THE STORY BEHIND DON PANCHO
Jose Francisco Portillo, known as “Don Pancho” in his community, began planting coffee trees over forty years ago on his family’s land in Santa Bárbara overlooking Lake Yojoa (the largest natural lake in Honduras). His son, Roberto, grew up playing along the hillsides and learning about coffee from his father, and for decades they picked, processed, and sold their coffee to local mills that would simply blend multiple lots and sell in bulk to the mass market.
Today, Santa Bárbara is emerging as a hotspot for specialty coffee production alongside the venerable Capucas, the most popular and established coffee-growing region in Honduras (and the home of our Capucas, Los Liros, and Plantanares offerings). This is largely due to Angel Arturo Paz, his brother Benjamin, and their team at the San Vicente mill in Peña Blanca. They have worked tirelessly within the region, visiting farms and introducing the value of specialty coffee to farmers who can be resistant when it comes to abandoning years of tradition for what is essentially a leap of faith. They assist the farmers with each step of bringing their operations up to standard, from fertilizing to picking to drying. It is intensive, exhausting work, but the Paz brothers can see enormous potential for their region, and they are enthusiastic ambassadors for the incredible quality that’s becoming the norm for Santa Bárbara coffees.
When Arturo was visiting Roberto’s farm he noticed the 40-year-old Bourbon trees and encouraged him to pick and process that Bourbon cherry separate from the Lempira. And when Irving Farm’s Green Coffee Buyer, Dan Streetman, tasted the first samples he knew it was something special. He asked Roberto what we should call it (producers in this region hadn’t been in the habit of naming their farms) and Roberto requested that we name it after his father, Don Pancho, who in planting these trees had unknowingly paved the way for a future in specialty coffee production.
We purchased Roberto’s harvest in 2012 and 2013, but in 2014 the farm was devastated by the dreaded coffee leaf rust, known as La Roya. By the time Dan was able to visit and see the extent of the damage, Roberto had already decided to raze the Bourbon and replant from scratch, a process that could take a few years before the new trees would even produce viable fruit. Roberto was incredibly disappointed, but Dan promised that he would be the first in line to buy any future harvest. After discussing the various options, Dan and Benjamin recommended that Roberto hold off on destroying his father’s Bourbon for just one more season. There was the tiniest chance that the trees might survive, and they felt that it could be worth a shot.
Against all odds, the Bourbon not only survived, but it produced an exceptional (albeit small) crop in 2015. This year, it produced another small crop with a marked increase in the already-excellent quality. Both years, Irving Farm purchased the entire lots. Roberto dedicated daily attention to the trees and was steadfast in fighting the rust, so it could be the result of patience and persistence, or it could be proof that miracles do exist.
When we began our relationship with Roberto, he became interested in growing more specialty coffee, and three years ago he planted another variety called Pacas. A dwarf mutation of Bourbon, Pacas is very adapted to the higher elevation and colder temperatures of the Santa Bárbara region of Honduras. This year, the Pacas trees have produced their first harvest, and the results are truly remarkable.
We are relieved and overjoyed for Roberto, and thrilled that you have the opportunity to taste these brews. Both varieties of Don Pancho are coffees that are close to our hearts, and their dynamic journey is evident in the depth of their richly layered flavors.