From a young age, Edwin Martinez understood what it took to be successful in coffee. Growing up as a child in Guatemala, his grandparents farmed coffee in the Huehuetenango region, and then passed the farm down to his parents. Nowadays, Martinez lives in Bellingham, Washington, near the Canadian border—far from Guatemala, but maintaining close links to Huehuetenango. He’s the CEO of ONYX Coffee, an importing company, as well as Coffee Blossom Honey.
“There are many coffee farmers that we know who would have long ago abandoned their land if it weren’t for the diversification of honey production in addition to their ongoing production of coffee,” Martinez tells me. “Coffee Blossom Honey has literally been a lifesaver for many of these farmers,” he says.
The third-generation farmer remembers growing up visiting his grandparents’ farm, which allowed him to see firsthand the agricultural challenges faced by coffee farmers. Though he moved to the United States for college, attending Western Washington University in Bellingham, he never strayed far from coffee, first opening an espresso cart and later a cafe. “This opened my eyes to the business end of coffee,” says Martinez.
Soon he would combine his farming background and business knowledge. While running his cafe, Martinez began to work with humanitarian groups traveling from Bellingham to Guatemala. Martinez and his traveling companions would each bring back a suitcase of green coffee from his family farm, Finca Vista Hermosa, and thus Martinez’s importing journey began.
But through the growth of ONYX as a green importer, Martinez began to see an opportunity for even greater ways in which he could help Guatemalan farmers. It was then that Coffee Blossom Honey was born.
Guatemala is not just a great coffee-growing region, but also one that is ideal for producing honey, Martinez says. “Growing up in Guatemala, many of the farms had apiaries on them. I remember getting the chance on a number of occasions to sample the incredible honey that came from them.” He knew firsthand the potential this honey held.
Martinez believes Coffee Blossom Honey allows a better future for coffee farmers. There is great risk associated with coffee farming, and the challenges that can be faced by farmers could mean—if there’s a bad year—that their income would be significantly impacted. By also producing honey, there is a much greater likelihood of a consistent return.
Many farms in Guatemala already distribute their coffee through the ONYX network, so Martinez’s sister company allows farmers to sell their honey directly through the same supply chain, and to people they already have strong relationships with. Coffee Blossom partners with well-known farms such as the award-winning Finca El Injerto and Finca El Apiario (get it?), where it was after sampling the honey from farm owner Jorge Mendez that the ONYX team knew this was an endeavor worth pursuing.
Producing honey on coffee farms can produce an overall benefit to the coffee plants themselves. Farmers tend to see an overall improvement in the health of their coffee plants with the increase in bees on the site. Plus, while this helps the coffee plants to thrive, it doesn’t create a lot of extra work for farmers when it comes to honey production… the bees do most of it!
“It’s a relatively inexpensive endeavor where the only real cost comes with the harvesting of the raw honey.” Martinez shared. Again, this creates greater opportunity for economic diversity and ensures financial stability for famers. Martinez says, “Simply put, what this has done for Guatemalan farmers is it essentially gives them a much better life,” says Martinez. “What more can we ask for?”
Back in the US, the time has been right for educating customers about high quality honey. “Coffee Blossom Honey is a premium product. For many, what they are used to when they consume store-bought honey is a lesser-quality product that is often diluted and muddled in flavor. It lacks much of the original complexities that can found in honey,” says Martinez. Coffee Blossom Honey has a delicate taste, with floral notes and significantly greater crispness and clarity. You can taste these nuances (much like you can with coffee grown in the various regions of Guatemala). The health of the bees also plays a huge part in the overall quality of the final product. Happy bees = great honey, and in the bigger picture, happier, healthier coffee farms and farmers to boot. Pretty sweet.
Tyler Hagan is the creator of Calgary-based coffee blog Commonly Coffee. Read More Tyler Hagan for Sprudge.
Photos courtesy Edwin Martinez.