With a Kick
Mayra Orellana-Powell, 37, grew up cultivating coffee in her small mountain village of Santa Elena in Honduras. She first came to the United States as a student and studied small business, returned to Honduras, where she met and married her husband, Lowell Powell, and then they both came back to the United States. When a tragedy left her niece and nephews orphaned, Orellana-Powell took them in. When she returned to the United States after the many trips back and forth to Honduras, she always had her family’s coffee in her suitcase. Somewhere along the many miles, an idea was born: Why not import this hand-picked, small-farm coffee to the Bay Area? Why not bring the taste of Honduras — single origin, shade-grown, hand-picked — to the American breakfast table and coffee house?
“I know every single farmer,” says Orellana-Powell, who lives in Alameda. Although the business is still on a small scale, it means a lot to the coffee farmers of Santa Elena. These neighbors formerly took their beans to a large processing plant, to be mixed communally and sold in mega-batches to corporations; now they have pride of place and their own names stamped on a burlap sack. Each family’s bean crop has a slightly different flavor profile, a terroir of sorts, that gives Santa Elena coffee its well-deserved distinction, says Orellana-Powell. She dubbed her venture Catracha Coffee Company — catracha is slang for a Honduran woman — and does the roasting in Oakland.
Filmmaker Sarah Gerber of Berkeley met Orellana-Powell last year and accompanied her back to Honduras with coffee buyers from Blue Bottle Coffee, Royal Coffee Inc. and RoastCo, filming the interaction with coffee farmers from Yarasquin (the region in Santa Elena where the Orellanas farm coffee) and American gourmet coffee buyers. The resulting film, The Way Back to Yarasquin, will soon
be making the rounds of film festivals and coffee confabs.
For the farmers in Santa Elena, who’ve never been inside a movie theater in their lives, the honor is great — and the stakes are high, according to Gerber. The film, but more so, the coffee crop, has the potential to change lives. “They have a vested interest in improving the lives of their families,” Gerber says.
Want to taste this rich, robust brew? Orellana-Powell makes it available by the bag or the cup throughout the East Bay. In Alameda, find it at Café Q and Café Jolie. A clip of the film, financed by a Kickstarter campaign, is online (google The Way Back to Yarasquin) and a local screening is planned soon.
To learn more about Catracha Coffee, visit www.catrachacoffee.com.