El Salvador, the smallest, most densely populated country in Central America, borders Costa Rica, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. This beautiful country boasts all the best that nature can offer — stunning beaches, pristine lakes, and soaring mountains that drop directly into the Pacific. Once you’ve touched down, you are only an hour’s drive from a great vacation and some of the world’s finest coffee farms.
Most of El Salvador’s coffee is shade grown — much of it in the old growth forests that shade the nation’s 22 volcanoes. This mineral-rich volcanic soil, when partnered with an ideal growing altitude and climate (warm during the day and cool at night) consistently produces excellent coffee.
Producing extraordinary coffee is not new for this nation. El Salvador’s farming tradition dates back to the 19th century. While farms have modernized and techniques have improved, many traditional practices are still alive and shared on these mountains, passed down from generation to generation. This dual commitment to continuity and process is partly what makes Salvadoran coffee so attractive to us (the rest is in the taste!). At Mills Coffee, we were buying Salvadoran coffee as far back as the early 1900s — in 1920 “pacas” were only .05 per pound! By the 1950s, we were so impressed with the Salvadorans that we made the beans the base for our signature Mills 1860 blend. Lively, aromatic, and rich in body, these beans are perfect both as single origins and in a blend. We continued this practice until civil war broke out in the 1970s. In 1970, coffee represented 90% of El Salvador’s total exports, making them the fourth largest coffee producer in the world. Unfortunately, in 1979, the Salvadorian Civil War erupted, impairing most of the nation and making it extraordinarily difficult for the country to maintain coffee production which, at the time, represented 95% of the nation’s income.
The war ended in 1992. Today, the farms, after two decades of struggle, stagnation, and often necessary neglect, are thriving. Salvadorans harnessed their expert growing and processing skills, their dedication to sustainability, and their unshakeable pride in this national treasure to revive their farms and in doing so, their communities. Guillermo Martinez, the beneficio from whose farms la reina hails, is from a long-line of devoted, master growers. His farm and its workers are all part of the stories he tells when he speaks of his family.
Café la Reina coffee
After too long of a wait, we are ecstatic to have Salvadoran coffee back in our roaster and café la reina is a a jewel. Grown along the Guatemalan border, in the Apaneca-Ilamatepec Mountain Range, this is a strictly high grown, strictly hard bean, gourmet Arabica EP. We at the QB and Mills, had the privilege of visiting these great farms at the end of the 2012 harvest. Guillermo is a hard working, inspirational man whose grandfather is said to have brought the first coffee plant from Colombia to El Salvador. He is humble, dedicated, knowledgeable, and very passionate about coffee. Guillermo is the guy you want to think of when you envision a beneficio. He is involved in every aspect of the growing and production process. He is at the farm each day with his loyal companions, Jack and Lea, following the beans from planting to harvest and then through processing to ensure the beans retain their superior quality and integrity. Maintaining a quality farm is a constant effort and it is totally worth it — this coffee is amazing! Medium roasted with good body, incredible aroma, and a lively, velvety nut / honey base that finishes with a crisp hint of fresh mango.
Recently, we found a poster hanging in our roasting plant that some Salvadoran growers sent in the 1990s – it said “Drink it and smile”… and, let me tell you, after your first sip, smile is the only thing you can do :).