El Salvador is commonly known as the ‘Land of Volcanoes’ as the entirety of the country sits on Central America’s volcanic axis and much of the country’s landscape is dominated by a vast range of volcanoes. El Salvador is the smallest and most densely populated country in Central America. It is bordered to the North and East by Honduras and to the West by Guatemala. The Pacific Ocean stretches out from its Southern coast. El Salvador has a rich history in agriculture, with a mountainous landscape, warm climate and fertile volcanic soils.
Coffee first arrived in El Salvador during the mid-18th century with the first plants arriving into the western department of La Libertad. Although coffee was cultivated initially for domestic use, as the country’s focus on indigo production prevailed, coffee has come to be central to El Salvador’s economy. Although production in the country has been hindered by civil war, low coffee prices and coffee disease, El Salvador has built a reputation on quality and diversity through its smallholder culture and interesting varieties.
Coffee growing regions in El Salvador are defined by the range of 20 volcanoes that dissect the middle of El Salvador, West to East. Volcan Izalc and Volcan Santa Ana, the nation’s westernmost volcanoes, whose mountainous regions mark the coffee growing areas of Apaneca-Ilamatepec. Central volcanoes of San Salvador and San Vicente rise above the regions of Quetzaltepec-Bálsamo and Chichontepec. The Tecapa-Chinameca region in the East of the country is shadowed by the Volcán de San Miguel. Extending along the Northern border of El Salvador, however, are ancient dormant volcano mountain ranges which host the high-altitude regions of Alotepec-Metapán in the Northwest and Cacahuatique in the Northeast.
|Annual production:||600,000 bags|
|Altitude range:||700 - 2300 masl|
|No coffee farmers:||20,000|
|Harvest times:||October – March|
|Key growing regions:||Apaneca-Ilamatepec, Quetzaltepec-Bálsamo, Chichontepec, Tecapa-Chinameca, Cacahuatique, Alotepec-Metapán|
|Typical varieties:||Bourbon, Pacas, Pacamara, Catuai & Typica|
|Grading system:||Sorted by altitude; SHG (Strictly High Grown) 1200 masl and above, and HG (High Grown) 800 – 1200 masl|
|Processing type:||Washed, Honey and Natural|
Most coffee in El Salvador is grown by smallholder growers who have on average less than 3.5 hectares, a legacy of land reformation and redistribution policies of the 1980s. The primary variety cultivated is Bourbon which contributes to around 60% of the coffee produced. This is followed, unusually, by the Pacas variety, which is a dwarf cultivar of Bourbon lineage discovered on a farm in Santa Ana owned by the Pacas family in 1949. Other notable varieties grown throughout El Salvador are the large bean-producing plants Pacamara and Maragogype, and some Typica, Catimor and Catuai. Coffee is predominantly grown under shade and, on smaller farms, intercropped with additional shade-giving crops such as avocados.
During harvest, which usually starts in October and runs through to March, coffee is picked by hand and processed on the farm using micro-mills. Coffee producers employ a breadth of post harvest techniques including Washed, Natural and Honey processing to create some truly unique cup profiles.