Palace Coffee Co.

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El Salvador Origin Trip Part 1

(Jarboe's Story)

Our group of five coffee professionals landed in El Salvador in the middle of the night. That’s my favorite time of day to arrive in new country because everything is hidden by darkness, I go to sleep, and in the morning a whole new world appears around me. San Salvador is surrounded by mountains covered in greenery, some of which is coffee plants. The city itself was busy with cars, old buses, and trucks carting in workers from the surrounding areas. We all woke up excited for the coming adventure and patiently waited for our hostess at the hotel. In the middle of breakfast, Anny Ruth Pimmentel, a Salvadoran coffee farmer arrived prepared to give us the best possible experience at origin.

Sunday, our first day in El Salvador, was a relaxing beginning to a full and rewarding trip. I enjoyed a much needed day at the beach. Anny and her family were great hosts welcoming us like friends. The sun offered a warm reprieve from the snow I had left behind in Amarillo. The Salvadorans fired up the grill while we enjoyed fresh coconuts straight from the tree. We got to know Anny over dinner and learned about her farm, Loma La Gloria, which we would be visiting the next day. After dinner we played Jenga with Anny’s family and I learned that Jenga has the ability to connect people across language barriers. We left just before sunset so we could get rest for the long day ahead of us.

Anny picked us up at our hotel with our whole day planned. She was excited because we were going to be the first group she has taken on a hike of her entire farm. Loma La Gloria is on the side of a volcano outside of San Salvador. It was a short 20 minute drive up the mountain and we were at the farm. The lowest point of Loma La Gloria lies at 1400 meters above sea level (masl) and extends to the top of the volcano, 1800 masl. Before beginning our hike we had to brew some coffee. Anny surprised us with personalized mugs waiting for us making it clear that she was going to give us the best experience on an origin trip.

After our morning cup of coffee we started our trek to see coffee plants up close and try our hand at harvest coffee cherries. Because many farms in the area have been hit with rust, a fungus that attacks the leaves of the coffee plant and can devastate crops, Loma La Gloria was one of the few farms still harvesting. Anny hires guards to patrol her land and catch people stealing coffee cherries from the trees. Instead of taking the primary path that cuts straight through the farm we opted to take the secondary paths that wind through the forest and let us see the harvesters at work. The forest was thick with coffee trees and the shade made for a beautifully cool day. During the hike I would catch glimpses of people ahead of us and then suddenly a family hard at work would appear. School is out for the summer break, so many families brought their children with them. We would stop occasionally to look at the bright red coffee cherries or have Anny explain some of her farming practices. We eventually made it to the top of the volcano and ate lunch overlooking the large crater. We began our descent to return to the workers so that we could try harvesting ourselves.

Halfway down we found baskets waiting for us to fill them with cherries. The baskets secure around the waist so the wearer can have both hand free to pick coffee. Coffee cherries have the unfortunate trait of ripening at different rates. On one tree I found an assortment of green underipes, dried up overripes, and deep red perfectly ripe cherries. Workers are not judge solely on the quantity of their harvest, but also on the quality. Only picking the ripe cherries ensures a better cup quality for the end consumer. I was surprised by the calm I felt silently picking in the shade of the tree. I tried to accurately pick only the best cherries, but found it frustratingly difficult to avoid pulling off the over- and under-ripe cherries. We worked for a half hour and ended with an embarrassingly small harvest. As we made our way back to the bottom we stopped to see all the workers turning in their day’s harvest of cherries. The workers hand sort the coffee once more before it is weighed to make sure only ripe cherries make it through. Each bag is pour into another for a quick visual inspection. Loma La Gloria pays the highest amount in the area to its harvesters, $1.40 per 25 pounds of cherries they pick.

Anny was a great guide throughout the hike. She answered our questions about coffee farming, which as a group of baristas and roasters we had plenty, and El Salvadoran culture.

Even while showing us around she took the time to check on every group of workers we came across. Anny wants her farm to succeed but also has a passion to improve the lives of her workers and the community. Anny’s hope for a profitable harvest was focused on raising the quality of life of her workers. She plans to offer medical services, provide water purifiers, and purchase ecological stoves for her workers. These things will help her workers greatly and Anny is determined to be positive influence in their lives.

That evening, after showers to wash away the sweat, Anny took us to one of her favorite coffee shops in San Salvador. The Biscuit Factory is a family-owned bakery that, over the last three years, has focused more and more on coffee. Anny introduced us her friend and the owner, Victor. He was welcoming and invited us to sit while he prepared coffee for us. The Biscuit Factory specializes in miniature pastries and Victor brought us an assortment to try while he brewed us coffee. I was greatly struck by the hospitality Victor showed us. As a barista I strive to make every customer feel like they belong and Victor accomplished that with ease. I was an outsider in that cafe. I was a foreigner and I don’t speak Spanish, but Victor made sure I felt like I belonged. I went to bed exhausted but excited for the next day.

The next day was devoted to the next step in the coffee chain, processing. Processing refers to how the bean is removed from the cherry and has a profound effect on the final cup quality. Loma La Gloria handles their own processing at the mill on the farm. I’m not going to go into the details here, but know that seeing a mill was a dream and a great learning for me. Anny, continuing her streak as an amazing hostess, had set aside the coffee we picked from yesterday so that we could process it. We depulped the beans from the cherries and then laid them out to dry. Anny will keep our small lot separated and ship the green beans to Evocation for roasting. I will be able to follow the coffee all the way from seed to cup, which for me will be a wonderful and enriching experience.

After the interactive tour of the mill, we had the chance to cup a few of Loma La Gloria’s coffee. I was astounded by the quality of the coffee on the table. I had just experienced all the hard work that goes into quality coffee and was rewarded with a great coffee. Anny is determined to ensure that her coffee is quality and shows in the cup.

That afternoon we had lunch at a restaurant in the mountains above San Salvador. Victor joined us and, as with any gathering of baristas, we began to talk shop. We talked about our favorite equipment to use and our experiences in competition. Victor picked over our brains to get a sense of the American coffee culture and we asked him about El Salvador’s. I love that I can travel the world and have something in common with any barista I meet. There’s a connection we share through the coffee industry that leads to important friendship all over the globe.

Our last day was a whirlwind of touring another, larger mill and seeing a coffee nursery. Late that evening we said our goodbyes to Anny and headed to the airport. I am lucky to be able to travel to El Salvador for my first experience in a coffee farm. I am even more fortunate to meet inspirational people who share a passion for coffee and people. Anny loves working on the coffee farm. She is driven to produce the best quality coffee and focused on improving the lives of those around her. Victor, a fellow barista, shares my excitement for the craft behind brewing excellent coffee. He is also very passionate about serving people and making them feel as if they belong in his cafe. I went to El Salvador to learn more about coffee. I left with  new knowledge, inspired by the hospitality and dedication of Anny and Victor, and committed to better myself so that I can better serve others.

-Jarboe