El Salvador Coffee Guide

El Salvador Coffee Guide

Climpson & Sons 6 mins Read

By Rebecca Wooden

Last month we welcomed Jack from DR Wakefield for our Cupping Club talking all things El Salvador coffee. A big thanks to Jack for bringing the coffee and sharing his brilliant insights.

A rich and interesting history of coffee production, El Salvador is a renowned specialty producer famed for quality of crop and relatively small production sites, allowing there to be a real investment into diverse varieties and technologically advanced processing methods in recent years. This makes it perfectly placed to produce stand-out specialty and we’ve had some memorable coffees over the years, most notably from the Salaverria family, owners of JASAL coffee. Two of our favourite coffees from JASAL in the Climpsons line up are - the naturally processed Buena Vista (as our autumn edition of The Fields) and Las Ranas (featuring in our seasonal Broadway Blend)

Having visited El Salvador earlier this year, Jack really painted a picture of life for the Salaverria family who are sixth generation coffee farmers residing in the mountainous Apaneca-Ilamatepec region, by no chance one of the best spots in the country for coffee cultivation.  In 1991 the family formed JASAL, with the business initially being just one farm with a small mill on site.

The Las Cruces mill, where coffee is delivered from the San Francisco and El Molino farms. Here coffee is dried on patios.

Through the years JASAL has expanded to include multiple farms ranging from 20 to 220 hectares, its largest two farms being Finca San Francisco and El Molino. Ownership for these sites is split between brothers, mothers and grandparents across generations. Even the largest of farms are still relatively small in comparison to producers like Brazil, where the smallest farms are most often 3 or 4 times this size. Soon, production began to outgrow the original mill and in 2002 the family opened Las Cruces, a centralised processing site. 

Las Cruces proved to be a real game changer when it came to improving quality of production. Since Jack last visited in 2019 they have made 2 big investments. The first is a guardiolar, or mechanical dryer. The effects of climate change are hitting the region, with seasons becoming far less defined than they have been historically. This has led to a more volatile and changeable environment to produce coffee in and rains during periods that have typically been bone dry for harvesting. This makes drying using natural methods on patios problematic. The guardiolar gives them the opportunity to dry mechanically indoors if needed. This is often reserved for more commercial lots, opening precious space on the patios to dry the highest scoring lots when the weather allows.

In 2022 they bought a new colour sorter with the aim to further improve the quality of their green. Lasers ensure all coffee passing through achieves a certain grade, set to the highest standards by JASAL’s quality control experts. They then follow this up with an incredibly thorough hand sorting process. The improvement in quality has been remarkable.

Ruby red cherries, picked and ready for processing followed by thorough quality control.

Since Andreas Salaverria took over in 2012 the focus has shifted towards smaller plots of land and the value the business places on quality of product is stand-out. Andreas is clearly passionate about exploring different varietals and different kinds of processing. Through utilising a wide range of different topographies from multiple small farms they are able to discover as many new and exciting profiles as possible. 

This emphasis on quality of coffee production goes hand in hand with JASAL’s commitment to relationships, both within the longer supply chain and with their employees at home. Here are Andreas’ thoughts on the importance of transparent and impactful relationships in business:

‘First of all, it’s a long term perspective. For us and other producers, it’s essential to be able to sell in advance, allowing us to project what our crop will generate financially. If we have a long term contract with a roaster or an importer, we are certain what our income will be and how much we can then invest in our farms. It means we don’t have to play the risk of overinvesting in our farms and then finding the price at export has dropped. That long-term perspective allows us to work transparently. I believe in communication, speaking openly to a buyer about our costs. We like to close the gap between producer and consumer. We like having visitors here, to see what’s behind our company and our coffees. This is a partnership and a friendship rather than a business transaction. We understand it takes trust from you to say we want these coffees. It’s then our commitment to produce and process them. I believe that in coffee, you learn everyday, and the day that you think you’ve learnt it all is also the day you’re done.’

It’s apparent that this long-standing relationship between JASAL, DR Wakefield and sustainably minded roasters such as ourselves has led to a model of reinvestment at farm level, resulting in quite remarkable coffees, year on year.

This importance on relationships extends to the care Andreas places on providing a fulfilling and rewarding career for his employees. Once starting to work at Jasal, few people will ever leave, a testament to their investment as employers. Jack gave many examples of staff moving internally in the business, beginning by delivering cherries before moving to wider roles within their expanding specialty focussed business such as quality control and the highly skilled role of Q Grading to managing the mill itself. We champion something very similar here at Climpsons, providing career progression for those that work with us to fuel their coffee passions across multiple sides of the business.

At the September Cupping Club, we had the chance to taste several coffees from the region, including Buena Vista, and Las Ranas which features as half of our super smooth autumnal Broadway Blend, plus Santa Julia, a washed-soaked processed coffee. Working with these coffees has been a true showcase of one producer's ability to process several different coffees, each with their own unique and bespoke processing method. The Buena Vista’s natural processing method led to a jammy coffee perfect for the adventurous label of The Fields, whilst the pulped natural method used for Las Ranas gives a beautiful creaminess to our Broadway Blend espresso. This wide offering allows El Salvador coffees to be enjoyed by coffee drinkers of all flavours. The roasting of these three coffees turned out to be somewhat of a competition amongst our roastery team, seeking to find the best roasting profiles for three different varietals and processing methods (result being, they all tasted pretty great.)

Why not try the coffees for yourself?

Broadway Blend | Las Ranas

It’s always a real insight to cup the composite halves of our Broadway Blend as a standalone coffee. This Pulped Natural packs a punch, with all the creamy and smooth notes we know and love about the BB.

This coffee is grown on a small section of the sprawling Finca San Francisco complex. A forest reserve and lagoon here provides a home for a staggering number of frogs, or Ranas in Spanish. The Las Ranas farm house is surrounded by immaculately maintained Bourbon and Pacas trees. Once you get close, the sound of quite literally thousands upon thousands of frogs is all you can hear. Ribbit.

The Fields | Buena Vista

This was a real favourite on the cupping table. Bright, punchy, boozy. This is everything we love about coffees with our ‘adventurous’ label. Our current version of The Fields is grown at El Molino, JASAL’s original site, at a pretty steep 1,700 altitude on a micro-lot at the very top of the sloping farm.

Volcanic views from Buena Vista.

Jack was lucky enough to visit El Molino in time for the first flowering of a new varietal. He shared a video from his visit of Andreas, poetically setting the scene:

‘We are seeing the beautiful first flowering of a new varietal, planted just 18 months ago. We saw our first rains of the season 10 days ago and now the flowers are starting to open. There is a smell of jasmine and bees are flying all over the plantation.’

Need the equipment to make the most out of these coffees? Check out our alternative espresso bundle for everything you need to perfect your espresso recipe at home.

Climpsons Journal