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Trip Report: El Salvador Part 2

Zack Burnett

Patios.  Beneficio El Borbollon, Santa Ana El Salvador

Patios.  Beneficio El Borbollon, Santa Ana El Salvador

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.  

Cherry Separation.

Cherry Separation.

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.    

Workshop.

Workshop.

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.

Road to Malacara B.

Road to Malacara B.

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.

Hanging out with Renee, El Borbollon patio manager.

Hanging out with Renee, El Borbollon patio manager.

Hand sorting green coffee.  El Borbollon.

Hand sorting green coffee.  El Borbollon.

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.

El Borbollon cupping lab.

El Borbollon cupping lab.

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

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.

Finca Malacara B.

Finca Malacara B.

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.  

Polysperma varietal.  8-12 seeds per cherry. 

Polysperma varietal.  8-12 seeds per cherry. 

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.

Alejandro Flores, agronomist and Inocente "Chente" Lemus, Malacara B farm manager.

Alejandro Flores, agronomist and Inocente "Chente" Lemus, Malacara B farm manager.

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!

Finca Malacara B.

Finca Malacara B.

Check back soon for more reports from our Central American sourcing trips.

 

  

 

 

  


  



        

          

Trip Report: El Salvador Part 1

Zack Burnett

Words and photos by Zack Burnett

It's been a few months since our trip to El Salvador.  Our coffees are landing in the states and you are seeing and will continue to see them released over the next couple of months.  This was our first year working in El Salvador and we were able to find a number of exciting lots from a few different producers.  We are thrilled to share with you what we have found.  

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El Salvador is the smallest country in Central America and the only one without a Caribbean coast.  There is a small coastal plain and two parallel mountain ranges bisecting the country creating a central plateau.  The central highlands make up 85 percent of the land area of El Salvador.  The proximity to the Pacific coast, volcanic soils and various mountain regions of the country make for great diversity in a prime coffee growing region.  The small size of the country allowed me to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time.  

Upon arrival to the Monseñor Óscar Arnulfo Romero airport, I was met by Luis Rodríguez of Stricta Altura.  Luis and Stricta Altura represent six small farms owned by his mother-in-law Gloria, who is in the fourth generation of a five generation coffee family. 

Luis and I drove an hour or so through the friday rush hour traffic on the outskirts of San Salvador passing busses, trucks and loads of motorcycles, to the Consejo Salvadoreño del Café (the Salvadoran Coffee Advisory) in Santa Tecla.  

The Consejo is basically an institution to support coffee producers in El Salvador.  Their mission is to guide El Salvador into being a competitive country in the global coffee industry while ensuring the sustainability of the national coffee sector.  They provide technical support to producers, processors and exporters as well as guidance on the sale and exportation of coffee.  Luis is connected with the Consejo and uses their quality control lab for sample roasting and cupping.  We cupped a number of coffees from various farms that Luis represents and I was excited to see some very nice offerings.        

After cupping, we headed to the small town of Apaneca arriving just after dark.  We met with Luis' mother-in-law, Gloria, who was extremely hospitable in allowing us to stay in their family home and have a dinner of pupusas de loroco, sliced green mango and Pilsener beer.  The nights are beautiful and cool in Apaneca, dropping into the 50's and like many small towns in Central America all the town's dogs seem to be nocturnal, barking all night.  

The morning revealed crisp air and blue skies and shortly after dawn we headed to visit the farms where the harvest was underway and pickers worked the trees.  

Sustainable agriculture is practiced on all of Gloria's farms.  Their practices include shade growing, composting, bio-diversity and also an old method of coffee management that is rare in other producing countries but used fairly commonly in El Salvador called agobiado.  Agobiado is an alternative to pruning and is used to increase the production of a single coffee plant.  Basically the limbs of the coffee shrub are bent at strategic areas and pinned down.  This will cause new growth on coffee branches and it allows for a more efficient use of soil amendments on coffee farms that use this practice.  More growth per tree allows for less fertilizer for the entire plantation.  And it seems to be working great.  The shrubs were loaded with cherries, all looked very happy and healthy and the coffees we cupped the previous day were proof that their methods are sound.  

There are many varietals of coffee being grown on the farms that Luis manages.  Caturra, Catuai, Typica, Pacas, Maragogype, Pacamara, Bourbon and also a few varietals that are not found anywhere other than on Gloria's farms.  

Heirloom varieties of pure arabica coffee are grown throughout El Salvador.  The Bourbon varietal being most commonly found of these cultivars.  When grown on quality focused farms the Bourbon varietal is known for its rich, sweetness and subtle complexities.  Skilled pickers harvest the coffee in El Salvador at the absolute peak of ripeness.  Picking ripe is an extremely important step and one that is emphasized at every origin but the emphasis put on proper sorting and ripeness in El Salvador was impressive to say the least.  Cherries are processed not just ripe, but perfectly ripe.  The supreme sweetness found in an exemplary Salvadoran coffee can be tied directly to this important detail.    

We were able to purchase a small lot, Finca San Jose, from Luis this year.  The coffee scored high with notes of cocoa, vanilla, almond butter and tamarind with some floral tones.  Look for it to hit the shelves by late summer.

After my time with Luis, I returned to San Salvador to meet with Maria Pacas of Café Pacas.

You have hopefully had the chance to try our first Salvadoran lot of the year.  Finca El Retiro.  This sweet and elegant coffee is brought to us by Café Pacas.  Pacas is a familiar name to many in the coffee industry.  They are well known in El Salvador and throughout the world as being progressive producers of high-quality, sought-after coffee.  The Pacas family has been producing coffee in El Salvador for 3 generations and owns and manages 11 farms mostly on and around the Santa Ana volcano.  

Their farms are inspiring examples of sustainable agriculture.  Shade growing, hands-on crop management, composting and bio-diversity are all keys to their success in managing healthy, productive farms.     

They pick ripe coffee, have very low tolerance in their sorting practices, process meticulously, experiment tirelessly and maintain overwhelmingly detailed records of data.  All of this care and attention to detail results in beautiful coffee and continued innovation.  We are excited to work with Café Pacas for the first time this year and absolutely can't wait to see this relationship grow in the future.  Find their Finca El Retiro here and look out for Finca San Joaquin, another Café Pacas coffee, to hit the shelves later this summer. 

El Salvador Part 2 coming soon!

Excellent New Coffees!

Zack Burnett

Our newest releases are a Costa Rica El Alto Red Honey Process and an Ethiopia Borana Bule Hora.

This El Alto is a very fruit forward cup due to the red honey process that is described here, especially once it cools.  It is also terrific as a s.o. espresso.  Syrupy, mixed-berry jam, sweet.

Carlos Monge, the man who grew the El Alto is the father of Juan Monge, the guy who grew our La Escalera lot you may remember from a couple of months ago.  The Monge family has been growing coffee for over 6 decades in the Tarrazú region of Costa Rica.

This coffee is unusual for us since we usually only buy washed coffees, aside from Brazils where they do not use the washed method.  We tend to shy away from natural and honey processed coffees because usually these processing methods produce coffees that lack complexity and acidity.  Very few natural and honey coffees are processed in such a meticulous manner to allow for preservation of acidity and complexity.  We believe El Alto to be one of the special few.  In this coffee, you will find a winey acidity once the cup cools and more complexity than the usual monotoned earthiness and straight fruit of a honey processed coffee. Carlos Monge and the ASOPROAAA mill where this coffee was processed did a great job in producing this coffee.

We also just recently purchased two outstanding Ethiopian coffees. The first lot, Ethiopia Borana Bule Hora is just being released this week on line and in both or our retail shops. 


This is a washed, heirloom coffee. Ethiopian coffee's are almost always labeled as heirloom varietal. There is not really varietal distinction because coffee is native to Ethiopia and these coffees have naturally mutated over time to fit their environments. They are variations on the Typica varietal.  

Coffee grows pretty wildly in Ethiopia. Ethiopian coffees are never segregated by varietal, they are all just heirloom Ethiopian coffees.

The Bule Hora is grown very high, up to 7,200 feet, in the Sidamo region of Ethiopia. This elevation produces a very dense coffee and results in nice complexity and brightness in the cup.

We cupped a load of Ethiopians before deciding on these two lots. They are both excellent and we can't wait for you to try them.  

The second lot, Borana Gelana Abeya, will be released in the coming weeks as well as our last Costa Rica Micro lot or the year.  Keep an eye out for 'em!