History of the Catracha Project

Catracha Coffee Company was established in 2010, when Mayra Orellana-Powell realized her dream of starting a coffee business that would have an impact in the small community of Santa Elena where she was born and raised. Mayra named her business Catracha Coffee Company because “Catracha” is a nickname for a Honduran woman.

Finding Santa Elena

What a geography teacher dealing in facts says:

The municipality of Santa Elena is located in the department of La Paz, which shares a border with El Salvador in western Honduras.  The municipality has approximately 88 square miles and a population of 14,800. Coffee is grown between 1,500 and 1,800 meters above sea level.

What Jason says:

Holy Shit!  Santa Elena is located in one of the most remote coffee producing regions in Central America.  Accessed by a network of paved and mostly dirt mountain roads, it is a minimum 6-hour drive by bus or 4-wheel-drive vehicle from the Capital City of Tegucigulpa.  The main square of Santa Elena consists of three blocks of basic straw, cement, and wood structures containing one school for young children that ends in 7th grade, a jail, a church, and a few other businesses that sell the most basic of necessities such as toilet paper, tires, and vegetables.

The Catracha Project in Action

The Catracha project is built around the ideals of opportunity, sustainability, and prosperity for small coffee farmers and the entire community of Santa Elena.

The capacity to produce great coffee equals the capacity to earn more income per pound.  This concept may seem simple, but the production of great coffee involves a complex chain of events.  Catracha Coffee offers capacity-building opportunities for farmers to improve upon their coffee production.

There are more than 400 farmers producing coffee in Santa Elena.  Many of these coffee farmers sell their coffee (in cherry) to a middleman, ending the potential earnings associated with specialty coffee premiums.

Catracha Coffee’s goal is to increase the number of capacity-building opportunities until every farmer in Santa Elena has an opportunity to produce great coffee and access the specialty coffee market.  In 2016, 43 farmers sold their coffee in the specialty market through Catracha Coffee.  Since then, the project has doubled in size with 80 plus Producers now under the Catracha umbrella.

Profit sharing is the cornerstone of the Catracha Coffee business model.  Through profit sharing, Catracha ties consumer purchasing power to farmer prosperity.

Each year during the December to February harvest, Catracha purchases coffee from a group of participating Santa Elena farmers.  Catracha pays the farmer a competitive price above the commodity market price.  Then Catracha mills the coffee and selects micro-lots (based on cupping analysis) for export.  In June or July when this coffee is exported and sold in the specialty coffee market, a profit is generated.  This profit is returned directly to each farmer based on his/her proportion of exported coffee.  In 2021, there was over $100,000 in profits re-distributed to the Producers.

Profits are paid directly to farmers only for coffee that is actually exported.  Tying profits to exportability ensures a consistent commitment to quality.  Paying profits separately from the initial purchase of coffee in parchment helps farmers through the thin months.  Catracha pays profits directly to each farmer individually to ensure that each farmer retains the power to decide how best to invest earnings.  This year we will be sending a dollar back to Mario and Santa Elena as a third payment for every first jar and bag of coffee we sell.

Mario Vasquez and Old Soul…A Unique Partnership

Old Soul works directly with a variety of farmers who have a wide range of experience and expertise in producing specialty coffee.  Mario, as a “newer” Specialty Coffee Farmer (he’s been coffee farming for 11 years, but only 6 harvests in Specialty), was on the lower end of the spectrum when it came to knowledge and resources.  This is what has made the last six years working with Mario so special and a truly unique and inspiring opportunity.

When we first spent time with Mario on his farm six years ago, Mario produced almost no exportable quality coffee and mostly sold his cherries to a local Middle Man. Through hard work, farm infrastructure improvement projects (he invested in new raised solar beds with his profits two years ago), and attending best practice seminars provided by Catracha, Mario has increased his exportable coffee this year to 10 bags of 88 pt. plus quality. We have bought every bag of exportable coffee that Mario has produced since he moved into the specialty realm of the industry.  As of now, Mario still works full time as a police officer in the Capitol to support his family.  His dream is to be a full time coffee and cattle farmer, and we plan to help get him there!  In 2022, we decided to implement a 3rd payment program and give back an additional $1 for every bag sold! This has resulted in a 25% increase to Mario’s yearly income.