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May Coffee Origin Focus: El Salvador

The History of Coffee in El Salvador

It is not certain when coffee first arrived in El Salvador, but it is thought to be at some point during the early 19th Century. What we do know is that by the 1880s it was an established crop and made up the majority of exports from the country. By the 1920s coffee accounted for a massive 90% of all exports, overtaking Indigo, which had previously been the most commercially grown crop for export. However, as coffee was on the rise, indigo was falling out of fashion with new man-made dyes replacing it.

The cultivation of coffee and the need to export it was a significant driver in the development of the country’s infrastructure, pushing the need for roads, rail, and ports to be built.

Coffee production continued to thrive in El Salvador, and in the 1970s it was the 4th biggest coffee exporter in the world. However, political unrest was on the horizon, and the country suffered a long civil war from 1979 to 1992, severely impacting coffee production. However, after the war much of the land of the big estates was redistributed and a new opportunity presented itself for farmers and coffee. The majority of farms in El Salvador are small, less than 20 hectares, and since 1992 it has been illegal for one person to over more than 245 hectares of land. This law prevents a monopolisation of the industry, and, interestingly, multinationals are not as present in El Salvador as in other producing countries where they can dominate the market.

This Year in El Salvador

The 2023/4 crop has been smaller than in previous years. This is largely due to the effects of El Nino, which meant that El Salvador had little to no rains after the first and second flowerings, a time where sufficient rain is crucial for a good harvest. However, for the coming season the weather is expected to shift into La Nina, which will bring more rains across Central America and is good news for coffee. For more information on El Nino and La Nina phenomena and how they affect coffee regions, click here.

Jasal Estates 

Jasal is one of our long-term partners in El Salvador who we have worked with for over 12 years. They are a family-owned estate and exporter based in the Apaneca-Ilamatapec region in the west of the country. Today, the estate is made up of 40 farms, which range in size from 10 – 230 hectares. Andres Salaverria took over the estate in 2011 and, since then, has focused on improving cup quality and innovative processing. Jasal is perhaps best well known, for DRWakefield customers at least, for their experimental processing methods and lots from their Los Nogales farm, which DRW have enjoyed an exclusive collaboration with since 2017. 

Cherries drying on African bed at Las Cruses Mill

Los Nogales is 28 hectares in size, and made up of 3 plots: El Roble, Capulin and Miramar. A number of different varietals are grown, and all are kept separate. One of the varietals grown is Hybrido de San Francisco, also known as HSF. This is a naturally occurring hybrid between Bourbon and Pacas, first discovered on Andres’s own farm, San Francisco, and now officially bears the same name! Each lot from Nogales can be traced to varietal and plot on the farm. There are 5 main processing methods used at Nogales, see details below, but our exclusivity agreement has meant that we have had the opportunity to experiment with different processes and we are always open to suggestions from roasters as to what they would like to see too. Not only do these lots cup excellently, but they are a true testament to the power of long-term collaboration.

The microlots from Nogales, plus some others from across Jasal Estates, are due to arrive in the UK in June, so talk to a member of the trade team if you’re interested in getting your hands on them!

Urrutia’s Estates 

Urrutia’s Estates is another long-term partner with whom we have been working for many, many years now! The estate has been running since Juan Urrutia planted the first coffee trees in 1875 in what is now Finca El Ingenio (one of the three farms they own today). El Ingenio was the first farm in the Urrutia’s family, and on our visit we heard many stories that had been passed down the generations. The farm manager, Sr. Jorge, informed us that the hot springs transfer rare minerals into the soils of El Ingenio, contributing to the unique profile on the cupping table. Nowadays, the estate is still within the family, and run by the three Urrutia brothers: Rene, Enrique and Gustavo.  We have been working together since 2011.  

Enrique, Rene and Gustavo Urrutias

The three farms owned by Urrutia’s are El Ingeio, San Ernesto and Las Canoas. We have been buying from El Ingenio and San Ernesto over a number of years, including a washed, honey and natural process from both farms. Their quality and consistency always delivers and this year is no different. A range of lots from these farms, some Rainforest Alliance certified, are due to arrive in early May – let us know if you are interested!