El Salvador Direct Trade Coffee Farm Tours

Exploring coffee growing regions is always exciting and filled with adventure.  Follow us as we visit some of the nicest coffee farms in the Conception de Ataco region of El Salvador and see why Direct Trade partnerships are so important to us at Fratello Coffee.

Inside a hostel in Ahuachapan, we relax with Mauricio Salavierra, some of his friends who run a beautiful restaurant called Tayua near Conception de Ataco and some brand-new friends from Quebec City who are in Ahauachapan for the same reason we are, to find amazing coffees. It’s late and dark and we are craving something slightly greasy and filling to eat after drinking quite a few Pilsners, so we order El Salvador’s national dish, Pupusas. The rest of the night is spent sharing food, beer and stories in Spanish, Quebec French and English.

El Salvador is often maligned as a dangerous, violent country, one that North Americans often look over when choosing a Latin American destination, and it is true that El Salvador can be a dangerous place, the most violent in the Western Hemisphere. However, no country we’ve visited in the world shares the beautiful, untouched beauty of this tiny, dense nation.

As a foreigner, it is very clear which areas are unsafe to visit, and these areas are largely within the capital of San Salvador, where gang activity is high. Like many countries in the Northern Triangle, a little common sense goes a long way in ensuing a safe and fulfilling trip. When travelling outside of the city to coffee growing towns such as Ahuachapan, Conception de Ataco and Juayua, the stunning beauty of the El Salvador landscape and remarkable hospitality and pride of the Salvadoreños is revealed. We’ve never felt more safe as travelers than when we are in these charming towns.

El Salvador remains fiercely loyal to the Bourbon coffee tree. Elsewhere in Latin America, farmers are avoiding specialty trees and have chosen to reduce their crop diversity to protect against the monstrous Roya, a crop disease that has cut through Latin America and has repeatedly devastated coffee farms. A particularly terrible outbreak of Roya in 2014 is still being felt in El Salvador and it isn’t uncommon to see old farms which have been completely abandoned. El Salvador’s response to this crop disease has been very different from other countries within Latin America, they have been pivoting very hard into the specialty coffee sector. The Salvadoran Coffee Council predicts that 80% of Salvadoran coffee exports will be within the specialty coffee sector by 2025.

For farmers such as Mauricio Salavierra, this means a very high level of risk. The danger of a massive roya outbreak on one of his farms is always looming. By carefully grooming his farm and applying fertilizer and fungicide, he manages to stave off the disease, but he must remain constantly vigilant to combat roya. Because farmers such as Mauricio have chosen to farm Bourbon and other exotic varieties of coffee, the flavours we have encountered from this country have been exceptional. As other countries pivot to roya-resistant strains such as Catuai, Catimor and Castillo, the coffee flavor in these places has become somewhat homogenized in recent years. By contrast, the coffees we have been tasting from El Salvador have been marked with massive sweetness, explosive fruit flavors and dazzling acidity. Mauricio’s coffees in recent years have been some of the most inspiring and remarkable coffees we have ever tasted. These coffees have been a true expression of the passion, hard-work and pride of the Salvadoran people.

El Salvador is a jewel of a country, one that we wish more Canadians would experience and enjoy. From the impressive volcanoes to the massive beaches, from the simplicity of the pupusa to the determination of the Salvadoreños. This is a beautiful country that we hope to return to year after year.

Bolivian Coffee Sourcing Trip

Well it’s been a couple weeks since I got back from Bolivia on my first origin trip, I went down with a company called Invalsa who sources and exports coffee from Bolivia. The trip was a real eye opening experience, From seeing the coffee farms and their incredibly steep hills, being shown the incredibly labour intensive procedure that goes into milling the coffee after it has been picked and talking to the farmers and hearing how passionate they are about their coffee and how much they invest into making it a better product year after year.

Bolivian mountain range

The first few days we were in La Paz, which is the legislative capital of Bolivia. This is where we did the cupping of the top coffees that Invalsa had. After narrowing it down over 3 days we ranked the top coffees 1 through 20. The top lot came from Gregorian Gonza Mamani from the San Ignacio Co-op who we later got to meet.

Bolivian cupping

Once we were done with the cupping’s it was off to the Caranavi region, which is one of the largest coffee growing regions in Bolivia. (Also where our current offering of Bolivian coffee is from) After five or six hours of the scariest roads I have ever been on we arrived in the city of Caranavi, surrounded by palm trees, parrots and mangos! This was a very nice contrast to the rocky and dry area of La Paz.

Bolivian flowers

The next morning we headed off to the Seven Star Group Co-op, though it took us a lot longer to get there than expected, due to a construction company blowing up the road, the farmers were still very excited to see us. They decorated us with wreaths of flowers and then fed us as they spoke about how they were constantly improving their coffee due to people buying their coffee. Once we ate they took us down to a few of their farms and showed us how they pick the coffee and what they do with it after it has been picked. At this particular Co-op everything is de pulped washed and then dried on Raised African beds.

Raised African Beds

After we left the Seven Star Group Co-op we went to Cima del Jaguar which was the biggest farm we went to on our trip, just over 5 hectares. After following the farmer up his fields it really hit me how much work would go into just picking the coffee, I was exhausted half way up and that was without carrying any coffee cherries on my back! After a quick tour of the rest of his farm we took us back to his house and fed us supper. I found their generosity amazing from people who have so little to feed these 12 strangers, who come and look around their farms.

Bolivian culture

The next day we went to the San Ignacio Co-op, which was a very unique experience. As we pulled up we could see an arch way decorated with flowers and the Bolivian flag. As we stepped out of the vehicles we heard a band start playing and many of the families that lived there started heading towards us with wreaths of flowers and confetti. We were then pulled into a large dance number and danced up to an open field with tables and chairs set up. After what seemed to be 20 minutes of dancing (it was probably only 5 but I’m a terrible dancer so it seems to take longer to me) we were escorted to our seats and were promptly served a meal as the farmers once again spoke their speeches. After lunch a few of us went to tour the farms of this Co-op with Oscar? Mamani, the top ranking farmer’s brother, he showed us how they stump the trees (chop them down) so that new trees can grow out of the stumps, they do this after the trees have gotten to old, usually around 6 or 7 years, so they no longer produce as much. He also showed us they new way he was pruning his trees, he said that now that he has this new technique he gets almost 3 times as much as he used to before pruning. The thing I found most interesting about what he said was it was more valuable to have this kind of information and training than it would be to just have more money per pound and not be improving his crop. After another long climb back to the top of his farm we headed back to the Co-op and then were danced back to our vehicles.

Bolivian people

Once we left the San Ignacio Co-op we headed towards Coroico, where we stayed for the night. The next morning we headed out to the infamous “Death Road”. Though the road is still open very few people use it now because there is now another less dangerous road which goes from La Paz to the Caranavi region now. As we started up this very narrow road it was amazing to think that this one lane dirt road with 100+ foot drops on it was once the main two way highway. Being empty now it was very easy to take in all the beauty of the country side and the waterfalls that come down right on the road. It was an incredible experience and far less scary than some of the other roads we had been on!

Once we got back into La Paz it was time to say Goodbye to all the amazing people I toured around with on my trip and then head to bed.  I had to be at the airport at 3 am the next morning!

I had a great time touring around the country and was amazed how much I learned and continue to learn even back at home about sourcing coffee. I always figured you just went down there and came back with some amazing coffees, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about building relationships with people so when you go back you can keep getting better and better coffees every year. I feel I’ve only scratched the surface with what I know about sourcing coffee and I am very excited to continue learning more!

I would also like to thank Fratello for giving me this chance to go down and see what its really like, it is amazing and I would encourage everyone if they have the chance to go and see it, it is definitely worth it!

Written by: David Schindel, Lead Coffee Roaster for Fratello Coffee

An Education - Cupping 19 unique micro-lots

I recently had the please of meeting Ted Buracas of NewContent.  Ted Buracas is a writer, photographer, and film maker in Calgary, where he counts coffee as one of his many passions. You can find this article cross posted on the blog, NewContent.ca.  Ted got in touch with me as he knew I was going to be in the process of cupping 19 micro-lots from Nicaragua and wanted to join me.  Ted had never cupped coffee before but had a good back ground in wine tasting.  Needless to say, we had a very fun day talking about many different things relating to coffee and coffee cupping.

Primarily Ted wanted to know why we cup, the purpose of cupping and to educate himself if it really makes a difference in what we do.   The below information is taken directly from Ted's blog post:

coffee cupping tasting bowls

I’d like to try to address a gnawing question about coffee. If it were only for myself, that would be fine, but if it would also salve your conscience, and help you feel a little bit less guilty for the occasional extravagance, then so much the better, and my job would be done.

The question is this: why would anyone in their right mind spend five bucks for a cup of coffee?

The answer is at once simple but also complicated by a myriad of factors. There is an answer for those who would take some time to consider nuance. And for those who would invest a little effort to understand (or, at the very least, appreciate), I might even be able to to convince.

My own investment comes courtesy of Russ Prefontaine (@FratelloCoffee2) of Fratello Coffee Roasters. We spent four hours today cupping fresh Nicaraguan beans, and deciding which three or four Fratello would offer up for sale this year.

coffee cupping trays fratello micro lots

The simple answer is that some simply would not (spend the five bucks, that is). But then again, a four buck flank steak or a ten dollar bottle of red wine does quite well, thank you. And The Olive Garden is good Italian!)

And to be truthful, I am always looking for a drinkable $10 bottle of plonk.

But – and not to be snobbish here – there is a difference between good coffee and bad. And life is simply too short and too precious for coffee (or wine or food) that sucks.

It starts, of course, with the bean. Today we are sampling (cupping, to be precise) 19 different beans. They come from a single estate grower in Nicaragua, who grows several different  varietals of Coffea arabica spread out over two different growing regions. They (the beans) are all different, each unique. And it’s our job to pick just a few that will be presented to Fratello commercial clients this year.

fratello cupping table tasting micro lots

The first factor, then lays with the choice of the three or four beans that will represent an entire country. Three or four lots out of 19 on the table, from a single grower, a single producer among perhaps thousands. If you don’t care about sustainable farming practices, fair trade, pesticides, or shady business dealings (let alone harvesting practices, washing, processing, and drying) then it’s easy enough to choose a supplier from a catalog, and purchase from the cozy confines of Calgary in the wintertime.

And we haven’t even looked at the roasting process (which for these 19, has been kept controlled and is the same for all).

But garbage in, garbage out, as they say. And as I’ve said elsewhere, life’s too short…

None of these offerings are garbage. Not even close. All of them score 80 or higher, which in the considered opinion of an expert (like Russ) qualify as premium beans. Some are in the high 80s $30 to $40 dollars per retail kilo. 89 was the best score on a Java bean.

To choose from among today’s selection will take three or four hours. It’s an involved ritual akin to wine tasting. There’s lots of sniffing, swirling, stirring, and more sniffing. And then there’s the slurp. There is nothing sexy about the process; your nose is deep into the cup, and there is something undignified to the inward slurp.

The sounds involved are… interesting, and slightly off-putting. Not to be done in mixed company, for the self conscious.

But in performing the ritual, you begin to learn, and to appreciate differences. I am led to put words to the nuance I can smell – citrus, dark chocolate, strawberries, paper, among many. And there are  others still that I haven’t the vocabulary to describe.

But they’re there. I smell them, and later, I taste them.

cupping bowl ground tasting

There are some for whom taste and quality does matter, and I am one. This isn’t to say that a five dollar cuppa is a daily occurrence for me; I might spring for one a couple times a month. This is an indulgance, but a modest one; there is worse in the coffee world (let’s not even consider Kopi Luwak, for instance).

Is [the process] worth it? Russ says so: “It’s the people with the biggest mouths that can tell the difference.”

But when it comes down to final choices, it is about personal preference. There is no garbage here, remember; just preferences based on a qualitative score. It’s for the expertise (among other things), borne of 20 years of experience, that you are paying.

Would the average coffee consumer be able to tell the difference between Fratello coffee and, say, a Co-op house brand bean? I honestly don’t know, but it’s an interesting experiment that I shall try with both sets of my own parents when they come to call.

They say they like coffee.

notes cupping score sheet

But even if most would not appreciate the love and dedication that goes into this premium coffee, is it still worth the effort that folks like Russ put into the choice? He says it is: “It’s the people with the biggest mouths that can tell the difference.”

So just why would you spend five bucks for a cup? One simple reason; it just tastes good.

If you want to try something singularly amazing, drop into the Fratello Analog Cafe at the Calgary Farmer’s market. Order a premium drip coffee. It will take some time – nothing is rushed here – but it may well be the best cup of brewed coffee you’ve ever tasted. It was for me.


Fratello Coffee Roasters is located at 4021-9th St. S.E., Calgary, where they will sell you fresh beans or brewing paraphernalia, and offer up advice. You might even get a free bevvie. Tell them Teddy sent you.

Coffee Processing: What gives coffee unique flavors?

harvesting red coffee cherries

This is an interesting question, and one that does not have a quick answer.  I often compare coffee to wine as there are many comparables.  All bottles of red wine from Italy do not taste the same.  It is dependent on the vineyard, the grape (Merlot, etc..), the harvest, soil conditions, altitude, weather conditions of that particular harvest in that particular year, in that particular region.  All of this is also true with coffee.


A celebration of 7 Ethiopian Coffees

We want to invite anyone who loves specialty coffee, especially Ethiopian Coffees to come by Fratello Coffee tomorrow at 11:30 am. 

We are going to be hosting a free cupping for the public, of 7 very rare and special Ethiopian coffees.  What we will be cupping is:

  1. Ethiopian Beloya Micro Lot#12, Full Natural
  2. Ethiopian Beloya Micro Lot#10, Full Natural
  3. Ethiopian Aricha Micro Lot#26, Full Natural
  4. Ethiopian Aricha Micro Lot#14, Full Natural
  5. Ethiopian Idido Misty Valley, Organic, Full Natural
  6. Ethiopian Sidamo, Organic Fairtrade, Fully Washed
  7. Ethiopian Amaro Gayo, Organic, Full Natural

This is going to be very casual.  We want to share with you some of the most sought after Ethiopians every processed, all on one table for you to enjoy. 

We are located at:

4021 - 9th Street SE

Tel - 403-265-2112.

Colombia | Cup of Excellence

I have just returned from Pereira Colombia after judging the 2009 Colombia Cup of Excellence competition.   Although tired, I'm thrilled about this experience.  It is so exciting going through the cupping process and seeing the award ceremony's on the final day.

COE #1 lot winner

 The Cup of Excellence competition is the most thorough and competitive screening process a coffee farm will put their coffee through.  The goal of COE is to bring out the best coffee a current region has to offer in the current crop year.  After the competition is over, the COE award is given to the top farmers who represent the best coffees that this region has to offer.  These coffees are then put in front of the world on an on-line auction which rewards these farmers for their focused attention to improving quality coffee, and puts a spot light on this region show-casing their excellence.


Stage one Involves the submission from the farmers current crop of coffee.  Of the 512,000 families growing coffee in Colombia, only 374 submissions were sent in this year, which was relatively low do to the fact that Colombia's crop forecast is 30-40% lower than the year before.

All of these coffees are cupped and analyzed in Colombia by local cuppers.  All coffee scoring an 84 or higher (out of 100) move on to the second National Cupping jury.  The National Cupping Jury is chosen from the pool of local cuppers.  They are chosen for their cupping skills in the first stage.



Honduras Arenal Estate - Direct Trade buying trip

Last June I was lucky to be chosen to be a judge at the Honduras Cup of Excellence competition.  This was a great event that really opened my eyes to the possibilities that Honduras has to offer with its coffee profiles.  Honduras borders Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, and often Honduran coffee will cross borders and will be sold as those varietals instead.   Guatemala is currently the largest Central American exporter of coffee, however if Honduran coffee wasn't smuggled into other countries - they would probably be the largest exporter.

Honduras has a long history with coffee and many of the estates/farms have been controlled by the same family for many generations.  An interesting fact is that 91% of the farms in Honduras contribute to 50% of the coffee sold in Honduras.  What this shows is how many small estates there are to work with in this country, the challenge is finding them.   Of the 38,000,000 lbs of coffee sold in Honduras, 45% is sold as an Organic/Fair-trade/Organic Fair-trade and only about 10% is even offered as a single estate.  Most of this is from huge farms and sold for commercial use.

Our goal when planning this trip was to establish a Direct Trade partnership with a family and farm who's products stood out as exceptional on our cupping table when sampling late last year.  

In the west of Honduras is a region called La Paz, and in this region is an area called Marcala. Marcala is known for the quality of coffee produced, and has a history & tradition that reaches back to the late 1800's.  Families have owned and worked there farms for 4 generations and practice harvesting techniques that produce clean, sweet and rich tasting coffee.  One hour south of Marcala is the town Opatoro, and just out side Opatoro is a very small village called La Florida, and just a few miles out side La Florida is a small coffee estate called Arenal (Arenal Estate is situated 70 km from El Salvador). (more…)

Consistency in roasting - Continual Improvement

Many coffee roasters, ourselves included, pride themselves with their consistency in roasting coffee.  This is unfortunately hard to measure unless you are always drinking the same coffees from the same roasters.  If not, you're left to simply believe what your coffee roaster tells you....that they are indeed consistent.  At Fratello this isn't 'just talk', its something we are constantly improving, and constantly testing.

Probat coffee roaster

We begin in the coffee lab with the sourcing and cupping of fresh coffees received direct from Origin.  Often this is after we've traveled to Origin and worked directly with the farmers.   These coffees are then analyzed using the Cup of Excellence cupping strategies/methods.  This helps guide us to the right region, cooperative and farm we want to work with in a particular country.   Each sample is cupped a minimum of 4 times before moving on to the final round of cupping.  (more…)

Sumatra Sidikalang Tabu Jamu

Fratello Coffee is introducing a new Sumatran coffee to our clients.  The Sumatran Sidikalang Tabu Jamu will be available to everyone in early August.  We have been exploring the Lintong region this year and had recently been promoting a coffee from there.  We have been fine tuning our sourcing skills and are narrowing down the specific regions we want to work in.

We found that this natural processed Tabu Jamu had chocolate cinnamon and toffee aromas with a lingering syrupy body, followed by mild earthy and clean flavors of smoked red apples.   We gave this a cupping score of 88.

If you want to know where the arabica growing areas are in Sumatra, it is easy to find them on a map using Lake Toba and Lake Tawar as reference points. Both lakes are located in the volcanic highlands of Northern Sumatra.  Tabu Jamu was purchased by the private exporter Yudi Putra.  

Yudi Putra is in the town of Sidikalang which is situated on Lake Toba.  Lake Toba is the massive, doughnut shaped lake. A tremendous amount of coffee is grown around this lake, primarily along the Western side. In recent years full sun hybrid coffees have been introduced here.  

They take great care in the preparation of all coffee and this particular selection was processed with a Double Pick - Hand Selection (has passed through the grading process twice to ensure only the best beans pass through) creating a much cleaner, more acidic cup profile than the traditional heavy earth profile found in Mandhelings.    (more…)

Honduran Cup of Excellence 2008 - Las Amazonas

Yesterday was the online auction for the 2008 Honduras Cup of Excellence competition, and Fratello Coffee is happy to say, that we have won another Lot of coffee, and are the ONLY Canadian company to win one.   This is always an exciting process, and is particularly long, when you are also one of the 26 judges from around the world to actually participate in the competition at origin.

The judging process is a 4 day cupping extravaganza that allows you to taste the best coffees that country has to offer.  It starts out with the national cupping jury to taste all the entries and separate all the coffees that score an 84 or higher.

The next event bring the international jury into to rank all of these coffee to pick the final farms that qualify as a Cup of Excellence coffee (again anything over 84).  Every coffee gets tasted by each judge from 4 - 12 times and will be scored, and described each time.  Very tiring, but very rewarding.

When you walk away from the competition, you have experienced the best of this country as well as had the opprotunity to discover many different micro regions that had never been descovered until this time.  (more…)

Costa Rican Tarrazu Coopedota Coffee

Fratello Coffee is introducing a new Costa Rican to our clients this February.  We have done a lot of research to find this coffee and are very pleased with our results.  After narrowing down from 30 original varities submitted from Costa Rica, we had decided to put the top 12 into a final round of cupping.

From the top 12 coffees, 6 were chosen and re-cupped to find our number 1 selection.  After many hours of cupping, Fratello has chose to work with the Coopedota cooperative.

We gave this coffee a Cupping Score of 88.6 and found that this fully washed, high altitude coffee gave an extremely clean taste, with a creamy and toffee like body.  What really stood out for me with the lingering bright and sparkling orange acidity.   Will can also pick up a slight spicey (nutmeg) note in the aromas.


Coffee Cupping for beginners

I have been doing some research and have found that there is not a lot of information available for coffee consumers who are interested in learning the skill of tasting coffee properly, or cupping as its called in the coffee industry.  Cupping is a daily task which most roasters and green coffee buyers do on a regular basis.  This is a SKILL, and a skill that you can learn how to do over time.  You must teach your pallet how to do this properly, and through following some of these steps we have out lined, you can begin to learn.

Coffee lovers will agree that coffees by the same name are not all alike.  Coffee "cupping", or comparing coffees is not only a lot of fun for the consumer, but also imperative to coffee shop owners who are committed to offering their customers the best coffee.

Good coffee is worth discovering:

Ground rules for coffee cupping:

The real art of cupping comes with the descriptive terms used when explaining the different geographical regions being tasted.    (more…)

Buying Trip | Brazil Coffee

Russ & I had the pleasure of taking some of our staff down to Brazil last month on an educational buying trip. We met farmers committed to more then just quality coffee, but also who were committed to making a difference in the environment and to the lives of people who worked for them on their farms.

We look forward to bringing to Calgary some of these special coffees and the stories of the families who put so much heart into producing them. I want to give a special thanks to Schieder and the good people of Tristao Trading for hosting our Fratello family while in Brazil. It was a fantastic trip!

Bolivian Cup of Excellence 2007

Well it was the final day of the 2007 Bolivian Cup of Excellence competition. There was no better way to end off my journey than by seeing all of the hard working farmers and their families cheering each other on in hopes of being one of the 26 finalists.

It was incredible to see their faces filled with joy when their names were called one by one and recognized in front of all the media and their peers for the efforts to improve quality and consistency on their farms. It sure makes it easy for me to want to continue supporting the COE Competition when you get to hear stories of how this motivates them to improve what they do, and hear them tell us how their lives change through the exportation of their coffee to our roasting facilities.