El Salvador Origin Trip Part 3
As a coffee profesional, the opportunity to go to origin is huge. It allows one to expand on what we have learned from articles, pictures, and lectures. It is one thing to talk about what a washed process coffee is or how much work goes into growing, harvesting, and processing but it is truly amazing to see those things occur first hand. Not only does it put what you have learned into perspective, it garners a whole other level of respect for those who produce the coffee I enjoy everyday. Anny Ruth is an incredible producer and even better person. She opened up her farm and home for us to experience. Jarboe, in part one of our "El Salvador Origin Trip" series touched on his personal experience beautifully. Ash in part two put the trip into vivid images. For part three, I want to center on Anny Ruth's farm, processing methods, and the flavor she produces in her coffee.
Anny Ruth has a beautiful 90 hectare farm, Finca Loma la Gloria, situated right outside the capital of San Salvador. The farm consists of pacamara and red bourbon varietals grown on volcanic soil with an elevation from 1400 to 1800 masl. The soil, elevation, and varieties are the beginning of the flavor development ladder on Loma la Gloria. It is not enough to just have a wonderful natural terroir for coffee to grow, a fact made more important with ongoing climate change and the continuation of the La Roya epidemic that has swept through Central and South America the past few years. This post can not contain the scope of this devastating fungus so click here or here for more information. Due to this fungus, Anny must ensure that her plants are being pruned and fed the proper nutrients to fend off the disease; with tens of thousands of plants on her farm this is no easy task. Anny, nevertheless, has been able to maintain a healthy farm and is still harvesting her higher elevation coffee as we speak.
Loma la Gloria's red bourbon and pacamara varietals are responsible for the genetics that will make up the majority of the coffee's flavor potential. When we discuss different varietals we are essentially differentiating coffee by its inherent genetic makeup. It is the genetic makeup that determines, for the most part, sugar production, seed density, and the overall chemical framework of the final product. Apples are a wonderful example to help clarify what exactly a coffee varietal is. At your local market you will run into at least five different types of apples. Jazz, red delicious, granny smith and so on. These different types of apples have different inherent characteristics that set them each apart. These characteristics can be color, shape, texture, and especially flavor. The flavor speaks to the chemical makeup. For example, granny smith apple is usually very tart compared to a red delicious. This is explained by the fact that a granny smith apple produces more malic acid than the red delicious variety. Coffee varietals are exactly the same way. They have different shapes and sizes, flavors and aromas. Anny's red bourbon can be characterized as having a complex acidity and wonderful sweetness. Her pacamaras had a sweet citric acidity and floral aroma.
The varietal sets up the coffee's overall flavor profile, but the soil content, harvesting, and processing are the follow through. Loma la Gloria has nutrient rich volcanic soil that is critical for Anny's plants to be healthy and productive for a long time. Think of the coffee varietal as a chef and the soil is the chef's kitchen. If the kitchen is well stocked with the appropriate ingredients, then the chef will have no problem finding and putting together a beautiful dish. However, if the kitchen is poorly stocked or lacking completely the appropriate ingredients, then the chef will produce subpar dishes lacking in flavor. Essentially the varietal pulls from the soil what it needs to flourish. If what it needs is not there then its potential for flavor decreases. On Anny's farm, all the chefs are happy.
For Anny, harvesting is a huge deal. She explained to us that her coffee is so sweet and clean due to how she has trained and encouraged her pickers to only bring in ripe cherries. At Loma la Gloria, the old model of paying her pickers by weight has been ditched and instead pickers are rewarded for the quality of cherry they bring back to the mill. Anny divides her workers into two groups and, at the end of the harvesting season, the group with the least amount of underripe or defective cherries sorted out at the mill wins a bonus. Anny is selective for a reason. How ripe cherries are during harvest will determine the balance of sugars and acids in the cherry. Cherries that are less ripe may skew the balance of flavor towards acidic, unripe cherries will produce astringent cups that lack sweetness, and defective cherries will produce off flavors. Being selective allows her to produce clean cups with intense flavor.
After harvesting, Anny processes her coffee in a variety of ways. She produces traditional washed coffees, honey-processed coffees and even experiments a bit. What stood out to me the most was how she produced honey-processed coffee. With this type of processing, the cherry is removed from the seed and then the seed is laid out to dry with the mucilage still intact. How much mucilage is on the seed will affect the final flavor. Some producers can remove mucilage through mechanical means to produce different types of honey-processed coffee. Anny, though, does not have access to that type of machinery so she developed her own way. Anny will lay the seeds out to dry on beds with varying levels of thickness. How thick she layers the cherry will determine whether the coffee will be classified as black honey (very thick layers), red honey, or yellow honey (only one layer thick). Anny's ingenuity and innovation does not stop there. She has also experimented with the length of time seeds can stay in the cherry before processing. The general thinking is that the cherry should be removed from the seed as soon as possible for a washed coffee, however, we sampled a washed red bourbon that had been left in the cherry for two days before being processed. The result was a juicy and sweet cup with an overtone of ripe fruit. Anny's willingness to experiment was refreshing and inspiring to see.
This trip was a beautiful and eye opening experience. I can not thank Evocation Coffee Roasters and Anny Ruth enough for putting together an unforgettable origin experience. This post definitely cannot grasp the extraordinary personality that is Anny Ruth but I hope it has informed you as to just some of the lengths that Anny goes in order to produce a beautiful cup of coffee. The varietals she uses, the care she gives to her soil, plants, and especially her workers are all things I will never forget. I hope one day to not only serve her coffee but to also share her story with others.