Coffee of El Salvador
Coffee production has been a central part of El Salvador’s culture and economy since its introduction from the Caribbean in the early 1800’s. Because of El Salvador’s wealth of mountainous and volcanic terrain, as well as great plant and wildlife diversity, the coffee shrub quickly gained a foothold in the shady mountain farmlands, 500 to 1500 meters above sea level. The product was enjoyed domestically, but coffee production exploded when it proved itself a tremendous success as an export. By the middle of the 19th century, El Salvador’s coffees were enjoyed all over Europe, and by the 1870’s El Salvador was one of the world’s foremost coffee producers and exporters.
Success on this scale revolutionized the country in far-reaching ways. From the middle of the 19th century through the early 20th century, well over half of the government’s money came from the coffee trade, with the coffee business elite holding great political authority. The additional revenue enabled the building of roads, schools, ports, and railways. By the late 1970’s coffee had funded the development of other industries including manufacturing and cotton production, and by 1980 was responsible for more than 50% of the nation’s gross domestic product. The 1980’s brought many challenges to El Salvador’s coffee producers. Global coffee prices dropped, the country was beset with national disasters, and civil war began to break out. The war forced the nation to reappropriate many of the resources usually fed into the coffee industry. By the early 2000’s, coffee production and export made up less than 5% of El Salvador’s GDP, a dramatic fall from its peak three decades before.
Today, through the efforts of organizations like Procafe and Cup of Excellence, coffee farmers are enjoying stability and renewed interest in their coffee from the world community. Some 80% of the nation’s forests are still used for coffee production, and farming practices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. Organic methods are becoming standard practice, and farmers increasingly use diversified shade plants as well as companion crops in cultivation. Because coffee farmers typically do not grow the plant exclusively anymore, the wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers that they grow provide a habitat for a huge diversity of animals, birds, and insects. Today there are roughly 23,000 such farmers, some 87% operating on small tracts of mountain range farmland.
El Salvadoran farmers grow only arabica coffees, with bourbon as the primary cultivar. Fine El Salvadoran coffees feature a good body with vanilla, chocolate, and fruit notes. Other nuanced flavors emerge as farmers and processors fine-tune the cultivation of their signature coffees. A moderately bright acidity rounds out a flavor profile that is distinctive, and intimately related to the volcanic soil in which the coffee is grown. Nearly all of the beans processed are washed and then sun dried. The cup most resembles coastally grown coffees in Central American nations like Guatemala, but is nonetheless distinctively El Salvadoran. The very finest coffees are grown in the narrow elevation window of 1300-1500 feet. Many of these coffees are revered as some of the finest in the world, being exported to aficionados in Germany, the United States, and Canada, among many other nations. Recent development of El Salvador’s Specialty Coffee Association, as well as the efforts of Cup of Excellence, have brought a level of prestige to the nation’s finest coffee producers. Because of their rigorous evaluations, El Salvador’s most cherished cultivar commands high prices among premium coffee buyers around the world. A El Salvadoran coffee with a certified 100% bourbon seal from the SCA is recognized by coffee enthusiasts everywhere.
In June 2014, we bought the harvest of El Pireo, the 6th placing coffee at El Salvador’s 2014 Cup of Excellence competition. The farm has been in operation for 5 generations and their coffee features exciting flavor components unique to the region: peach, mint, and sugarcane. This high elevation, volcanic soil-grown coffee scored a remarkable 88.82 at this year’s competition for its vibrancy, sweetness, and complexity. It is a singular experience from a small family farm a world away, and we are thrilled to make it available to you now. Not only is it some of the best coffee from El Salvador, it is some of the best coffee grown anywhere in the world.