Trip reports

Trip Report – Finca Los Planes – El Salvador

Our 2015 trip to El Salvador was bound to be unique, different and better in many ways than any of the other 20+ trips I’ve made through Central America. On this particular trip there would be tears shed and piercing screams. Men would be on their knees making indistinguishable sounds. Women would stop in their tracks and offer to help. Our patience would be tested regularly and more than a few diapers would be changed on the floor of a coffee laboratory.

This year Maritza and I were traveling with our 11 month old son, Phoenix, and introducing him to our Central American family. It wasn’t like we had a choice –  “Don’t even bother coming back if you don’t bring the baby!” cautioned our producer friends and Direct Trade partners. Our baby was born into a coffee family larger and more inclusive than I could have ever imagined when I entered this industry in 1993.  If you follow my Instagram account, @ptsjeff, you’re probably already familiar with Phoenix.

On this particular trip we visited the farm of two of our longest standing Direct Trade partners, Sergio and Isabel Ticas. We were excited to visit Finca Los Planes and preview the beautiful coffees we’ll be bringing in from El Salvador in the very near future.

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From left to right: Jeff Taylor, Sergio Ticas, Maritza Taylor, and Phoenix Taylor outside of the Cuzcachapa Cooperative in El Salvador.

FINCA LOS PLANES

Finca Los Planes is an iconic farm located in the Chalatenango region of El Salvador. We’ve been partnering with Sergio and Isabel Ticas since 2006. They are some of our earliest Direct Trade Partners. Our friendship and partnership has truly surpassed more than we could have ever imagined when we started our Direct Trade Program.

Sergio embodies the spirit of all El Salvadorian coffee farmers with his work ethic and commitment to his family and the people who work on his farm. Most of them are neighbors of the farm and are treated like family. He pays them well, more than twice the average wage of farm workers in other parts of El Salvador. In return they work hard for him and are very loyal, learning more each year about what it takes to produce an  outstanding micro-lot of specialty coffee.

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A picker at Finca Los Planes going through the cherries and picking only the most ripe for processing.

It’s always a pleasure to visit his farm because we don’t have to spend a lot of time teaching his workers how to pick, sort, or care for the coffee during the processing. They already understand the connection between quality work and quality pay to help support their families.

That said, some things are out of a farmers control. Weather, climate change, disease, and natural disasters are all things that can affect agricultural products. In recent years, much of Central America has been hit hard by a coffee plant fungus called roya. Roya is a fungus that attaches to the leaves of older plants and destroys them. As the leaves die and fall from the tree, so goes the tree itself. Roya is a true killer of coffee quality and production.

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A leaf that has been affected by Roya

Sergio’s farm was hit hard in recent years as many of the Bourbon variety trees were aging, making them prime targets of this fungus. While he has tried to avoid this looming disaster, he has managed to produce some of the best coffee we’ve ever tasted from his farm. This is testament to his knowledge and commitment of his team of workers.

As Maritza and I cupped through tables of wonderful coffee, just behind us Sergio was sitting with Phoenix making cooing sounds and caring for him. Whether he was keeping Phoenix busy so we could concentrate or he just got lost in the moment of playing with a new baby, it was adorable and reminded us once again why we love to work with such a wonderful man and his family. We are proud to once again bring their coffee to you. We’re confident you are going to love it as much as we do.

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Maritza Taylor cups coffee while Sergio Ticas cares for baby Phoenix.

THE COFFEE LINEUP

El Matazano

Annually one of our favorite micro-lots from Finca Los Planes is El Matazano, Pacamara variety. It’s a coffee produced at the highest elevation (over 1600 meters) on his farm which is located very near the border of Honduras. As we worked our way through the cupping table while visiting the mill at Cuzcachapa Cooperative, this cup stood out. In the end, this was the clear winner of all the coffees presented to us. The coffee is meticulously cared for to produce a creamy cup that gently unfolds into a rich flavor of butterscotch. Notes of sweet pecan and gentle orange citrus fade into a bright, clean finish. If you are looking to experiment with a variety you are unfamiliar with, El Matazano is a good one to try.

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Sergio Ticas raking the parchment of El Matazano, Pacamara variety on raised drying beds.

Sergio’s Secret Garden

In addition to El Matazano, we will have a small offering of the always popular Sergio’s Secret Garden, a coffee grown near their cabin on the farm. This is Sergio’s personal project, a Yellow Caturra variety that is always sweet and clean. An aroma of vanilla gives way to the flavor of brown sugar and blood orange sweetness.

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This basket showcases the vibrant color of freshly picked Yellow Caturra. Yellow Caturra is similar to Red Caturra, but typically has increased acidity and brightness.

El Pimiento

El Pimiento is another offering that holds a very special place in our hearts. It has a sweet sugar aroma with floral hints and juicy acidity. This cup has a round body and syrupy mouthfeel with a flavor of milk caramel and pear sweetness. Honey and starfruit are present in the finish. This coffee is grown on a small plot of land that Sergio designated to be worked and produced entirely by the women on the farm.

One of Sergio’s key helpers is Saida Magali Hernandez, known as “Nena.” Nena has learned so much over the years that Sergio’s mother in-law, Monika, donated the money to populate a small plot of land with coffee and designated it for development with Nena leading the way. Women grow this coffee as their special project; there is no help from the men on this plot, as they don’t need it. The quality speaks for itself and we are excited to offer this lot.

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Doña Amanda Rodriguez delivers the day’s harvest to the wet mill for processing.

These women are experimenting with a growing technique known as Agobio Parra, a return to a forgotten technique used in El Salvador (once upon a time this technique was the norm). Monika and Nena wanted to experiment with the Agobio process as a way to produce more coffee from the same trees. This technique bends the trunk of the tree into an arch with the top branches tethered to a stake in the ground. As growing season progresses, sprouts shoot towards the sky. From one tree you now have several extra shoots producing coffee cherry.

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An example of the Agobio Parra method of growing coffee.

As the trees produce more cherries, farmers are able to harvest more coffee from one tree. The risk from this method is that over production can lower quality, which in turn lowers the price. When properly managed, fertilized, and pruned, this technique can and has worked well. We believe the samples we received this year show a quality cup can come from this method. We think you’ll enjoy El Pimiento as much for the way it was produced as for the women that cared for it throughout the last year. It’s a very special project and we are honored to support them.

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