I started this trip by scraping the ice off my car and left the cold of North Carolina early in the morning headed South. I was looking forward to seeing the projects that our colleagues in El Salvador and Nicaragua have been working so hard on over the past year and visiting producers that we have been working with for a while and whose coffee we have enjoyed.
El Salvador / Beneficio Montecristo
Upon landing in El Salvador we were met by Alejandro Valiente, Director of Virmax Mesoamerica and Laura Meunier. Laura hails from Normandy via London, and is helping us with coordination, logistics and communication, amongst other things, as we get this renewed operation off the ground. We immediately took off to Beneficio Montecristo, our new base of operations in Metapan, Santa Ana, a 2 hour drive from San Salvador.
This new location allow us to be closer to the action at the farms. It increases our day to day contact with small and medium size farmers who are able to visit our lab, get feedback on the spot and start building a connection to the international market.
Montecristo has a large warehouse area where we receive lots delivered by producers, we have a cupping lab to analyze these lots, and a brand new dry mill (which was installed this past week). It has an area of shaded raised drying beds to offer drying services to small producers according to our standards. Containers are stuffed, like Thanksgiving turkeys, on site and sent directly to the port for shipment. Click here for previous blog on El Salvador.
The harvest in El Salvador started a bit early and it is progressing nicely. During our visit at Montecristo we cupped a large table of samples from Los Chelazos (Chalatenango), Los Caleros (Metapan) and Mauricio Escalon, Finca Helvetia in Ahuachapan. The coffees are tasting great, clean, sweet, complex, some fruit forward. All of them exceeded our expectations and it looks like this years quality will be much better than in years past.
The following day we woke up very early to take in the views of the Trifinio region (the area where El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala meet) and took off to visit producers in Chalatenango (on the Honduran border), Metapan near San Miguel Ingenio and a few of the Escalon farms outside Ahuachapan. The coffee berries were still ripe on the trees, and it looked like 1- 2 more passes are yet to come.
El Salvador has only partially recovered from last year’s devastating coffee leaf rust outbreak; if last year’s crop was 40% of normal, this year will probably be just half the size of a "normal" year. For the most part, coffee leaf rust was under control, and the quality is much improved. However, we did see other farms that haven’t been cared for, and the leaf rust is still present. It is clear that El Salvador farmers will have to learn to live with roya for the foreseeable future.
We are very excited about the moves that Virmax Mesoamerica has made and the direction that we are taking in El Salvador. We now have a greater control of the flow of operations and with this control comes confidence that we are able to empower the producers we work with to maximize the quality of their product and subsequently their quality of life.
Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of this trip in Nicaragua...