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Notes: Blueberry / Green Grape / Cocoa Nib
Origin: El Salvador (Santa Ana)
Varietals: Bourbon, Catuai, Red Catuai
Producers: Jose Antonio Salaverria & Sons
La Independencia is a tablon (block) in side the greater San Francisco farm. Located at 1580 meters the block has been performing well over many years. It consists of 23 hectares in an area well known for sweet, delicate and classic El Salvadorian coffees. The cultivars grown is a mix of Bourbon and red Catuai. The producer is innovative in ways of processing and farming. They separate everything by days of picking and do different processes, fermentation and drying techniques depending on capacity and potential of the lot. In this case it is mechanically demucilaged before it is soaked under clean water over night and then carefully dried on patio. They manage the drying times by building up layers and resting the coffees in piles.
Finca San Francisco is a large farm of 294 hectares that has been divided into "tablones". Cherries from each tablon are kept separate for improved processing and preparation. The tablones range in altitudes from 1200 masl up to 1700 masl. We buy coffee from several of the tablones in the higher altitudes like Tablon San Ramon, Tablon San Antonio, Tablon Las Ranas, Tablon La Independencia, Tablon El Pedregal, Tablon La Cabana, and Tablon Loma Linda.
This farm is part of a project with an El Salvadorian producer, Jose Antonio Salaverria and his two sons Andres and Jose Antonio, the younger. They are 6th generation coffee producers, their ancestors started growing coffee in Huachapan. Jose Antonio Senior's father offered him a house in 1970, but Jose Antonio asked for a farm instead. He was given Finca Los Nogales, which remains in the family, and is one of the farms supplying us with coffee.
The coffees from the different farms are all processed at their beneficio (central mill). They bought Beneficio Las Cruces in 1990 and have made significant improvements since then. Much of their success is due to their passion for coffee. They are hard working and realistic, patient and focused on quality to make their business sustainable. They have also built a great team. Jose Antonio considers his staff as the company's biggest asset.
The family has three main areas of coffee production around the Santa Ana volcano in El Salvador. They have always produced high quality at a larger scale, but previously the coffee was mainly separated into a few brand names based on the three main areas, Santa Rita, San Francisco and El Molino.
El Molino is an old mill with surrounding farms and was bought 80 years ago by the family. The farms surrounding El Molino are around 100 years old. The family have owned the San Francisco complex since about 2002, and Santa Rita since 2005, but their three coffee growing areas actually consist of a great number of farms, some they inherited, some they have bought over the last decades.
When we started a quality program with the Salaverria family in 2011, they began lot separation in earnest. Most importantly, they began separating several small farms and blocks with the better altitude, quality potential and growing conditions. This way we could buy from the farms located from 1400 to 1750 meters above sea level. This is regarded as a good altitude in El Salvador where it is very hard to grow coffees above this altitude. In addition to lot separation by farms and blocks (tablones), we are also working with the Salaverrias to optimize quality by experimenting with processes to prepare a different and value added product through fermentation and soaking, as well as the drying methods.
The Salaverrias grow a number of different varietals at their farms. The majority is still a mix of the traditional Bourbon Elite, and something they call Hibrido San Francisco which is a mix of Bourbon Elite and Pacas.
The most impressive thing about coffees from the Salaverria family is the overall quality of picking: deep blood red and uniform color. Considering the volumes they grow, it is pretty amazing!
The coffees are, for the most part, processed based on trials and adjustments we made together at the wet mill. They use eco pulpers called Jotagallo that manage to remove about 80% of the mucilage. Their standard procedure is to take the parchment from the pulpers directly to the patio for drying. We have decided to soak most of our purchased coffees overnight for ten hours after pulping as we believe it will make the coffee even more elegant. We feel the cup is brighter and cleaner, seems like shelf life can be increased and the acidity profile more distinct. The cups tend to be more closed in the beginning, but they normally open up some months after picking. We tend to like these more. The coffees are then dried on clay patio for up to 15 days, or on drying beds in sun or under shade.
We are slowly increasing the purchase of naturals as well. The Salaverria family has a long tradition of producing naturals that are a much higher quality than many others from Central America. They have good weather conditions for naturals: a dry climate, and not too hot. The family dry most of their naturals on patios at higher altitudes than Las Cruces. We believe slower drying on African beds decreases the flavor of ferment and pulp, and contributes to a cleaner and more complex profile. We want to improve it, and we have done some experiments with shade dried naturals on raised beds the recent years. The result is a delicate coffee with hardly any pulpiness at all.
Most of these coffees are of what the Salaverrias call the San Francisco variety—that’s a hybrid of Pacas and the old Bourbon Elite, developed at the farm. Some of the blocks do contain old Bourbon trees, Bourbon Elite, and a mix of Bourbon and Pacas. Occasionally you can find Pacamaras as well as Catuai, Caturra and Catimors. They have recently established blocks and gardens experimenting with new and exotic cultivars.
Agronomy and plant treatment
Leaf rust has been one of the major challenges for farmers in El Salvador the last years. Many producers are now giving up and abandoning their farms. The Salaverrias have worked the last 8 years to regenerate the soil through usage of Huisil (organic compost/fertilizer) as a soil regenerator.
Jose Antonio Senior is one of the founders of the Huisil factory, where they produce fertilizer based on organic waste. Coffee pulp makes up 40%, the rest is from fish, meat, chicken dung, bones and plants. It smells terrible during production, but after it is dried it is converted into pellets which are easier on the nose, plus this fertilizer really works! We have actually tasted some trials with this 100% organic fertilizer and it also seems to improve the flavors. The problem is that with the aggressive leaf rust attacks, it’s a gamble. They risk losing a lot of their production if they don’t use the traditional fertilizers in the mix.
According to Jose Antonio junior, who is managing the agronomy side, it’s about making the plants healthy, strong and resistant. This is what they currently do:
Use 50% Huisil in all farms as well as nitrogen to develop new growth and potassium for the bean to grow and develop. They also use a combination of boron, sink, sulfur and magnesium. In June/July they need a complete mix to help the plant develop the beans and stay strong. They apply two complex mixes and one pure nitrogen. They also apply foilars which are applied directly to the tree such as a copper foliar which creates a layer to prevent further leaf rust, but doesn’t kill the rust that is already there.
They experiment with different pruning and stumping methods which vary depending on the altitude and the cultivar. For many of the farms with Bourbon tree, they use the traditional “parra” method where they bend down the mother stems and allow up to four new shoots to develop into smaller trees on each stem. One old tree can cover a couple of square meters and they become very productive if you do it right.
Sustainability and social responsibility
- 60% of their production is Rainforest Certified.
- The Salaverrias give significant bonuses to farm managers based on the performance of the coffees and premiums the coffee earns.
- The family employs as many permanent staff members as possible, which allows them to maintain a loyal work force, 50 – 60 of these workers live on their farms.
- They offer better salaries for the pickers, and teach good environmental practices in picking.
- By creating good systems they help workers to be efficient so they can leave earlier and spend more time with families.
- They offer work safety education, provide housing for casual workers in San Francisco. health care for workers through doctors visiting the farms, plus they pay the local clinics for medical care of their workers. They also built two medical clinics in Atacco and are supporting them financially and donated land to two other clinics for the government.
- They donated a site for the school in San Francisco, and are building a soccer field.
The tradition and culture of the family is generally to do a lot of charity for the local communities.
General flavor profile
Overall these coffees taste like great classic El Salvadors: sweet with dark cherry, red berries, soft and rich with good mouthfeel and intensity. They work very well as espresso, but are also nice and easy to drink as a lighter brew, good and very easy-to-like coffees, really balanced, pleasant and solid.
They are not hard considered easier to roast and can handle a wide range of roast degrees.