Growing up as a child in Guatemala, Edwin Martinez has always understood what it took to be successful in coffee. It was his Grandparents who first began coffee farming in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala many years ago, and who then passed on the farm to his parents.
Edwin now serves as the CEO of Onyx Coffee / Coffee Blossom Honey, a company based out of Bellingham, Washington. And while you have likely experienced some of the coffees he and his team have imported from Guatemala, its this newer initiative called Coffee Blossom Honey that I am excited to share a bit more about.
I had the opportunity to video chat with Edwin recently and it was an incredible opportunity. Edwin has such a clear passion for his homeland of Guatemala, and also for the many coffee farms spread across the country.
Having had the chance months ago to try Coffee Blossom Honey, and to have experienced how incredible and unique this product is, I knew I wanted to share the story with you.
[CC] So Edwin, so great to get the chance to connect with you. Tell our audience a little bit more about yourself.
[EM] Thanks Tyler. Well I grew up in Guatemala, and for much of my childhood I have fond memories of holidays spent on the coffee farm in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala. It is situated in the western-highlands and shares borders with the Mexican state of Chiapas in the north and west. Before this farm became my parent’s it belonged to my Grand-Parents and so I have many great memories over many great years of this place.
My childhood on the farm was a great opportunity to learn about coffee. I remember planting seeds on the farm and through seeing them grow into coffee plants, I can recall gaining a greater appreciation for the challenges and risks associated with agriculture–especially with coffee.
I moved to the USA to attend Western Washington University here in Bellingham, and have called this city home now for 26 years. My journey in coffee here in the US began with an espresso cart I opened and which really opened my eyes to the business end of coffee.
I ended up working a few jobs in business, banking etc, but just didn’t feel like any of them were the right “fit”. So I began working for a company that sold smaller coffee roasters. From there I opened up a cafe called “Cafe Hue Hue” and roasted coffee to order Maybe it wasn’t the best choice of name since most people didn’t know how to pronounce it, or even thought it was some Vietnamese Restaurant!
What I was able to begin doing through while running the cafe, was work with some humanitarian groups who would travel from Bellingham to Guatemala. I would help lead these groups, and have each of them be required to bring a suitcase full of green coffee back with them! This was how I began to really grow my roasting operation for the cafe!
I remember sending out samples of my coffee to so many different roasters trying to grow my business and create a greater awareness of the incredible coffees from my homeland. I remember sending samples to George Howell and having him say “this is one of the best Guatemalan coffee’s I’ve ever had.”
Through all these trips, and through my growing network of farms in the Huehuetenango region I began to see significant connections and relationships develop. Fast forward a few more years and through the growth of Onyx Coffee as an importer of Guatemalan coffees I began to see the opportunity for even greater ways in which we could see success come to this country and its coffee program. It was at this point that Coffee Blossom Honey was born.
[CC] Wow, that is such an incredible story. I noticed while looking at your various honeys that they all originate from Guatemala. Can you share more about why you chose this country, or what is unique about this region for not only great coffee production, but also honey production?
[EM] Well it’s not so much that I chose the country, rather it chose me! Growing up in Guatemala, I remember visiting neighbouring farms where they had apiaries on them, and getting the chance to sample their fresh honey! Now, years later, it again just makes sense that we partner with these farmers to help them to offer an excellent and unique product in addition to the fantastic coffee they are producing.
What else this product allows is 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 is a bad year–that their income would be significantly decreased. By producing honey as well, there is a much greater likelihood of an anticipated & consistent return.
With many of these farms in Guatemala already selling their coffee through our system, this allows them to sell their honey through the same supply chain, and with the same people they already have strong relationships with. It truly is an efficient model and one we are very proud of.
[CC] Can you share more about the correlation that you have seen from the Guatemalan farmers who have implemented apiaries into their coffee operations. How has this impacted not only their coffee production but also how has this affected their revenue stream?
[EM] Well much like I mentioned in the previous section, what this has done for Guatemalan farmers is essentially it gives them a much better life! And what more can we ask?
What is great about honey production on coffee farms is that farmers see an overall improvement in the health of their coffee plants as a result of the introduction of bees on the site. While this helps the coffee plants to thrive, really there isn’t a great deal of extra work that our farmers need to do when it comes to honey production…the bees do most of the work! It’s a very low-cost endeavour and the only real cost comes with the harvesting of the raw honey. Again this creates greater opportunity for economic diversity and ensures financial stability.
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. Coffee Blossom Honey has literally been a life-saver for many of these farmers.
[CC] For those who have never tried Coffee Blossom Honey, how would you describe its taste when compared to more conventional store-bought honey? What are the farms/regions in Guatemala that you currently work with?
[EM] For many, what they are used to when they consume store-bought honey is a cheaper/lesser-quality product that often times has been diluted and is muddled in flavour-lacking much of the original complexities that are actually found in honey!
Coffee Blossom Honey has a delicate taste, with floral notes and significantly greater crispness and clarity. You can taste the nuances (from the blossoms) much like you can taste the nuances in coffee grown in the various regions. The health of the bees also plays a huge part in the overall quality of the final product. Happy bees = Great honey!
The flavour of Coffee Blossom Honeys will even differ from farm to farm. We have a variety of different farms represented on our website and would welcome people to try a few to see (and taste) the differences. I find that our honey is so unique that really it can be enjoyed “straight” without needing to be added to anything, or used as a topping! It really is delicious by itself.
[CC] Share with our audience what you hope to see for the future of Coffee Blossom Honey.
[EM] At this time our hope for Coffee Blossom Honey is to continue to see growth on a scale that is healthy for both our team here in Bellingham, and also for our farms/farmers in Guatemala. While some have asked us if we have plans to introduce honey from other coffee-producing countries, we know that there is still much work to be done in Guatemala, and still great honey to be produced. Our mission is always relationship-based so we want to continue to grow our existing relationships, while making new ones too.
We are excited for the future of Coffee Blossom Honey, and know that many others (like yourself & your audience) are too.
[CC] How has COVID-19 impacted you as a company and also the farmers you are partnered with? What can we as consumers do to help see them emerge successfully from this?
[EM] We are thankful that COVID-19 has not had a detrimental impact on our US-team nor on our Guatemalan farms/farmers. We certainly made cut-backs where it was absolutely necessary but we were able to support our farmers to move their products throughout this ordeal. We ensured that our farmers were well taken care of, and communicated proactively with our partners to help them however possible. We believe that our strongest relationships come through times of pain, and through coming out the other end stronger than when we first started We have learned a lot though this, and will continue to learn going forward
[CC] Any final thoughts for our readers?
[EM] My desire when it comes to Coffee Blossom Honey and what fuels my desire for ONYX Coffee is to continue to connect with other like-minded people who share this passion. ONYX works with over 500+ roasters and we truly believe that each one is a friend. I want to continue to share my story, take risks, and help to raise up new leaders who can carry this vision forward. Everything we do depends on our relationships, depends on the trust we have in others and with others.
I also want to say thank you to Commonly Coffee for taking the time to help share our story! We love when others are as passionate about our products as we are. We are so glad you have enjoyed our honey and hope that your readers will enjoy it as well.
HOW TO FIND COFFEE BLOSSOM HONEY
You can find Coffee Blossom Honey at a number of coffee shops across North America. And you can always find their honey through their web-store.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ONYX COFFEE