Words and photos by Zack Burnett
The day after cupping with Cafe Pacas and visiting some of their farms and their dry mill I was able to attend a workshop on the importance of picking ripe coffee given by Juan Alfredo Pacas to coffee growers from all around El Salvador. The workshop involved an informative presentation and a hands-on separation of green, underripe and overripe cherries from perfectly ripe ones. We were also able to cup coffee produced from all green cherries, underripe, overripe and perfectly ripe cherries. The differences in the cups were drastic and highlighted for everyone the importance in ripeness of coffee. The flavors ranged from sour, bitter and astringent in the green cherries to fermented/rotten tasting in the over ripe. The properly ripe coffee was sweet, clear and dynamic. This information wasn't new to anyone but cupping separations like this really drove home the importance of proper picking.
One of the most exciting aspects of the workshop was the exchange of ideas between the growers at the event. These producers who compete in getting their coffee to the best buyers every year were completely open in sharing details on how to produce better coffee and higher yields. The information ranged from organic fertilizer recipes and coffee rust management techniques to holistic agriculture processes such as the importance of planting during the proper lunar cycle. These folks were freely giving out their "secret" methods to help their neighbors produce better coffee. There was a lot of talk about the betterment of El Salvador, as a whole, in the global coffee market. This prospect of a collaborative effort at increasing quality and production ended the meeting and caused everyone to leave hopeful and excited.
After a great visit with the Pacas, I left to meet Roberto and Rodrigo Dumont. The Dumonts are a forth and fifth generation coffee family who's mission is to: "produce and export the highest quality coffee, while maintaining a sustainable relationship with the ecosystem, our community, partners and clients." They grow pure arabica varietals on three farms in El Salvador and have won numerous Cup of Excellence awards for their coffees.
We left San Salvador for the El Borbollon mill just outside Santa Ana first thing in the morning. El Borbollon is recognized as a top mill for quality in El Salvador and they process the Doumont's coffees. Borbollon is a nice facility with the capabilities to process and keep separate small lots of high-quality coffee. They have well-maintained wet processing facilities as well as clean drying patios, a cool and well-ventelated parchment storage warehouse and sophisticated dry milling technology along with hand-sorting lines. There is a cupping lab on-site where we cupped separated lots from two of the Dumont's farms, Finca Malacara B and Las Mercedes.
Roberto and Rodrigo had some outstanding coffees on the table that morning. The coffees, as a whole, were so elegant and sweet, really clean and unique and almost dessert like. I could taste in the cups the skill that went into producing such clear and crisp yet resounding coffees. We were able to purchase a small lot from Finca Malacara B. The coffee is made up of red, orange and yellow bourbon and we found it to be chocolaty with a panela-like sweetness and fruited notes of peach, plum and white grape. Look for it to hit the shelves late this summer.
After cupping, we went into Santa Ana for lunch. Sopa Gallina and Micheladas at Restaurante Rincon Tipico del Sopón (if you find yourself in Santa Ana you don't want to miss this place) fueled us up for the ride to Finca Malacara B.
Malacara B is a lushly forested farm on the side of the Santa Ana volcano. The property was once part of a larger farm called Medellin. Samuel Alvarez Lalinde maintained the farm most recently, until 1995 when he passed it down to his children and it was divided into Malacara A, B and C.
The Dumont's grow red, yellow, orange and pink Bourbon on their farm, Malacara B, that is located around 5,000 feet above sea level. The farm is very organized, well-maintianed and farmed using sustainable practices. We spent a good part of the afternoon walking the land, checking on the shrubs, admiring the views and sampling coffee cherries before heading off to the opposite side of the farm where the farm house and varietal garden is located.
There are over 50 varietals of coffee growing in the Dumont's coffee garden. The garden is an interesting project that allows the Dumont's to see which varietals may be well suited to their land. They process enough of this coffee every year to roast and cup sample batches. Some of the varietals from the garden have produced very positive results and are now being planted on their farm. It's so exciting as a roaster and consumer of great coffees to see this type of experimentation at origin.
The Dumont's are focused on quality and are intent on continuously progressing. Their approach is helping to push speciality coffee forward and we are happy to partner with them in bringing you some really beautiful coffee.
The next morning I boarded a bus to Guatemala City. The trip out of El Salvador was smooth and it provided a chance to reflect on the time spent there. Some great coffees were scored and so much warmth, generosity and passion was shared with me during the visit. We really hope to bring some of this spirit to you through our Salvadoran offerings this year. Drink it in!
Check back soon for more reports from our Central American sourcing trips.