end of this year, among them: maragojipe, pacamara, gesha, bourbon, and pache. I hope that I can expand it every year!
I decided to do this so that visitors can see the differences between varieties and observe how they adapt to the climate of our farms. I hope that we can taste the differences and see how the coffee changes in the microclimate here. I hope that one day you can all visit me and see this project!