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.
El Salvador Coffee Sourcing Trip
We are very excited to bring you some of the great El Salvador coffee that will be arriving in July, we recently visited 3 producers in El Salvador, two that we have worked with before, Mauricio Salaverria and the Dumont family, and one producer that will be brand new to Fratello, Café Pacas. Though this is new to Fratello this is by no means a new producer as the Pacas family has been cultivating coffee for over 150 years.
If the name sounds familiar there is a good reason for it, they were the ones to discover the Pacas varietal, a natural mutation of the bourbon. Known for it’s slightly larger bean and tastes similar but generally brighter than bourbon it is a fantastic coffee. This was also one of the varietals that were combined to make the Pacamara varietal, along with the Maragogype. And that brings us back to what we have coming this year, we are very excited to offer 2 Pacamara’s this coming year, one a fully washed 5 Bag lot from Malacara B and one a 3 bag Fully natural lot from Finca Himalaya. Although both are fantastic lots we are particularly excited for the Full Natural lot.
Micro lot of Natural Pacamara
While we were visiting Mauricio’s drying patios we came across a fully natural coffee (pictured below) that smelled liked dried blueberries, as luck would have it this coffee had just finished drying and both Mauricio and I were very excited to try it. Mauricio took a small plastic bag of it, had it processed and roasted so we could try it. Although it was a blind cupping there was no mistaking this coffee on the table, as soon as it was ground it filled the room with the fragrance of blueberry candy.
That delicious fragrance carried right through to the taste, even beside other very good natural coffee’s this one stood out with the sweet caramel and blueberry taste a full rich body and a slight tangy tartness of blackberries on the aftertaste. This was just an experiment of Mauricio’s which is why it is such a small lot but we are thrilled to be the exclusive roaster of this coffee.
Fully washed, honey and natural Bourbons drying
Watch for this coffee in Mid-July I am sure it will not last long!
We also have another rather interesting pair of coffee’s that will be coming from Finca Joaquim of the Pacas family , We have a Red bourbon from there which by itself is great but we are also getting the Peaberry selection of the very same coffee!
A Peaberry is a slightly mutated bean, it is still a Red Bourbon but instead of having two beans growing in a cherry the Peaberry is a just a single bean in the cherry. This allows it to soak up all the deliciousness of the cherry giving it a generally sweeter taste with more intense characteristics. This is another very small lot (2-3 Bags) but if you get the chance we would definitely recommend trying the Red Bourbon alongside the Peaberry to really experience how even the smallest change can vastly affect the taste.
El Salvador Coffee | Finca VillaGalicia | Direct Trade
In February of 2012 we were first introduced with Mauricio Salaverria of Divisadero Café Farms when touring El Salvador Coffee farms and exploring Direct Trade relationships. We were impressed with what we saw at his farms Finca VilllaGalicia and Finca Himalaya, both in the Concepcion de Ataco which is in the Ahuachapán region in Western El Salvador.
What impressed us the most was the care we saw in all steps of production. From his nursery, to his drying practices, the health of his farm and care of their harvesting. Its wasn’t until this past visit in February 2013 though that we made the important decision to work with Mauricio and bring his coffee into Calgary, Canada. We are thrilled to also say that this year, Mauricio won 2nd place in the El Salvador Cup of Excellence competition! It is no wonder he was a top winning coffee when you look at how they harvest only the perfectly ripened cherries.
COUNTRY: El Salvador
REGION: Concepcion de Ataco, Ahuachapán region of Western El Salvador
FARM: Finca VillaGalicia with the group of Divisadero Cafe Farms
The lot we chose was also originally selected to be entered into the Cup of Excellence Competition; however Mauricio was anxious to begin working with Fratello Coffee as well and agreed that this could come to Calgary instead. This was our top choice out of 30 unique lots we cupped.
The honey processed coffee at VillaGalicia is world class! The mucilage left on the beans made moving the coffee on the African beds very difficult as it was thick like toffee! This requires continual movement of that coffee, every 30 minutes, day and night for the first few days during the drying process. Mauricio is also one of the few producers we have come across who is already aware of the great importance of drying his coffee properly. He knows, through working with his Australian roasters, that in order to extend the quality of his green bean freshness, that proper slow drying is required.
History of Finca VillaGalicia
More than a century and a quarter ago Don Manuel Ariz left Galicia, Spain and arrived in concepcion de Ataco, Ahuachapán to a truly magical area that was known by the locals as the site of "elevated springs". In that time period coffee planting was beginning to take hold so Señor Ariz smartly proceeded to invest in small plots of land nearby, beginning with 13.5 flat, clay-lime soil hectares of what today is VillaGalicia farm, hence the name.
Producer Mauricio (Moe) Salaverria continues the family tradition of specialty coffees which includes 6 small farms ranging in altitude from 1000 to 1600 mts and investing in a ecological Micro Mill as part of Divisadero Café Farms . The coffee is treated separately by tablones and dryed slowly in African beds after being depulped with stored rain water. The picking/harvesting is very selective to assure quality year after year.
The farm has kept its Bourbon varietal yet we have added Pacamara plantings since VillaGalicia is located at a perfect altitude with no wind factor, where the terroir and shrubs are protected with a heavy canopy of shade, specially this days of difficult weather. They have dedicated all their efforts in being an ecologically minded grower with progressive employment for their workers including higher wages. This in part by the added value our coffee gets with a proven and consistent quality.
We are thrilled that Mauricio’s Finca VillaGalicia will be available through Fratello Coffee Roasters and that we are the first to bring this coffee into Canada. We are hopeful that this could be a long lasting and mutually beneficial relationship.
El Salvador, Finca Malacara B - Direct Trade Coffee
This past February I toured a very exciting farm by the Santa Ana Volcano. One, which showed me some coffee cherry sorting & tree pruning practices that I have not seen in any other farm/country. This pruning practice is called Agobio Para (tree bending) which results in big yields and HUGE flavor. This was amazing to see, but what blew me away even more was the picking and sorting of the coffee cherries.
Coffee Cherry Sorting
Typically at the best farms we visit and buy from it is common to see that coffee harvesters will pick only the ripest cherries. Once this is complete they will deliver these cherries to the wet mill to be washed and processed. During these processes, the green beans will have different float tanks and screeners which separate bean density.
At Malacara B I witnessed more work done with sorting the coffee cherries before the wet mill then any other farm in the planet I have been to. The extra steps outlined below result in a cup which is naturally sweet and very consistent.
Step 1 – The workers are paid very well (50% above the legal minimum wage) to ensure they are selectively picking the ripest cherries.
Step 2 – Once these cherries are brought to the daily pick up point, they will screen the cherries to remove any smaller cherries which don’t match the other sized cherries they are looking for this day.
Step 3 – They then hand sort the cherries to pull out any debries or off coloured cherries which aren’t perfect. All of the cherries which have been sorted out will be sold as a lower grade.
Step 4 – Cherries are then delivered to the wet mill that night to be processed.
Coffee Tree Pruining
At Finca Malacara B, I was shown the best example of the original old way of tree pruning called Agobio Para, which translates to “tree bending”. Typically producers will “stump” a tree, cutting at the base, to allow for a new coffee tree to sprout. I’ve been told that a lot of the health, nutrition and character of the coffee tree is in the trunk. Agobio Para treats the trunk like a “spine”. The art of Agobio Para is bending the trunk and tying it to the ground. This will allow for many new sprouting coffee trees to grow from a single root system with out damaging the original trunk of the coffee tree.
What you end up with are MANY coffee trees, all of different ages, growing from one root. This root will require MUCH more fertilization than a typical root, however, over all you use less per farm. Each tree takes up WAY more space than a normal tree, however, it will produce much more coffee compared to a regular tree. The goal is a more stable harvest, year over year. Its hard to describe, but was truly mind blowing. Why is no other region doing this?
The MALACARA brand has been recognized by the coffee world as being one of the best coffees produced in El Salvador. It’s not a surprise that they won the #3 and #4 spot in the 2011 Presidential Award at the Cup of Excellence® event, obtaining 90.83 points. Below is some further information on Roberto Dumont, the owner of Malacara B, and our newest Direct Trade partner.
Malacara, is the three-generation legacy of coffee lovers who have poured their hearts into the rich land of El Salvador. Roberto Dumont practices sustainable farming and produces some of the best coffee in El Salvador. Malacara B is located on the world famous slopes of the Santa Ana volcano in western El Salvador. The weather, soil and altitude is perfect for growing exceptional coffee. This farm kicks coffee butt every year. With Roberto at the helm quality has gone even higher over the last decade.
Varietals: Bourbon -Red, orange and yellow, Pacamara, Pacas, Typica
Team of people: 55 (harvest) 12 (full time)
Neighboring Fincas: Malacara A, La Reforma, Kilimanjaro
MALACARA was the main farm among the various farms in the Santa Ana Volcano owned by Alvarez family. Its unusual name (BAD FACE) comes after a popular man whose family name was MALACARA. History tells that this man was so popular that after acquiring the farm, Don Rafael Alvarez named it “Medellín” after his own place of birth; however, people continued to refer to the place as “MALACARA” disregarding the owners will.
Good treatment of the employees has been an important factor of the business ethics for the Alvarez family, in every coffee plantation owned by the Alvarez family existed a school, a clinic and a sports facility for the free used of the employees.
To continue with the legacy, MALACARA has a school where 90 children from the surrounding areas attend up to the ninth grade. There is also a soccer field used by the community. Good housing is also provided for the employees, five families live permanently on the farm which provides employment for 20 permanent workers and about 100 people during harvesting. To pick to best cherries, pickers are compensated with wages that are 50% above the legal minimum wage.
ENVIRONMENTAL ISSUES: Many local species of trees still exists and are kept and diversified in the farm to maintain the rich flora and fauna of the area intact. There are community talks to promote environmental and health issues for the inhabitants and a program to for the disposal of the solid waste.
El Salvador Finca Los Pirineos - Direct Trade Coffee
I was fortunate enough to meet Gilberto Baraona back in February and toured Finca Los Pirineos which is located in the region of the Cordillera Tecapa Chinameca. This was an enlightening experience as I witnessed some of the nicest processing I’ve ever seen at a beneficio (wet mill) and dry-mill.
Gilberto was doing things to the extreme on every level, starting with his stainless steel micro-mill set up, which he referred to as “his kitchen”. This mill was absolutely spotless and completely state of the art featuring 4 Colombian style de-pulpers, which consume very little water. To ensure the best quality, Gilberto has brought in the best equipment to process and sort/screen his coffees. This was also seen in his dry-mill which had technology brought in from Brazil. It is rare to find someone who handles every step for quality assurance, including the exportation of his beans.
Gilberto is currently doing experimentation with 45 different varietals of coffee trees on his farm. His goal is to find the next “Geisha”…..To do this, he needs to find which varietal of coffee tree results in the best cup profile when grown at his elevation, with his soil conditions, in his ecological conditions. This is NOT normal protocol.
We have 2 micro-lots coming from Los Pirineos this year. The first one is a Naturally processed Red Bourbon Elite (original strain of Bourbon), dried for 45 days on raised African beds. This is not your typical Natural coffee. Look for a clean, well-balanced cup with juicy tropical flavors. There is nothing funky about this cup. This is a tiny 8 bag lot, and its going to fly off the shelves.
The second lot is a Fully Washed Red Pacamara. What is most interesting about this 17 bag lot was the experiment Gilberto did with fertilization. He found the highest grade liquid potassium to use on this section of land. Potassium is often used in fertilizers to spike flavor……its works! This coffee is extremely clean and has aromas of orange, flavors of orange juice, is silky smooth and a delicate citrus acidity.
I’m thrilled to say that Gilberto and Finca Los Pirineos is the newest member of our Direct Trade coffee partners. Finca Los Pirineos is not a very large producer (1500 bags a year) and does not plan on working this closely with many other roasters. His coffees have become known around the world since he participated in the 2008 Cup of Excellence (COE) competition when his coffee took 8th place. Since this time, they continue to win auction positions in the COE, and have begun working with a few coffee greats like the World Barista Champion Tim Wendelboe of Norway.
Watch for these 2 exciting lots of coffee to arrive in late May 2012. Do not wait long to try them; they are not going to be around very long.
El Salvador Cup of Excellence
Fratello Coffee Co wins again!!!!
We participated in another Cup of Excellence (COE) auction and won our second FULL lot. This one is very small, only 12 bags. I assume this is going to arrive late August. This is a very exciting time. Fratello Coffee Co has always been about quality and we have always wanted to push the limits on quality, and finally, our market is starting to desire the same quality that our family has been raised on. To be able to source and supply our clients with the best coffees on the planet makes my job as a cupper/importer a lot more enjoyable. We can’t wait for you to taste this coffee.