By Chuck Patton, Green Coffee Buyer
Part 2: El Salvador
After a quick cupping at Servex with our friends at La Providencia and Finca Guatelon on my last day in Guatemala, I jumped on a bus to El Salvador. Upon my arrival I was warmly received by Lucia and Roberto of Las Mercedes and a generous pour of Blue Label!
After a brief visit with Lucia and Roberto, Sergio and Isabel Ticas of Finca Los Planes, another long-time PT’s partner, picked me up to take me to their farm in Chalatenango, located in northern El Salvador very close to Honduras. As we entered the region, it became clear they too were suffering from an overly-dry season which is effecting the yield for this year’s harvest. Los Planes sits on the mountain Cordillera Alotepeque Metapán overlooking Ocotepeque, Honduras. The area is extremely tranquil; rarely have I felt as serene as I did during my two-day stay at the farm. Sergio is driven by quality and it shows in the harvest. Like El Socorro, the day's picking marked the start of the peak season. The cherries were beautiful and plentiful. Prior to this day, the farm averaged about 28 buckets of cherries per day. This day, 98 buckets were delivered to the mill, a sign the cherries are at prime ripeness and sweetness.
Upon our return to San Salvador, I headed to Las Mercedes with Lucia and her son, Andres. Las Mercedes is located in the Usulután in the Southern part of El Salvador, closer to Nicaragua.
Las Mercedes was founded in 1886, making it one of the oldest farms in El Salvador, still run by the sixth generation of the founding family. A Cup of Excellence winner in 2006, Las Mercedes not only produces great coffees, but has become a positive force for social change within its community. In 2008, they established a clinic on the farm that serves twelve surrounding communities with free medicine and medical support. PT’s Coffee is proud to have supported this clinic over the years. Since 2008, they have averaged about 1500 patients per year and continue to expand the care they provide.
As with most of Central America, 2017 will be a down year for many farms in El Salvador. In addition to the natural cycle of an up year followed by a down year, Lucia has worked tirelessly to refurbish her best growing areas. While they are looking at a down year of about 40%, Lucia has prepared for the next up cycle by planting thousands of new young shrubs and removing very old trees that were no longer producing or were vulnerable to disease.
Lucia has replanted huge swaths of prime growing areas with new varietals and dedicated more space to species that thrive here, like the Kenya varietal SL-28. Currently she is not producing enough SL-28 to separate it out as a unique lot, but in about three years SL-28 will be a distinct offering from Las Mercedes.
Onward to Finca Loma La Gloria! The first order of business with producer Anny Pimentel was to present the results of our fundraising efforts to their recipients. For the last couple seasons we have used proceeds from the sale of Anny’s coffee to support an eco-stove program for her employees. This year we changed things up a bit.
Rembert Sosa is the principal at the public school Centro Escolar San Jeronimo in El Boqueron, very close to Finca Loma La Gloria. Sr. Sosa has spent the last five years trying to get a baking program going for his high school students, both to teach students a skill and to use the fresh bread as a fundraiser for the school. Unfortunately, public schools in El Salvador are tragically underfunded and he has not been able to find the money needed for an oven. Through our fundraising efforts with Anny's coffee, we raised enough money to buy a commercial stove for the project and two large eco-stoves for the school. In addition, we bought three more eco-stoves for Anny’s employees! Rembert has finally started the baking program and it is quickly becoming the most popular program in school.
This is our third season working directly with Anny and I can say with all honesty this is the best thus far. Improving at the farm level is not easy. With so many moving parts and employees to manage, much can go wrong. Experimenting and adding protocols might improve the quality of the coffee, but are often too difficult and risky for farms to undertake. Finca Loma La Gloria is the exception.
With Francisco’s help, the farm is breaking ground and moving in directions of which bigger farms should take note. Major adjustments in regard to how they dry, rest, blend, and harvest coffees has improved the coffee clarity, sweetness, and complexity. We are excited to roast our exclusive Pacamara from Finca Loma La Gloria later this year.