EL SALVADOR 2015 – Our first ‘Direct Trade’ partnership
I’ve just returned from a week-long trip to El Salvador where myself and a roaster friend from London spent the week traveling around meeting growers, millers and exporters in an attempt to secure our very first direct trade partnership primarily for our ‘E1 Single Origin’ Project.
Many of you will know this espresso has been a key offer in our lineup since we began roasting and with the exception of the current offer (from Huehuetenango in Guatemala) we have always looked to fill this slot with coffees from El Salvador primarily for the cup profile, quality of production & processing, variety and price.
El Salvador is steeped in coffee-growing history where up until fairly recently, coffee production accounted for nearly 50% of the country’s produce & export.
Based out of the capital, San Salvador my friend and I travelled to the famed Santa Ana region in the west as well as a very small but beautiful farm in the slightly lesser known Tecapa-Chinameca Mountain range to the east.
It was there that we began our search meeting the infamous Gilberto Baraona – owner of the stunning Los Pirineos farm located on the sides of a volcano overlooking the town of Berlin.
Here we witnessed perhaps not where the El Salvador specialty coffee market is today, but rather where it’s headed in the future. Gilberto is known the world over for his experimental varietals, his range of processing methods and his immaculate farm and mill.
With over 75 varietals in experimentation (5 main varietals in full production), the scale of the operation at Los Pirineos was as much laboratory as it was farm.
Gilberto kindly invited us into his home to cup through everything from this year’s harvest and these coffees were some of the best coffees both of us have tasted all year – from any country.
Bourbon & Pacamara dominated the table – but it was the complexity of the varying honey and natural processes that won us over. Don’t expect fermented and ‘funky’ cups from Pirineos; their honey’s and naturals are refined, complex and incredibly well balanced coffees that present so many unusual flavors which we did not expect to taste on this trip.
After a long drive back to San Salvador, the following day was spent in the pleasurable company of Federico & Lily Pacas – siblings and owners of the relatively well known Cafe Tuxpal mill & export company.
A 5th generation business, Federico returned to the family business after a brief stint as a German Shepherd dog breeder in Germany to run both the family farms (of which there are now 7) and the Tuxpal Mill & export company.
Lily is a pioneer in the El Salvador specialty coffee movement and one of the leaders of the ‘women in coffee’ initiative as well as owner/founder of the small chain of shops in San Salvador called Viva Espresso!
Their company was as welcoming as you could wish for, a fabulous experience that included a full & in-depth tour of the milling facilities, some beautiful coffee tastings and some great hospitality out & around San Salvador city.
Again, it was the ever popular bourbon that dominated the table here at Tuxpal, with some stunningly clean and sweet coffees tasted from each of the 7 family farms.
After a brief morning ‘off’ that included a little surf trip to ‘El Tunco’ on the pacific coast, we spent the last couple of days traveling all over the west of El Salvador. ALOT of traveling, mainly in the back of a ropey 4×4 up incredibly steep farm tracks!
This time we were hosted by a large coop based in Santa Ana town called Cuzcachapa where my friend Phil had a long standing relationship with the coop’ s manager Fernando Lima.
A lovely, quiet, modest & unassuming man, Fernando showed us round the large cooperative milling station that services just over 700 active members from remote parts of Western El Salvador.
This was the largest operation we had witnessed thus far, where they produce a huge variety & quantity of coffees of varying grades. But Fernando laid down several tables of their finest individual farms coffees’ to show just what some of his producers were capable of.
Again, full of Bourbon, Pacamara & Pacas, we tasted around 30 different coffees and narrowed down our respective selections based on cup quality, availability, provenance and price. After we’d made our selections, Fernando arranged for us to go and meet with each producer where we could introduce ourselves as a business and lay out our long term plans to build a sustainable relationship between us and the grower for our E1 project going forward as this becomes an increasingly important part of our offer list here in the roastery.
This was the highlight of the trip, being able to meet the grower and share with them our intentions & our commitment to work with them in order to continue producing better & better quality coffee year after year.
We established exactly what the producer needs to earn to give him the ability to reinvest in his farm for replanting of rust-resistant varietals, whilst ensuring a healthy profit to improve overall quality of life.
We’re just in the process of working out shipping contracts now and we expect to have our coffees landing here with us in mid-late May.
I wont reveal which farms we’ve decided work just yet however, good things come to those who wait 😉
Andrew Tucker – Head of Coffee