February is always an exciting time of year for us in the roastery as not only is it a busy time for new samples arriving from our import partners, but it also sees our annual sourcing trip to El Salvador.
In 2015, we made a bold step forward in our sourcing program to go direct and buy from the producers in an effort to improve traceability, transparency, coffee quality and relationships. We called this our E1 Project and we chose El Salvador as the country with which to begin trading due to the versatility & quality of the coffee grown there.
The idea behind this offer was simple; buy 1 coffee from 1 estate and tell that story between grower and roaster in order to assist our customers to better sell the coffee in their cafes.
Our E1 Project espresso forms the foundation of our offering in the roastery.
So last week we were thrilled to be heading back again for the 3rd year, this time in the company of Jimmy Dimitrov – our Training & Education Manager and Ricardo Gandara – Founder of Cup North // Manchester Coffee Festival and the new General Manager of our long time friends, Takk Coffee House – an institution located in the Northern Quarter of Manchester.
It was Jimmy & Ricardo’s first trip to origin and therefore was met with a lot of excitement & anticipation.
We were privileged to spend 3 days in the hospitality of several different producers spread across the the primary growing regions of Santa Ana, Sonsonate & Ahuachapán and our first stop was with Ricardo Lima, proud owner of farm & mill Finca Buena Vista as well as the beautiful old mill called ‘Los Canales.’
We first met Ricardo last year through his brother Fernando – our consolidation & export contact in El Salvador.
As we described the kind of coffee and relationship we were looking for to partner with & invest in for the long term, Ricardo’s operation both from a growing & a milling perspective – along with his unique character presented exactly the right opportunity for us. We purchased 2 containers of his coffee in March 2016 as the foundation of our offering and over the past 10 months, we’ve been roasting his coffees as our E1 Project with great success such is the quality & versatility of his predominantly bourbon crop.
It’s easy to reference the significance that coffee has played in El Salvador’s as once the third largest exporter of coffee in the world.
Yet civil war, land reforms, crime, leaf rust & climate change have all had a huge negative impact that has dramatically changed the coffee producing landscape forever.
Those that have survived are having to adopt radical new ways of thinking if the industry is to survive at all.
The Lima family are typical of the handful of farmers left that have the enthusiasm, capacity, education & foresight to re-build & establish some form of sustainable coffee future, but it hinges heavily on the relationships with roasters like us to invest in them.
By no means an easy feat when you consider the battles they face.
With a long history of success in El Salvador’s cup of excellence program (in fact the Lima family are actually the most decorated Cup of Excellence winning family of all time globally!) Ricardo has a strong belief that survival requires change and he seems to be on a one-man mission to rebuild Finca Buena Vista into a sustainable specialty coffee producing farm that focuses heavily on minimal water consumption, careful & considered agricultural techniques & of course, patience.
We’ve been very lucky to spend time at several of the Lima family owned farms over the past 3 years. But I think it was this most recent trip that made us all realise just how much extra care & attention to detail all of the brothers are applying to their livelihoods as coffee farmers.
Aside from being organic in their farming practices, all of their farms are simply stunning in both their appearance and the quality of fruit produced on site.
Finca Buena Vista is situated in the micro region of El Anonal, Atiquizaya at 1300-1550 meters above sea level in the western part of El Salvador.
Ricardo oversees all aspects of planting, pruning, picking & milling & this year he’s continued to focus his efforts on his unique ‘unwashed’ process in an effort to conserve precious water despite the fresh water spring on located on his farm. Instead he chooses to pump much of this water to the local village & schools such is his belief in his ability to deliver beautiful clean & sweet specialty coffee with minimal water applied through growing & milling stages. His coffees are much more akin to a ‘honey’ process yet possess the cleanliness & acidity of a fully washed.
The coffee is naturally fermented on clay patios & utilises his own unique compost comprised of a carefully decomposed ‘pulpa’ or coffee cherry.
With ideal growing conditions with regards to volcanic soils , altitude and an annual rainfall of 1800mm, we were immediately to pick this coffee off the blind cupping table in the lab on the second day of our trip – such is the sweetness, balance and clarity in the cup.
The 2017 harvest will see a little over 3000 bags produced from Buena Vista, and in our opinion, the coffee’s showing even more promise this year despite being super fresh just days after harvest.
The more time we spend in Ricardo’s company, the more he reveals his personality and his unique & philosophical approach to life.
A quiet & private man who can never sit still, the fact that he’s taken on an entirely new project in the form of restoring the enormous old mill ‘Los Canales’ just outside of Juayua in the Sonsonate department as well as the continued renovation of his mill located at the Buena Vista farm speaks volumes about a man who genuinely seems to adore old machinery & the process of bringing them back to life – however long it takes.
But I think it was Jimmy that summed up Ricardo best upon meeting him for the first time:
“He is a smart man. A mechanical engineer trying to process coffee simply and efficiently in a sustainable way without using too much water and energy. This meeting with him wasn’t just about business & coffee – it was about life, family, nature, creativity, productivity, sustainability, innovation & survival.
It was deeply inspirational and a highly educational life lesson.”
He’s the man who tells you how it is & we feel very proud to be continuing this mutually important relationship with him.
Of course, the few days we spent in El Salvador also included several cuppings of many other coffees from producers all over the western part of the country and in a addition to Finca Buena Vista, we’re thrilled to have found some incredibly unique & delicious coffees that will appear throughout our range over the coming months. In difficult economic & political times for El Salvador, their coffees are shining and we can’t wait to share them with you all.
Best wishes and here’s to a great 2017 of delicious coffee.
Head of Coffee & Business Development.