Last month I was fortunate enough to visit El Salvador, starting in sunny San Salvador before heading to the Apaneca coffee growing region. The trip, funded by the Censejo del Café (the El Salvadorian Coffee Council in Santa Telca) and Algrano (a Swiss startup innovating trade), aimed to support grower-roaster direct partnerships and the exchanging of ideas in a fast-moving global speciality coffee market.
As well as making direct connections with producers, it was also a great opportunity to exchange ideas and learnings with roasters from around the UK and other countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Norway and Russia.
The Coffee Industry in El Salvador
El Salvador is the smallest of the Central American nations, but is big in terms of quality, as it produces exceptional coffees to a consistently high standard. Coffee is one of the biggest industries in El Salvador and for good reason - the climate, soil and altitude is perfectly suited to producing speciality coffee with farms typically found between 1,000 and 2,365 metres above sea level. And before coffee? Well tobacco, corn, anil and other crops were temporarily cultivated before coffee was introduced in the late 1700’s.
If you’ve been on one of our coffee experiences, you will have heard us talk a lot about harvesting, as this really showcases the level of work that goes into producing a cup of coffee. We visited El Salvador during the harvest season, with coffee branches on the lower farms already bare but plenty of opportunity to see luscious red cherries up high. Each cherry, picked by hand, typically contains two coffee beans (or one in some cases when there is an anomaly known as a Peaberry). To put that in perspective, a typical espresso uses approximately 100 beans, so you’d need to harvest around 50 cherries to make one cup of coffee! On top of that, you need to be careful not to pick any green cherries (under-ripe), and if you do, they must be collected and sorted after, otherwise they rot and become attractive to unwanted pests and diseases.
Coffee Varieties in El Salvador
Pacas and Bourbon were the two typical El Salvadoran coffee varietals we came across, although we also learnt about a new “Bernardina” varietal with a genetic makeup closer to the highly acclaimed Geisha (if you haven’t heard of this then look it up!). Something for the future perhaps?
Quality and Traceability
Visiting leading speciality producer Café Pacas and their mill provided further evidence of both quality and traceability. After processing, coffee parchment (the green bean with a nutrient rich protective skin) is carefully turned, dried and marked with lots of details to ensure full traceability back to the plot.
During our visit we also tasted a lot of coffee. 326 different coffees in five days to be exact! Coffee cupping is the final quality process, where the coffee is given a speciality score and it’s unique flavour profiles are identified. It ultimately plays a key part in helping us decide which coffees to buy. There were some exceptional coffees on the table and Elizabeth and I are still we’re still working our way through our own quality analysis and decision making processes to determine which ones will make the grade.
Back here at our roastery, we cup most days and host regular cupping sessions with our wholesale partners, office coffee clubs and during our coffee experiences. Please get in touch if you’d like to taste any of our existing range or potential new coffees, perhaps including a few El Salvadoran samples!