Monday, July 12, 2004

Honduras coffees going to highest bidder

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (Reuters) -- Honduras will join other major coffee producers in Latin America next week when it holds its first-ever Internet auction of specialty coffees in an effort to lay out its wares before international buyers.

The auction, to be held on July 13, will see the sale of some 700 kilos (1,543 pounds) of arabica coffees from 21 farms in Honduras.

Honduras enters into the auction after holding its first "Cup of Excellence" cupping, where coffee connoisseurs from around the world selected the nation's top coffees for auction.

Cuppings and subsequent auctions have been held in countries from Brazil to Guatemala and are meant to differentiate the beans from the generic arabicas sold on the commodity exchange in New York.

"This electronic auction is our first experience (in this); and as well as selling our coffee, we are hoping to improve the image of our coffee on the global market," event organizer Carlos Solorzano, from the Honduran Coffee Institute (IHCAFE), told Reuters.

Honduras, the second biggest exporter of coffee in Central America after Guatemala, is going after the specialty market in an effort to distance its better coffees from price categories in New York, where it sells at a discount.

"We are hoping in this auction to receive between $9 per pound and $14 per pound," said Solorzano.

A high-altitude arabica coffee sold for $21 a pound at Panama's Internet auction late last month, a sum growers said was a Latin American record.

It was nearly 30 times the 71.85 cent per pound September contract price for prices for generic beans in New York on Thursday.

Altitude-grown coffees as a general rule are considered better than those cultivated closer to sea-level.

Coffee officials at IHCAFE say 25 to 30 percent of Honduran coffees are grown at altitudes above 1,200 meters (3,937 feet), 60 to 65 percent are grown between 900 meters and 1,200 meters and the remainder are grown at altitudes below 900 meters.

Coffees to be sold at Honduras' coffee auction next week are grown above 1,200 meters and come from nine of the nation's 15 coffee growing regions.

"Honduras has good coffee, but that is affected by the fact that there are thousands of growers and hundreds of coyotes (middlemen buyers) who mix the different altitudes and qualities together," said Juan Jose Osorto, president of the Association of Specialty Coffee Producers.

Copyright 2004 Reuters.